Wednesday 26 September 2007

Funny you should say that...

Over at Patrick Sauriol has revealed a ton of new info about the forthcoming Justice League movie. I won't spoil anything for you, all I will say is, if you're interested (as I was), then please go visit.

Patrick finishes his report by saying he knows a BIG spoiler that he won't share. "There is at least one major twist in the story that I’m not going to blow because I deem it an Empire spoiler," he writes. "For those out there that don’t get my reference, imagine it’s 1979, the internet exists and you’re reading rumors about the new Star Wars sequel called The Empire Strikes Back. There’s some new guy called Lando, there’s a big battle on a snow planet, Luke meets up with another Jedi and Darth Vader says something to Luke near the end of the picture. Sure, those are all spoilers but if I came out and said what Vader told Luke? That’s an 'Empire'."

You know what's funny about that? That actually happened to me. I was at school with a couple of kids whose parents worked in the special effects department on Empire, and one of those kids told me, months before the film came out, that Vadar was Luke's dad. And guess what, I didn't believe him. Refused to. Nope. No way. Couldn't possibly be true. Until opening day when I trekked up to London to see Empire and, yep, it was...

Shoot 'Em Up

I was, I admit, fairly excited about Shoot 'Em Up. I've just seen it. Consider me no longer excited. Consider me instead very, very disappointed. I was expecting something fun. With outrageous action. A homage to John Woo and Hard-Boiled. What I got was tired, risible and so lacking in actual invention — and I don't think death by carrot and a lactating hooker count — that I sat in the cinema slack-jawed and stupefied. What a bore. What a criminal waste of a talented cast. What lacklustre action sequences. And the UK trailer for Smokin’ Aces used Motorhead’s Aces of Spades to much better effect.

Monday 24 September 2007

Hotel Chevalier on iTunes

You will recall my enthusiasm for Hotel Chevalier, the 13-minute short that came with Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited when I saw it at Venice. Well, the film won't be playing with Darjeeling's theatrical release but it will be available free to download from iTunes this coming Wednesday. May I strongly urge everyone to do so, not just because of the presence of a certain (tastefully) naked actress, but because the short itself is quite charming and it will make your viewing of The Darjeeling Limited that much more rewarding.

Saturday 22 September 2007

Deja bleedin' vu. Again

Those pesky remakes, they just keep on coming. Tony Scott, it seems, is reuniting with his Crimson Tide/Deja Vu/Man On Fire star Denzel Washington for a new version of the Walter Matthau subway-set thriller The Taking Of Pelham One, Two, Three. I tend to react to these remakes on a case by case basis. Long Good Friday — terrible idea. Halloween — sacrilege. Assault On Precinct 13 — dull. The Thing — brilliant. In this case, I really like the original movie, I have an unhealthy love for Scott's work (well, everything except Beverly Hills Cop 2 which I think is despicable), and Denzel's always worth watching. (I saw him this week in Ridley Scott's American Gangster, a film I'll be writing about very soon.) So I'm certainly not against this one. Although, to be honest, what I really want to know is whatever happened to Scott's (as in Tony) remake of The Warriors?

In Search Of Steve Ditko

I finally caught up with Jonathan Ross' stellar documentary In Search of Steve Ditko that aired as part of BBC4's Comics Season. What a wonderful show. Informative, geeky, hilarious, probing. Great talking heads (including Alan Moore reciting the lyrics to a Ditko-inspired song he wrote), a peak into Ross' shelf-lined comics lair (were those issues ordered by grading?) and a finale that featured Ross and his trusty sidekick Neil Gaiman emerging from Ditko's NYC office after spending 25 minutes chatting (off camera) with the reclusive Spider-man artist, grinning and giggling like schoolboys. "We got comics," they chimed. Priceless.

