Thursday, 31 January 2008

Next for the remake treatment...

Double trouble

I finally caught up with Grindhouse. Not the original three-hour extravaganza that's been denied us Brits, but the two component parts, Planet Terror and Death Proof, in their international extended versions. Watching the two B-movie lovefests back-to-back on DVD is about the closest one is going to get to original but with both running to nearly two hours, it was, to be honest, more of a chore sitting through them than I expected. Perhaps, I'd have liked them better slapped together in their original (and shorter) incarnations, surrounded by a whooping appreciative audience. Perhaps. Of the two, I preferred Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, a gruesome zombie movie which goes for the jugular from the word go, and offers more thrills, spills and exploding heads than 28 Weeks Later and the Dawn Of The Dead remake combined. And while the tone is deliriously OTT, Rodriguez’s direction is marginally more restrained than normal, an attempt to emulate the style (or lack of) of 70s exploitation flicks, along with missing reels, burn outs and scratches. But, as Rodriguez explains, on his Ten-Minute Film School extra, the film actually features more than 400 visual effects shots which, to me, kind of defeats the point of making something that’s a homage to the low-budget fare that both he and Quentin Tarantino are riffing off. Death Proof is a strange beast — talky and repetitive, but with a killer car chase — it represents the best and worst of the man. The dialogue is as wordy and film referencing as before, while Tarantino's foot fetish gets its most extreme onscreen work out yet, but since I didn’t care about the majority of the characters — the exception being Vanessa Ferlito’s Arlene — I didn’t care what happened to them when Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike came charging at them in his souped up car. [That's not to say, I wasn't gripped by the clearly CGI-free car stunts.] Perhaps if both he and Rodriguez had stayed more faithful to the films that inspired, making theirs a little rougher, dirtier, and cheaper, Grindhouse might not have seemed so self-indulgent and might well have found more of an audience. Perhaps.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Hair-raising...

So, Mark Romanek's exit as director of Universal's The Wolfman remake has thrown a spanner into the works of the Andrew Kevin Walker-scripted movie which was due to start shooting in London next month. I'm a huge fan of Walker's work for starters. I loved Romanek's One Hour Photo and am very fond of his debut feature Static, a film which he, somewhat mysteriously, has seemingly erased from his CV. With Benicio Del Toro in the title role, Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins in support, Rick Baker on makeup and a period London setting, The Wolfman was a project that had me very, very excited. In other horror news, it seems that Platinum Dunes, who have already remade The Amityville Horror, The HItcher and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and who have a new Friday The 13th film in development, have announced plans to resurrect Freddy. And who said Hollywood didn't have any original ideas...

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Macho Mann

Is there a better director out there for manly action and neo thrills than Michael Mann? From Thief to Manhunter, Heat to Miami Vice, Mann makes films that are big and bold and often downright beautiful. His protagonists are wild men, dogged in their missions, fuelled by demons and a devotion to their jobs, while his films are ones that can stand up to repeated viewings. Last night, inspired by the latest cast additions to Mann's upcoming Dillinger project, I felt in need of a Mann fix, and, running my fingers along my DVD shelves, past Ali, Manhunter, and Miami Vice, they came to rest on Collateral, a film I'd seen at the cinema and on DVD, and which, even on third viewing, I couldn't find fault with. Tom Cruise's hitman, in his grey suit and hair, is a distant cousin to DeNiro's character in Heat. Both are hardened criminals with a code they live and will eventually die by. The precision, ruthlessness and efficiency with which Cruise's Vincent dispatches his victims (two in the chest, one in the head) is reflected, too, in Mann's own crisp visual style. Beginning with a brief segment in Ali, Mann has taken to the digital world view, shooting both Collateral and Miami Vice predominently with the Panavision Genesis camera, but, unlike David Fincher's Zodiac which actually looks as if it could have been shot on film (and certain sequences were), Mann has embraced the high definition aesthetic, an approach that lends Collateral much of its ferocious urgency and intensity, its intoxicating power and its heightened realism.

Shot 99.9% at night on the (predominently empty) streets of LA by Mann's twin DPs, Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron, Collateral presents an impression of this much-filmed city (location wise, angle wise, colour wise) rarely seen. And while much of the film plays out in the confines of the cab driven by Jamie Foxx's Max, a man who takes pride in his world (witness his impeccably clean cab and the pride he takes in knowing how long a particular journey will take), the dialogue scenes between Cruise and Foxx crackle and spark as much as his action. (And the shootout here at the Fever club is as good as the one outside the bank in Heat or the trailer park sequence in Miami Vice.) Cruise and Foxx both do exemplary work, as do Jada Pinkett, Mark Ruffalo and an uncredited Javier Bardem. For some reason, Collateral wasn't celebrated in the same way as 1995's Heat, but this is a leaner, meaner, more focused, and, in many ways, better movie.

Monday, 28 January 2008

"A question for Mr Depp..."

Continuing today's Sweeney theme, here's one of the two press conferences I hosted in London a couple of weeks ago.



Sweeney slashes its way to top spot

According to Variety, Sweeney Todd sliced its way to the top this weekend at the international box office with an impressive $18.7 million at 1,760 playdates in 11 markets, with first-place launches in the UK ($8.7 million) and France ($4.4 million) knocking I Am Legend off the top of the charts after a five-week run. It seems the public has spoken, even if the various awards groups having been less generous in their affections. And with Daniel Day Lewis picking up the Best Actor award at the SAG Awards yesterday, I fear Depp's hopes of winning his first Oscar have just got even slimmer...

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Early indicators

The Coens nab the DGA and Robert Elswitt wins the ASC award for There Will Be Blood. Both worthy winners. But if you're bored with all the awards talk, remember there's only a month until the Oscars, and then we can all start looking forward to the summer again...

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Just because...

I do sometimes watch something other than movies, you know.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Thursday, 24 January 2008

The name's... what?!

The next Bond film is going to be called Quantum of Solace which was the title of a short story by 007 creator Ian Fleming. Make of that what you will.

Last men on earth

Finally managed to catch up with I Am Legend yesterday and was pleasantly surprised. The first third, with Will Smith and his dog alone in New York, was compelling, powerful, and downright scary at times. Then the CGI vampires turned up. And even though they weren't quite as bad as I'd been led to believe, they simply didn't have any real presence or, more importantly, a sense of character which is crucial to the Richard Mathieson novel the film's based on. They even changed the ending, so that the essential meaning of the title (ie. why he's a legend) was radically altered. Still, I was gripped pretty much from start to finish, and for a Hollywood blockbuster it was remarkably bleak.



The site of a desolate, silent, overgrown New York was tremendously affecting; the scene with the vampire dogs was expertly staged; and the first glimpse of the vampires feeding on the deer in the dark was a brilliant BOO moment. I also loved the background detailing: the Van Goghs' lining the walls of Smith's Washington Square brownstone, clearly taken from the Met; the billboard for the Batman/Superman movie in Times Square which gave a 2010 release date... (How I wish.) I was clearly in a post apocalyptic frame of mind yesterday, having watched the first film adaptation of Mathieson's novel, the Vincent Price-starrer The Last Man On Earth just prior to seeing the Smith film (along with Ray Milland's nuclear terror movie Panic In Year Zero, I might add). Both versions have their weaknesses and flaws, and both fail to fully capture the book. Less of an action movie than the recent film (which has helicopters crashing and fast cars tearing down Manhattan avenues), the Italian-shot The Last Man On Earth features yet another great tortured Vincent Price performance and is wonderfully downbeat, something Smith's film adheres to quite faithfully until the rather unnecessary happy ending. (I know there's a third film version, the Charlton Heston-starrer The Omega Man but I haven't seen it; or at least I don't remember seeing it.)

Hayley Atwell

I interviewed Hayley Atwell, star of In The Line Of Beauty and Woody Allen's latest Cassandra's Dream, last week. Click the headline to read it.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger was a phenomenal talent and his untimely death in New York late yesterday, be it tragic accident or otherwise, has robbed the world of an exceptional actor and a young daughter of a father she'll probably remember only through his movies. I met him a few times and he always seemed like a good guy to me. It was just over a fortnight ago I was on the set of Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in which he starred. After filming in London, they still had about a month's worth of green screen to do in Canada, so that film's future is, one suspects, uncertain. He was only 28. May he rest in peace...