Friday 21 September 2007

Justice League movie

Warner Brothers seem very serious in moving ahead with a Justice League movie. They've got a script they're happy with, have hired George Miller to direct and are pushing towards a prestrike start date for a 2009 release. I must admit, the idea of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter all together on the big screen thrills me. When Grant Morrison rebooted JLA in the late 90s it was my favourite comic; huge ideas, iconic characters, all wrapped up into a typically mad Morrison plot. It would have made a great (if very expensive) movie. But the cinematic landscape's different now. Back then, Joel Schumacher had murdered the Batman franchise, Superman couldn't punch his way out of development hell. Both franchises have since been resurrected, successfully in Batman's case. (I thought Superman Returns had wonderful moments but it was too in love with Richard Donner's movie to completely work; plus I hated the superkid subplot.) So where does that leave those franchises and those actors? According to Variety, Justice League sources have said it's unlikely that either Christian Bale and Brandon Routh will appear. That's a shame because Bale really nailed Batman and I thought Routh channelled Christopher Reeve quite brilliantly. Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan has apparently said he would prefer if Warners delay Justice League until after he finishes his Batman projects. And Bale too has let his uneasiness about Justice League be known. Interesting times lay ahead. For now call me cautiously optimistic.

Thursday 20 September 2007

In the flesh...

I've long been a fan of the work of Terrence Malick and when I spoke to Andrew Dominik, writer-director of the masterful (and Malickesque) The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, at Venice recently he told me he was friends with the press shy filmmaker, and had even shot some second unit on the sublime The New World. The geek in me was very excited by that, I can tell you. Now it appears that the powers that be at the Rome Film Festival have, after more than a year's coaxing, persuaded the reclusive Malick to appear on stage at the festival to talk about his love for Italian cinema, as well as his own work, on the proviso that paparazzi be kept outside. That's going to be some hot ticket.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Compare and contrast...

The trailer for Michael Hanke's 1997 version of Funny Games

with the trailer for Hanke's 2007 version

Monday 17 September 2007

Death Proof

The full-length version of Death Proof opened here in the UK on Friday but somehow I can't seem to muster the interest to go. In fact, I can't seem to muster much interest in it full stop. Time was when a Tarantino film was an event. A must-see. A multiple see. I still remember the Reservoir Dogs press screening where a woman in the row behind mine got up in a huff at the ear-slicing sequence and then stormed out, noisily, only to return a few minutes later because she'd forgotten her handbag. And I distinctly remember my first day at my first ever Cannes Film Festival because I went to the first ever screening of Pulp Fiction. What an introduction that was. I was at Empire back then and we were obsessed with all things Tarantino. We had a VHS copy of Dogs even though its release was pulled (or banned, I don't recall the specifics) and we played it every day in the office, non stop. Over and over again. The same with True Romance when that arrived. QT could, we believed, do no wrong. (Well, there was Four Rooms and Destiny Turns On The Radio but we forgave him those indiscretions.) Jackie Brown wasn't a big hit but it remains my favourite of his films. And the Kill Bills had enough moments to allow for their bloated running times. Plus there was Lucy Liu. With a sword. And Sonny Chiba.

Which brings us to Grindhouse. And as early readers of reel world matters will attest, I was genuinely excited by the prospect of it. So why the change of heart, or, rather, the lack of enthusiasm? I'm not sure. I was looking forward to the two films for the price of one deal plus trailers that Tarantino and Rodriguez originally hatched. I would have gladly sat through a three-hour Grindhouse movie but, alas, that wasn't to be as the movie was split in two and each segment fleshed out. At 80 minutes Death Proof sounded like a hoot. At two hours it sounds like a chore. I'm meant to be seeing Rodriguez's full length Planet Terror tomorrow. If I make it, I'll let you know what I think.