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

What the *&$% Part Deux

So, on purely numerical terms, I didn't do too bad: 21 out of 30 nominations, an average of three per category. But while I can feel a little smug on that front, having now seen the full list of nominations, it's anger, frustration and plain old-fashioned disbelief that are currently filling my senses.

Let's talk positives first: Johnny Depp (Best Actor), Casey Affleck (Best Supporting Actor), Ellen Page (Best Actress), Brad Bird (Original Screenplay) Saoirse Ronan (Best Supporting Actress), No Country For Old Men (Best Picture), Julian Schnabel (Best Director), Roger Deakins (Best Cinematography) for Jesse James (and for No Country), Once (Best Song). And that's about it...

I get the love for Juno and Michael Clayton. Both are smartly-written, well-crafted and nicely performed, but neither are one of the best five film directed movies of the year.

Sweeney's shutout for Best Picture was, if I'm honest, not that much of a surprise, but for it to receive just three nominations in total (for costume, art direction and Johnny) is criminal. That's the same as Transformers for crying out loud. And nothing for Tim, come on people.

And to award Cate Blanchett a Best Actress nomination for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a role she's played before and played better before, is plain daft. Now I love Cate. I think she's great in almost everything, and her Best Supporting Actress nod for I'm Not There is richly deserved, but to pick her above for Angelina Jolie for A Mighty Heart... Arrgghhh!

And finally nothing for Zodiac. As expected. Not even special effects.

Take a look at this and tell me why not...



It's a strange world indeed when Norbit gets more Oscar nominations than Zodiac.

Consider my mind well and truly boggled...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Let's play a game

I’m no fortune-teller, and this site clearly isn’t as obsessed with the Oscars as some out there. But with the nominations due tomorrow morning LA time, I thought it was worth sticking my neck out and offering up my predictions for the top six categories. With one point for each correct nomination, there’s a total of 30 points up for grabs. Please feel free to join in.

Best Film: There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Michael Clayton, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, Juno [I hope I’m wrong and Sweeney’s included, but…]

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), the Coen Brothers (No Country For Old Men), Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly), Sean Penn (Into The Wild), Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd)

Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd), George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Tommy Lee Jones (In The Valley Of Elah), James McAvoy (Atonement)

Best Actress: Ellen Page (Juno), Julie Christie (Away From Her), Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd), Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose), Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart)

Best Supporting Actor: Casey Affleck (Jesse James), Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men), Hal Holbrook (Into The Wild), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War), Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood)

Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), Marisa Tomei (Before The Devil Knows You're Dead), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), Kelly Macdonald (No Country For Old Men)

Sunday, 20 January 2008

South Bank Show

Tonight's edition of The South Bank Show (ITV, 10.40pm) is devoted to Tim Burton, and among the many folk talking about him, you'll find me.

I'm also scheduled to appear on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London next Friday talking about all things Sweeney.

End of shameless self-promotion.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Trek trailer

Quality's not great but, for now, who cares...



UPDATED: To see the trailer in glorious HD, click the headline.

Cloverfield

Cloverfield is great fun. Cloverfield is cool. Cloverfield does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a bloody-great-big-monster-trashes-Manhattan movie but with the focus on the human cost rather than the bigger picture as a group of twentysomethings battle their way from a Soho loft to midtown to rescue a friend. And that’s it, essentially. Boiled down further: it’s Godzilla meets Blair Witch, but considering all the (internet) hype over recent months, Cloverfield more than lives up to expectation; it arguably exceeds it. More spectacular than anything Michael Bay managed in Transformers or Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds, the shot-on-DV-camera approach really pays dividends, with director Matt Reeves putting you right smack in the middle of the action as military and monster fight it out for control of the streets, bridges collapse, buildings explode and the Statue of Liberty’s head comes rolling down the avenue (the 9/11 allusions are pretty clear). Sure you have to put up with 20 minutes of “character development”, as Rob’s friends hold a party to toast his new job in Japan, before the shit hits the fan. But once it does your eyes won’t leave the screen for the 75 minute running time (minus credits). Watch carefully, too, during the Coney Island coda cos you’ll get a clue as to the monster’s origins. Can’t wait to see it again.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Mac Attack


I'm a Mac man. Have been for many, many years. PCs have never, ever done it for me. I don't like the double click thing for starters, and they're just not as "user-friendly". In fact, I'm writing this on what is my fourth Apple laptop in a row (a black MacBook to be precise) and while it's not been without its problems (applications quitting for NO REASON!), I have never been tempted to stray to the dark (PC) side. I love my iPod too, and I desperately want an iPhone but am determined to wait for the next generation model to arrive (a rumoured 3G version) before buying one.