Saturday 15 September 2007

December Boys

On Thursday I hosted a Q&A with Daniel Radcliffe and director Rod Moody after the London premiere of their film December Boys. The pair had only gotten off a plane that morning from Australia but were in good form nevertheless. I’ve met Radcliffe a few times now, and have always found him to be extremely personable. He’s a smart kid, extremely passionate about what he does, and looks to be growing into a fine young actor. He said he was attracted to December Boys, which he shot between Potters four and five, because his role was a thousand miles away from Harry both in terms of character and location (grey Leavesden to sunny Oz). The story of four Aussie orphans from the outback on a holiday visit to the sea, Radcliffe plays Maps, the oldest of the quartet, swaggering around in tight t-shirt and jeans, smoking cigarettes (they were herbal ones, he revealed) and getting his cherry popped by the blonde down the beach. It’s a sweet little film, nicely performed by all the kids. It looks great too, filmed in and around the picturesque Kangaroo Island. The filmmakers clearly had Stand By Me as their inspiration, although this lacks the bite and edginess of Rob Reiner’s film which had both a dead body and Kiefer Sutherland’s looming villain to drive the plot. (Here the main thrust is the kids' desire to be adopted.) But with this, his Extras cameo and his stint on stage in Equus (which he said might transfer to New York next year), Radcliffe looks to be trying to break the Potter mould as often as he can. He starts shooting the sixth film at the end of the month.

Friday 14 September 2007


For the lack of posts this week. It's been a busy, busy one. But at least I've finally finished the captions for the Sweeney book. It looks very nice. The on set photography, courtesy of the super talented Peter Mountain, is stunning. Can't wait to see it finished.

Thursday 13 September 2007

LFF programme revealed

The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival unveiled its full programme this morning. Running from October 17 to November 1, this year's line up includes 184 features and 133 shorts, kicking off with David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises and including Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra, Francois Ozon's Angel, Sean Penn's Into The Wild, Michael Haneke's Funny Games remake, Takeshi Kitano's Glory To The Filmmaker, Andrew Dominik's masterful The Assassination of Jesse James..., and Todd Haynes' I'm Not There which I missed in Venice.

I tend to look through the festival catalogue and gravitate towards those films that haven't yet secured a distributor. I've seen many hidden gems (including a lot of great music docs) that way over the years, films that didn't later turn up in cinemas, DVD or TV.

Tickets can be bought online at or by telephone on: 020 7928 3232 from Saturday 29 September.


I spent Tuesday night in south Yorkshire (Darrington to be precise) on the set of writer-director Mark Tonderai's Hush. It's a Warp X production, a low budget psychological thriller in the vein of The Vanishing (the original, of course), Duel and The Hitcher, with a nod or two to Road Kill and Breakdown. Except it's set in England which isn't famed for its road movies because, well, we don't have roads the way America has roads.

There have been various attempts to mine this genre in the UK before (Butterfly Kiss and Heartlands spring immediately to mind, though I'm sure there are others that I just cannot remember off the top of my head right now) but I wish him well. He was a nice bloke who clearly knows his stuff, and they were rattling through so many set ups I thought I'd strayed onto the set of a Roger Corman production. Hush stars realtive newcomer Will Ash as Zakes, a wannabe writer who spends his night trawling the M1 replacing posters in toilets and service stations. On this particular night he's joined by Beth (Christine Bottomley), his girlfriend, who's asleep next to him when he spots a woman, naked and bloody and bound in the back of a white van. Zakes gives chase, Beth goes missing and, well, that would be telling...

Hush should be out sometime next year.

Monday 10 September 2007

Monday musing

My internet connection died over the weekend and I'm still playing catch up, so posting might be a little slow the next day or so. For now I'm busy writing captions for the Sweeney Todd book, them I'm off to the set a British thriller called HUSH tomorrow night, and later in the week I'm hosting a Daniel Radcliffe Q&A, plus there's the launch of the London Film Festival. Busy, busy, busy. Back (relatively) soon.

Indy gets a title

It's a bit of a mouthful, but I'm sure we'll all get used to it.

Thursday 6 September 2007

The Lion King

Eight minutes of Sweeney

So it was eight minutes of footage they showed in Venice, not ten, centred on Johnny singing "My Friends". The reaction, so far, has been fanastic. Variety said: "Singing 'My Friends' Depp proved he can carry a tune, dueting delightfully with Bonham Carter, herself debuting as a chantoosie." Aintitcoolnews, too, has an enthusiastic report, plus some photos of Tim receiving his Golden Lion from Depp. Having been on set and heard both sing, I knew they were great, but now other people know too.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

Venice: The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

This is, along with Zodiac, the greatest American film of the year. I’m not the only one who thinks so (Variety’s review was a lovefest), but, judging by the mixed reaction in Venice, I also know that I’m perhaps in the minority. Certainly it’s not going to be everyone’s taste. People are talking about it as Mallick-esque like that’s a bad thing. Not in my mind. For me, it's a masterpiece, plain and simple. At over two and a half hours, it’s long, slow, lyrical, elegiac, poetic, meandering; even its director, Andrew Dominik, says it has a story but no real plot. But the cinematography by Roger Deakins is exquisite, the direction is confident and assured, and there’s a truly mesmerising performance from Casey Affleck as Robert Ford that deserves an Oscar. The use of narration, too, is some of the best you’ll ever hear in a movie. It’s not all perfect. I found musician Nick Cave’s cameo so distracting it took me, momentarily, out of the movie. But that small detail aside, it's a wonderful, wonderful film. Brave, moving, expansive, magnificent, artful, challenging, epic. Dominik should be congratulated for making it. Pitt should be applauded for not only his fine performance but for being his director’s 800-pound gorilla, and for making sure this got made the way Dominik (who was born in New Zealand, but grew up in Australia) wanted it. Ten word title and all.

Venice: Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Unspooling in Venice prior to a short theatrical run and DVD release in time for Christmas, Blade Runner: The Final Cut isn’t, content wise, that much different from 1993’s Director’s Cut. In terms of additions, I noticed Joanna Cassidy’s face has been CGI’d onto the stuntman/woman who crashes through the shop window after Deckard shots her; the blue sky that Roy Batty released the dove into at the end is now overcast and rainy; a couple of the deaths seemed nastier than I remembered. There are a few more special effects, the backgrounds feel more dense, the colors are richer, Deckard’s eyes didn’t seem to glow as red as they did in the Director’s Cut, and apparently Sean Young’s voice had been tweaked too to make it less metallic and more human. But none of it’s too obvious. Everything’s been integrated seamlessly. This isn’t a Star Wars revision. The film looks better and sounds better than ever before. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen, I recommend you take it.

Venice: The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson has being playing the same sandpit for a while now, making the kind of quirky, kooky pictures that you either love or hate. Less funny and more maudlin than his previous work, The Darjeeling Limited doesn’t have either the big emotional hook of Rushmore or the abundant zany humour of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Not that it’s in any way a bad film, rather a tad insubstantial. And yet, it reveals Anderson’s increasingly accomplished technique as well as his love for Satyajit Ray. The Whitman brothers — controlling Francis (Owen Wilson), short story writer Jack (Jason Schwartzman, co-scripter with Anderson and Roman Coppola) and soon-to-be father Peter (Adrien Brody) — ride a train across India, a literal trip that Francis hopes will offer a spiritual journey too, and a chance to bond again following their father’s death a year before. He has another motive: to visit their estranged mother, now a nun in a Himalayan mountaintop convent — a nod, presumably, to Black Narcissus — played by Anjelica Huston. (Fellow Anderson regular Bill Murray also pops up in two scenes.) Soon, the siblings fall into their customary, bickering ways: Francis has his onboard assistant provide them with daily, laminated itineraries; Peter claims he was their father’s favorite; Jack checks his ex-girlfriend’s answer machine and enjoys a fling with the stewardness. It’s only after the death of a young Indian child that the siblings finally find some connection, with each other and the land they’re travelling in. The performances are spot-on (Brody slips into this world effortlessly); the colors rich and lush; the soundtrack again cool and eclectic; the cinematic language deliberate and formal, despite Anderson filming on a moving train. If you’re a fan (and I am) there’s much to enjoy, although, in retrospect, you’ll maybe find yourself willing yourself to like it more than you do. (There are, alas, some uncomfortable similarities between Wilson’s recent off-screen problems and those of his character. At one point, Francis avers: “I have some healing to do.”) The film was preceded here by Hotel Chevalier, a 13-minute Anderson-directed starring Schwartzman (again as Jack Whitman) and (a naked) Natalie Portman as his ex-girlfriend, set entirely in a Paris hotel room. It proved to be a tasty appetiser to the main feature and was, in some ways, more satisfying. Made in 2005 and referred to onscreen as “Part 1 of The Darjeeling Limited”, the short won’t play with the film on its theatrical release, but, according to Anderson, will be available online, at festivals and on DVD.