In theory, though, I should have been delighted by the announcement on Tuesday of the MacBook Air. The world's thinnest laptop. Cool. Only I'm not. Sure, it looks damn sexy and weighs less than my current machine, but is almost twice as expensive than the MacBook Pro I really want and not as good spec-wise. And I, for one, actually like having a DVD/CD drive on my laptop. You know, for playing those shiny discs. [I love the irony that the MacBook Air comes with installation discs that have to be installed via another computer.]

And so, for the first time ever, I believe, a Mac Expo has passed without me enviously eyeing the latest products, and proclaiming "I WANT ONE!"

Just thought you should know.

Saved me a whole bunch of money too...

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

What the *&$%

The nine-film long list for the Best Foreign Language Oscar was announced yesterday and there are some mighty red faces in Hollywood right now at the omission of Romania's Cannes winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days as well as France's Persepolis from said list. Seems it's not only us Brits who make a balls up with these things...

Doomsday trailer

I really like Neil Marshall. He's a lovely bloke and a talented filmmaker. Dog Soldiers was great fun and The Descent was just terrific. With his latest, Doomsday, it looks like Neil was channelling Escape From New York, Mad Max and 28 Days Later while writing the script. Doomsday is out in March. Click the headline to watch the trailer.

BAFTA Nominations

The BAFTA Nominations were announced this morning. Click the headline to read them in full.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Monday musing

Congratulations are in order to the Sweeney Todd team for picking up the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical, and for Johnny Depp for winning the award for Best Performance By An Actor In A Comedy Or Musical. Although the Globes have never been the best indicator for Oscar fortune, let's hope this helps build momentum for Sweeney's Oscar charge and for its wider release in the US and beyond. Congratulations too to the folk behind Longford which scooped three awards yesterday: for Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made For Television, as well as for its stars Jim Broadbent and Samantha Morton. If you haven't seen this Peter Morgan-scripted drama, it's well worth seeking out.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

There Will Be Blood

Reading the feedback to my previous post regarding Daniel Day-Lewis and Johnny Depp, and which of these two great actors would be the most worthy recipient of this year's Best Actor Oscar, I decided to revisit There Will Be Blood last night to reacquaint myself with the Day-Lewis’s performance. It was the second time I'd seen the film, although this time it was on DVD rather than the big screen. But my initial reactions — immensely powerful, hugely compelling, exquisitely crafted, wonderfully performed — remained the same. Unlike the year when Crash picked up the Best Picture Oscar over the far superior Brokeback Mountain and I found myself almost foaming at the mouth with anger, I wouldn't object too strongly if either this or No Country For Old Men were to win rather than Sweeney, Zodiac or Jesse James (disappointed, yes, livid, no).

There Will Be Blood, loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! is an extraordinary film, with Day-Lewis’ performance as oilman Daniel Plainview among his very best. Plainview’s a complex character: unpleasant, egotistical, deeply flawed, cowardly, bullying. “I have a competition in me,” he says, his accent pure John Huston. “I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.” But he’s not without some compassion; adopting the baby son of a dead colleague, raising him as his own, using the cherub-faced child, D.W. (Dillon Freasier), to help woo investors and scalp farmers into leasing their land, treating him as an equal. And although he later abandons D.W. when an accident with a derrick renders the child deaf, there’s clearly a love of sorts between him and the boy. Later still, with Plainview even richer, secluded in a Los Angeles mansion like a cross between Satan and Howard Hughes, his persona even more monstrous, he turns on his “son” completely, calling him a “bastard in a basket” and educating him of his parentage. Freud would, no doubt, have much to say about that.