Some sad news

Yesterday came the extremely sad news of the passing of Robert Garlock, formerly a publicist at PMK (later PMK/HBH) and more recently head of the talent section at 42 West. I first met Robert back in the early 90s when I interviewed Uma Thurman for Pulp Fiction and our paths crossed many, many times over the years, the last being in December when I hosted a Q&A for The Holiday with another of his clients, Kate Winslet. He was always warm, funny, professional and while he cared about his clients, firecely, he also understood we had a job too. It was obvious, as well, that he loved movies. He was, as Glenn Kenny has already pointed out, one of the good guys. Robert was only 41. He will be missed.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Venice: In The Valley Of Elah/Michael Clayton

I was not a fan of Paul Haggis’ Oscar-winning directorial debut Crash, but his second feature, In the Valley of Elah, is a more honest, more heartfelt picture and was well received here in Venice. As much a murder-mystery/police procedural as an Iraq-themed picture, it stars Tommy Lee Jones as Hank Deerfield, a patriotic ex-military detective looking into the disappearance of his son, Mike, who’s just returned Stateside from a tour of duty in Iraq but has since gone AWOL. Turning up at Mike’s base in Tennessee, Hank’s keen investigative skills soon come into play when Mike’s brutally stabbed, mutilated and partially burned body is found, and, with the help of Charlize Theron’s local detective, a single mother battling the chauvinism of her male colleagues, he begins his own exploration into Mike’s death, slowly assembling the puzzle pieces despite the military’s indifference. With the title referring to the setting for David’s fight with Goliath, and inspired by real life incidents, the film tackles head on the big issue of what happens to young men when they’re sent to war, and what happens when they return, psychologically damaged. Despite the US setting, Iraq is a constant presence, although we only ever really see it via grainy videophone footage shot by Mike. It’s a thought-provoking film with a powerful message and some very fine performances—not just from the always dependable Jones and Theron, but newcomer Jake McLaughlin, himself an Iraq veteran, who plays one of Mike’s platoon buddies. (Susan Sarandon, however, is given little to do as Hank’s wife but grieve in a handful of scenes.) There is, however, one fatal flaw in the logic of the movie, revolving around the murder itself, that’s nagged at me since I’ve seen it. (Haggis claims he followed the facts and that’s what happened.) Nevertheless, this is a solid, emotive and moving film, with Haggis using the tropes of the thriller to smuggle across political points with laudable subtly and skill.

An intelligent, well-crafted piece of adult entertainment from Bourne screenwriter Tony Gilroy, making his directorial debut, Michael Clayton features another serious, sober turn from George Clooney as the eponymous fixer for a New York law firm called in to clean up when one of their top lawyers, litigator Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) goes doolalee — he’s a manic-depressive who stops taking his medicine — six years into defending an agrochemical firm in a class-action lawsuit. Clayton, too, is on an increasingly downward spiral, facing his own moral, spiritual and financial crises. As debts from his wayward brother’s failed restaurant pull at his monetary resources, the years of cleaning up others peoples’ messes are finally taking a toll. Divorced, emotionally threadbare, he may be his firm’s go-to guy, their “miracle worker”, but he’s in dire need of someone to fix him. Deliberately paced, with a strong supporting cast (Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack, Tilda Swinton) and a smart script that harks back to corporate thrillers of the 1970s — Clooney compared it to Three Days of the Condor — this, despite a few minor plot contrivances, expertly captures the shadowy side of corporate America.

Back from Venice

I have a whole bunch of reviews to go up in the next day or two. Stay tuned for my thoughts on The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Michael Clayton, The Darjeeling Limited, In The Valley Of Elah, Searchers 2.0, The Nines and Cassandra's Dream.