With Boogie Nights and Magnolia, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson proved himself a disciple of Robert Altman (to whom this film is dedicated), capable of working with an ensemble cast, and telling human drama on an epic scale, but TWBB isn’t like anything Anderson has done before. There are moments that suggest Lean, Huston and Kubrick, but Anderson isn’t interested in homage here. Added by Robert Elswitt’s scope cinematography, Jack Fisk’s impeccable production design and Jonny Greenwood’s sensational score, this is the work of a filmmaker in complete control of his craft, daring, profound, remarkable. The economy of the storytelling, too, is astounding. The near wordless opening ten minutes tell you almost everything you need to know about Plainview, while the cut between the young H.W. and his friend Mary jumping off the back of the house to their wedding, years later, is a marvel of time compression. While some, judging by several debates raging online, have problems with the ending, and the dark and dramatic turn of events therein (something I had less of an issue with second time around), there’s no denying the power of the work.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Sweeney round up

So Thursday night in London was Sweeney Todd's European Premiere and the third time I'd seen the film. It really does get better and better, and, as I've said here before, Depp's performance feels even more magnificent the more times you see it. He does so much by doing (seemingly) so little. I know that awards shouldn't be the definition of a great performance but it would, to my mind, be a crying shame if he didn't win the Oscar this year. Sure Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in There Will Be Blood is sensational and amazing and magnificent and all that, but so too is Depp's. Plus he sings. So there. I'm hoping too that Tim gets his first (and long overdue) Best Director nomination. But before that, let's see what Sunday's Golden Globes brings.


Anyway, back to the premiere. Burton and Depp had only flown in from Japan that day (with Tim arriving in London just a few hours before) where they'd attended the film's Japanese premiere but still worked the crowds outside the cinema, signing autographs, posing for photos, etc. They even stayed later than I did at the after party (and I didn't leave that early) which was held at the Royal Courts Of Justice in the Strand, just down the road from Fleet Street. They had set up a pie shop inside the venue but I neglected to partake because I was simply nibbled out. Tim, Johnny and Helena were there, as well as Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener, Jamie Campbell Bower, and Ed Saunders from the Sweeney cast, together with legendary and lovely producer Richard Zanuck, DP Dariusz Wolski, editor Chris Lebenzon, long-time Burton collaborator Rick Heinrichs, and Corpse Bride producer Allison Abbate.


Friday was junket day and I had the task of hosting two press conferences in the morning, attended by around 120 press, the first with Laura Michelle, Jamie, Jayne and Ed, the second with Tim, Johnny, Helena, Alan, Timothy and Richard Zanuck. Both went well and were full of laughter. So many questions went unasked at the second one (I'm sorry to all those who patiently had their hands raised, but whom I couldn't get to) but we only had a limited amount of time.

Then later it was off to the BFI Southbank for a Q&A with Tim that followed a preview screening of Sweeney Todd. His attendance hadn't been announced in advance; the audience were told, just before the film began, to stay on for a "special guest". When I walked on stage and announced... Tim Burton, the 400-plus crowd went absolutely bonkers, clapping, cheering and hollering for the longest time. It was an amazing reception and it was clear Tim was touched by it. And he was on fantastic form. (It was, I think, the best onstage interview I've conducted with Tim.) It only lasted half an hour but we seemed to pack a lot into the time, and I opened the floor to questions for the last 15 minutes. The crowd loved it and Tim left to a standing ovation...

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Tis Thursday...

Sweeney Todd has its European premiere in London tonight and I have a bunch of work to do before then. Plus I'm hosting the Sweeney press conferences tomorrow at the junket. All of which means that posting will be light to, well, zero for the next day or so. Back soonish...

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

[REC]



Without wishing to sound like a certain larger-than-life online film personality, [REC] rocks. Or rules. Or whatever the word du jour is these days to succinctly describe one’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to a movie. [REC], directed by Spanish filmmakers Jaume Balaguero (The Nameless, Darkness, Fragile) and Paco Plaza, who I met briefly when I was on the jury of the Fantasporto Film Festival a few year back, have joined forces for one of the most realistic and terrifying horror movies I’ve seen since The Blair Witch Project which this, in many ways, resembles, albeit being a far more visceral experience. While Blair Witch relied more on the power of suggestion, this serves up horror that’s frenzied, hardcore, and, for once, truly horrific, although, as with that seminal shocker, much of what happens here takes place in the dark.

The set up is beautifully conceived. A TV crew — bubbly blonde onscreen reporter Angela (Manuela Velasco) and unseen cameraman Pablo — are following a late-night fire crew around for a programme called When We’re Sleep when a call comes in regarding to an old lady trapped inside a Barcelona apartment. When fire fighters Manu (Ferran Terraza) and Alex (David Vert) respond to the emergency, Angela and Pablo tag along, and we [and I mean “we” because we experience/see everything through the lens of Pablo’s camera at the same time as the characters] find two police officers already at the scene and the building’s other residents gathered in the lobby. Traipsing upstairs in search of the woman, they find her holed up in her apartment virtually rabid, covered in blood, screaming. Then she takes a bite out of one copper’s neck and all hell breaks loose.

Thereafter [REC] becomes a brilliantly contained bio zombie movie as the building is quarantined and sealed off by the authorities, fearful of an outbreak. And there you have just one of the film’s eureka notions: a contained zombie movie, with both the living and the “dead” trapped inside with no way out.

While several films in the wake of Blair Witch’s success tried to utilise the cine-verite trick, none have pulled it off as well as [REC]. The use of the TV camera rarely feels forced, and as the quality and familiarity of the image is something we’re all used to through exposure to the news or reality television, it actually helps lend veracity to the horrors on show. And because we’re supposedly watching “live” video footage rather than a fictional piece, there are no music cues to misdirect or instil fear in the audience, nothing to artificially heighten a scene. When something attacks, it bloody well attacks, violently and viciously and unexpectedly.

As events continue to unfold and the body count mounts, the camera becomes increasingly shaky, the images harder to focus on, and when the lights go out in the building, large parts of the frame are rendered impossibly dark. Soon the only available light is the spotlight on top of Pablo’s camera, and when that goes, he switches to night-vision mode and things get even creepier…

Balaguero and Plaza know better than to serve up anything beyond a mere hint of character, preferring to amp up the terror, tension and claustrophobia, added by regular explosions of viscera and violence. More a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride than a movie, [REC], at barely 80 minutes, never overstays its welcome. I left the cinema shaken but exhilarated. No wonder Hollywood is already shooting the remake…

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Holy Heath!

I am indebited to Gerard over at celluloidtongue who posted to this here photo, along with the link to justjared.com from whence it came. This is part of the sequence I saw shot on Sunday, although since Heath spent most of the evening with his mask off, I'm assuming this was taken some time on Saturday night, on a cameraphone no doubt. Told you the film looked cool...

The Orphanage



The Orphanage is as much a film about grief, loss and the maternal instinct as it is about ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Although, for fright fans, there are plenty of those, too. This is a film that uses the conventions of the genre — phantoms, a haunted old house, sudden shocks — to both dazzlingly creepy and profound emotional effect. Executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro and directed by J.A. Bayona from a decade-old script by Sergio G. Sanchez, The Orphanage begins with a brief prologue in which a young orphan, Laura, enjoys a last game with her friends at the orphanage before being adopted. Thirty odd years later, Laura (BelĂ© Rueba), now married, moves back to the orphanage with her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep), who’s HIV+, a condition he’s unaware of, as is the fact that he’s adopted. Laura and Carlos intend to turn the house into a home for disabled children, but no sooner have they settled in than Simon, who already has a couple of invisible friends, starts “seeing” several new ones in and around the house, imaginary pals whose predilection for playing unsettling games unsettles Laura, if not an initially sceptical Carlos, a condition worsened by the appearance of the elderly, bespectacled and clearly loopy Benigna (Montserrat Carulla) who, armed with some sensitive information about Simon, claims to be a social worker, but whose true tie to the orphanage is only later revealed. Things go from bad to worse when Laura is attacked by a masked child during the home’s open day, then Simon disappears. Several months later, the police have yet to find him, and as the house’s ghostly presences begin to mount, turning more and more terrifying, Laura seeks the help of a paranormal investigator. And, in the film’s most mesmerising sequence seen mainly through night vision cameras, a medium played by Geraldine Chaplin attempts to contact them… Mixing elements of The Innocents with several themes from Peter Pan, Sanchez’s script is mysterious and melodramatic, spooky and serene. I spent, perhaps, too much time trying to establish a logic for the ghostly visitations (I know, I know) while watching the film, almost to the point of near frustration, until the plot’s sting in the tail reveals itself, a heart-wrenching moment which fills in some of the blanks, or, rather, holes in the plot. The ending, too, errs on the side of the sentimental, but Rueba’s stunning performance holds it together. Bayona is a talent to watch.