Sunday 2 September 2007

About those press conferences

Press conferences are funny things. Around 200 members of the press (print, TV, radio etc) from all around the globe, all gathered together in a cavernous hall for around half an hour, trying to put questions to a panel of filmmakers/actors who often have trouble hearing/understanding what's being said. The questions are rarely good; the answers likewise. But strange behaviour is often the norm. Like the guy from Croatia who always asks a comic book related question. To Ang Lee, here for Lust, Caution, a question about The Hulk. To George Clooney, here for Michael Clayton, one about the new Batman movie. Granted, the gentleman also asked Ang Lee whether his actors were really "doing it" in his new film, to which Lee replied: "Have you seen the movie?" Clooney, too, was irritated by an Italian journalist whose exact question escaped me because I wasn't listening to the simultaneous translation on my headset, but it had something to do with his Nescafe ads I believe. "I find that question irritating," he told her. But at least he was charming about it. Press conferences, too, are a good gauge of popularity. Clooney's was well attended, of course, but the one for Sleuth with Jude Law, Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh was jammed. Never in all my years in Venice have I seen so many people squeezed into the conference hall; there wasn't even standing room to be had. Not sure if it was simply the Law effect, or the combination of Caine too. Or maybe it was Branagh who pulled them in. Like I said, funny things...

Saturday 1 September 2007

Venice: more musings

It's been a busy few days here. Seen a bunch of movies that I haven't yet had time to put reviews up for. Some that I really, really loved (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford), some that I really liked (Michael Clayton), and others that I loathed (Sleuth). This morning I got to see Blade Runner: The Final Cut which isn't that much different to the Director's Cut to be frank. I looked hard and only spotted a handful of amendments/additions but, frankly, it's a joy to see it on the big screen again after all these years. I'll be filing stories on all of this stuff over the next couple of days.

Venice: Redacted

One of a slew of Iraq/Afghanistan themed movies coming your way soon (Paul Haggis’s In The Valley Of Elah screens here too), Brian De Palma’s Redacted is a film of noble intentions but unsatisfactory execution. It’s also, very much, a Brian De Palma movie, in that it feels like a “movie” (which, in this case, is a problem)—although there are none of the director’s trademark Steadicam shots. Based on factual events, Redacted focuses on a squad of US soldiers charged with guarding a Iraqi checkpoint, two of whom rape and kill a 15-year-old Iraqi girl and then murder her younger sister and elderly grandfather before setting fire to them. Purported to be cut together from a variety of "sources" – the video diary of one Private Angel Salazar; an arty French documentary complete with Tosca on the soundtrack; Iraqi television reports; security camera footage; websites (including one in which a US soldier is beheaded); various Western news reports – the problem with Redacted is that most of it (the arty French stuff aside) looks fake; even the CCTV shots don’t look like CCTV, and very little of it—apart from the checkpoint sequences and a couple of scenes of grunts talking—feels authentic. The performances, too, with a few exceptions, come across as just that. Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, United 93) and Michael Winterbottom (In This World, Road To Guantanamo) have shown how this stuff should and can be done, making films that blur the lines between documentary and drama to recreate a reality. De Palma has merely restaged one, and none too convincingly.

Venice: Far North

Asif Kapadia’s debut feature, The Warrior, was a visually stunning, elegantly told tale set against the harsh, brutal desert of India. His third feature, Far North, which screened in Venice in an out-of-competition slot, takes place against another timeless landscape, the Arctic tundra. Here, off the map, lives Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) and her adopted daughter Anja (Michelle Krusiec). Theirs is a cold, lonely, desolate existence, paddling the ice flows, scavenging for food – dog, reindeer, seagull – hiding from man, constantly moving, the sole survivors of an indigenous tribe wiped out in a shocking massacre. Then, one day, a figure appears on the ice sheet, a man, Loki (Sean Bean), and against her better judgment Saiva rescues him, bringing home to their tent where the two women compete for his attentions, with Loki eventually pairing off with Anja. Based on a short story by Sara Maitland that Kubrick was a fan of (he asked Maitland to write AI on the strength of it), Far North has the feeling of a classic folk tale, a strong, simple human story economically told with minimal dialogue and breathtaking cinematography by Kapadia’s usual DP Roman Osin (all blues, greys and whites). The film casts an inexorable spell and is always moving, right up until the shocking and, actually, rather baffling finale. It’s the kind of denouement one can’t talk without spoiling the film but, until then, Kapadia doesn’t put a foot wrong.