Golden Globes cancelled

After days of speculation and intense behind-the-scenes machinations, this year's Golden Globes have been cancelled. And so too have the studio parties that were to follow on Sunday evening. Now that's what I call a victory for the WGA, who, clearly, have their SAG brothers and sisters to thank for refusing to cross a picket line and bringing the event crashing down. The awards will now be dealt with by a simple, televised press conference. No stars. No fuss. A few years ago a producer-friend from London had a film nominated for a Globe. She flew to LA with her husband, and had a fine, swanky time. She didn't win, but attending was enough (kind of). I thought of her today, listening to the news of the cancellation. If she'd been nominated this year, she'd be staying in London with the family instead. It doesn't take a genius to figure that any victory means there are losers too. It'll be interesting to see what happens next. It wasn't so long ago, that the gossip was that the strike would be over by Christmas. Then, early this year, the soothsayers were claiming that the strike was failing and all but over. And now this. The Oscars are not so far away. Will they suffer the same fate? Only time will tell on that one.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Monday musing

I spent nearly five hours on the set of Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus last night, braving the cold, watching him film one very long scene, interviewing Terry and several cast members, and generally having a blast. While now's not the time to go into much detail regarding the film, which he co-scripted with Charles McKeown who co-wrote Brazil and The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, I'm happy to report that it felt very much like old school Gilliam, circa Time Bandits or even Munchausen, certainly in terms of the tone and of the visual invention that was on display. More, as and when...

This week's a packed one: I'm seeing a couple of horror films I've been looking forward to for a long while and a double doss of spooky Spanish horror: The Orphanage (tonight) and Rec (tomorrow). Then there's the Sweeney premiere on Thursday, as well as other assorted Sweeney related stuff and some writing that needs to be attended too. Not to mention the odd interview. And a couple of football matches to squeeze in. Going to be busy...

Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

A Terry Gilliam film is always cause for much excitement round these parts and tonight I'm going to be getting a taste of the great man's latest firsthand when I visit the set of The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus which stars Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield.

Can't wait. [Cue: giggling schoolboy-like excitement...]

It's back...

The. Best. Show. On. TV. Ever.

The Wire, that is, has returned for its fifth and final season on HBO in the States. (I have to wait until later in the year for FX to air it in the UK.)

If you haven't seen this show, do yourself a favour and buy the previous four season DVD box sets and bask in its glory.

Time has a good article on season five. Click the headline to read...

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Just saying...

There's no BAFTA for Best Film for Sweeney Todd or Best Director for Tim Burton this year.

Nothing for Roger Deakins’ sublime cinematography for The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford...

Or for Alwin Kuchler’s masterly work on Sunshine.

And what’s up with A Mighty Heart being ignored in every single category except best actress for Angelina Jolie? Is there no love for Michael Winterbottom, Britain's most prolific and eclectic filmmaker?

Or how about Zodiac not scoring a single entry on the Long List? Not one.

Click the headline to read the Long List in full.

Friday, 4 January 2008

"I'm as mad as hell..."

They have just released the Long List for the second round of BAFTA voting in which the list has been cut to fifteen entries per category (five for animated film) and I'm, er, perplexed at some of the inclusions and omissions. I don't want to get into it now because a) I don't want to say something I shouldn't and b) I'm not sure the list for public consumption, although last year Screen International did run a story about it. If someone else runs it, I'll share my views with you all...

Ho-ho-hum

We were promised snow here in London yesterday. At noon, the forecasters predicted, it would begin to fall. But while the north of England got a blanket of the white stuff, we, here in the capital, missed out. I was, I don't mind admitting, most disappointed.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Review round up

The last week or so has found me in front of the television, watching one DVD after another, in preparation for the first round of BAFTA voting which closes tomorrow. Not all are reviewed below, but it's a sample of my recent viewing. As you'll note, there wasn't really a duff one among them.

A Mighty Heart
I’m not sure why this didn’t end up in my top 12 films of the year, and if I was to redo that list today, it would definitely replace one of the original dozen titles. Watching it a second time, I was even more affected by it. Angelina Jolie’s performance as journalist Marianne Pearl whose WSJ reporter husband Daniel was kidnapped and later beheaded in Pakistan is heart-felt, honest and intensely moving and anchors director Michael Winterbottom’s crisp, exhilarating procedural thriller. His loose, on the hoof, documentary style shares much in common with Bourne director Paul Greengrass, but, unlike Greengrass, Winterbottom allows his camera to rest and settle more often, making for a much less frantic but no less exciting experience.

Charlie Wilson's War
The first of many war-themed movies that took a spin in my DVD player this Christmas, director Mike Nichols mixes screwball with satire in this “based on real events” tale of Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), otherwise known as Goodtime Charlie, a Texas Congressman who helped finance the US government’s covert military action against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 70s and 80s. The machine-gun script by Aaron Sorkin scarcely pauses for breath, cramming an inordinate amount of plot and politics, plus the odd hot-tub scene, into its 97-minute running time to precise, comic effect. Not sure about Julia Roberts’ hair, though.

The Kite Runner
Another film dealing with Afghanistan and another dealing with the consequences of loss from director Marc Forster who gets some sublime performances from his youthful cast and delivers a beautifully measured film let down — only marginally, mind — by an ending that feels a little too rushed and convenient. (Not having read the book, I’m not sure how the film compares.)

Grace Is Gone
A very fine turn from John Cusack is at the core of this touching character study. Cusack plays Stanley Phillips, a former soldier dismissed on medical grounds whose wife dies while on active duty in Iraq, and, unable to break the news to his two young daughters, takes them on a road trip to Florida to visit Enchanted Gardens. With the war only the kicker to the human drama, writer-director James Strouse gets wonderfully naturalistic performances from Shelan O’Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk as Stanley’s kids, and there’s a refined, understated score from Clint Eastwood, too.

Once
Winner of the World Audience Award at last year’s Sundance, this fresh and delightfully simple boy-meets-girl tale of an Irish busker and Czech flower seller-cum-pianist never takes the obvious route and is all the more appealing for it, with great songs and winning performances from Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Charming and unabashedly romantic.

Things We Lost In The Fire
An upscale weepie, benefiting from a trio of very fine performances from Benicio Del Toro, Halle Berry and David Duchovny. Alas the story of an architect’s widow (Berry) struggling to cope with his death, turning for support to his junkie best friend (Del Toro) treads too familiar ground.

Juno
I’ve come late to the Diablo Cody party, but in spite of the reams of hype pertaining to this film and its writer, I still found it funny and engaging. Ellen Page, so good in Hard Candy and so unlucky not to have been Oscar-nominated for that, shows once again why she’s one of today’s most gifted young talents while director Jason Reitman more than makes good on the promise of his debut feature, Thank You For Smoking.

La Vie En Rose
A sensational, career-enhancing performance from Marion Cotillard as alcoholic, self-destructive Edith Piaf that’s far better than the film built around it, a solid enough biopic whose choppy narrative structure proves more confusing than illuminating.

Away From Her
While Julie Christie has been getting all the plaudits for her portrait of an Alzheimer sufferer in this sensitive and low-key directorial debut from actress Sarah Polley, adapting a story that initially appeared in The New Yorker, she’s more than matched by Gordon Pinsent as her husband of more than 40 years. Sentiment free and beautifully played.

A Band's Visit
A droll, wonderfully observed comedy that follows an Egyptian Police Orchestra arriving in Israel for a concert, only to wind up in the wrong town where they discover the generosity of their hosts extends beyond cultures and political divides.

Tim and Johnny talk...

Click the headline to link to my Tim and Johnny interview for the LA Times' The Envelope.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008