Sunday, 31 August 2008

Venice: Plastic City, Vinyan

Plastic City, former cinematographer Yu Lik Wai’s fourth film as director, certainly looks wonderful but narratively it’s a mess. Mixing moments from other, better films, Plastic City is an Asian crime picture relocated to Brazil’s San Paulo where mobster Yuda (Anthony Wong) and his adopted son Kirin (Joe Odagiri) have made a fortune dealing in fake goods imported from China but eventually run foul of rival gangs and corrupt government officials. Striking photography aside, this is no City Of God.

After seeing Calvaire director Fabrice du Weltz’s harrowing (and long awaited) sophmore effort Vinyan a journo colleague called it Alex Garland meets Gasper Noe and he’s not far wrong. Six months after the Thai tsunami, Jeanne (Emmanuelle Beart) refuses to believe her still missing son Josh is dead, much to the frustration of her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell). But when Jeanne is convinced she sees Josh in video footage of a ravaged Burmese jungle village, the couple travel across the Thai border, deep into the murky heart of Burma, for what might well be a wild ghost chase. As Beart powerfully taps into a mother’s anguish and pain, Benoit Debie’s cinematography paints a dark and stormy and altogether sinister picture of Thailand, one far removed from the picture postcard image of golden sand under bright blue skies, giving the film the intensity of a nightmare all that soon degenerates into something even more menacing as story takes increasingly ominous turns before ending up in horror movie territory. They would have been better off calling in Rambo.

Venice: The Burning Plain

Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga’s directorial debut shares much in common with his three scripts for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, not least in terms of its fractured storyline and damaged and disaffected characters, but is arguably a much simpler, less flamboyant, more affecting drama. And, as before, several seemingly disparate storylines coalesce into a filmic whole that packs a sizeable emotional punch once the various connections are fully revealed.

Charlize Theron is Sylvia, the joyless manager of a swish coastal restaurant in wet Portland, whose glamorous, poised exterior only just disguises her seething inner turmoil and a deep self-hatred as she sleeps around and self harms. Meanwhile in New Mexico, Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Santiago (JD Pardo) the teenage children of housewife Gina (Kim Basinger) and Mexican Nick (Joaquim de Almeida) respectively who died in a trailer explosion while having an affair, begin their own relationship as the film flashbacks to show their respective parents’ illicit liaisons.

As the plot shuffles back and forth both in time and location between sunny New Mexico and rainy Oregon, with events in one strand affecting those in another, Arriaga slowly reveals his narrative hand, namely the connection between the numerous storylines although, if you’re paying attention, it won’t be too hard to guess ahead of time.

While some have called the story soap opera-ish (perhaps a little), others have taken issue with the structure, complaining that the film wouldn’t have quite the same impact if told linearly, although, as with his work for Inarritu, it’s the telling as well as what’s being told that matters to Arriaga. And in that he’s helped immeasurably by a uniformly excellent cast, but particularly the performances of his leading ladies Theron, Basinger and newcomer Lawrence, all of whom should, by rights, find themselves nominated for this, as well as exquisite cinematography from There Will Be Blood Oscar-winner Robert Elswitt (abetted by John Toll who shot the Portland scenes) who transforms the arid desert landscape into a character of its own.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Venice: review round up

Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano won the Golden Lion in 1997 for Hana-bi but, these days, you never know what Kitano you’re going to get going in -- will it be a crime picture, a comedy, or, in the case of Zatochi, a madcap samurai musical. Kitano’s latest, competition entry Achilles And The Tortoise, varies so much in tone throughout its generous running time, that you’re left with the feeling he’s given you a little of everything: black humour, sentimentality, suicide, art. The plot centres on Machisu, the only son of a rich art collector whose dream of becoming a painter takes hold early on and never leaves him, despite his perceived lack of talent and inability to sell any of his work. Played first as a young boy by Reo Yoshioka, then as an art student by Yurei Yanagi, before, finally, as a middle age man by Kitano himself, Machisu is driven solely by a passion for painting, his life, wife and child all sacrificed by his artistic drive. The film works best with Machisu as a child, orphaned after his father’s suicide, sent to live with a cruel uncle but continuing to paint. The middle section turns increasingly comic as Machisu and his art school chums concoct various wild and hair-brained schemes to push their art before tragedy inevitably spoils the party. While the final section is the most melancholic and repetitive, as Machisu, a painter more a suited to mimicry than original expression, goes back to the artistic well one too many times, egged on by an art dealer’s small words of encouragement. The blend of hilarity and death the film aims for isn’t easy to pull off and Kitano (author of much of the artwork on display) doesn’t quite nail it.

Christian (Yella) Petzold’s Jerichow is a German Postman Always Rings Twice with Benno Furmann as taciturn tough guy Thomas, an ex-soldier who accepts a job driving for Turkish take away businessman Ali (Himli Sozer) and finds himself falling for his German wife Laura (Nina Foss). Things are further complicated by Thomas’ growing affection for his boss, a brutish but ultimately decent man. As the illicit lovers, Furmann and Hoss generate a fair amount of onscreen heat, while Sozer gives Ali genuine depth and sympathy. Lean in narrative, spare in execution, Petzold’s love triangle has plausibility and tension even if the ending gets away from him.

Less successful was Barbet Schroeder’s Inju, The Beast In The Shadow, a tonally uneven and risible literary thriller set in Tokyo where best-selling French crime author Alex Fayard (Benoit Magimel) is visiting to promote his latest work. While there, Alex hopes to meet his literary hero, Shundei Oe, a reclusive Japanese author infamous for his disturbingly violent output but instead becomes infatuated by Tamao (Lika Minamoto), a beautiful young geisha who dances for him at an exclusive tea room. When it turns out that one of Tamao’s previous boyfriends might very well be Shundei, Alex is intrigued and finds himself drawn into a deadly game that plays out like the plot of a terrible mystery novel. Set in a Tokyo where everyone speaks (or at least understands French), Magimel’s obsessed stranger in a strange land is simply too much of a jerk to root for while Schroeder’s attempts to spice up his preposterous and unbelievable plot include the odd bit of S&M sex.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Venice: Valentino: The Last Emperor

“I know what women want,” says legendary Italian fashion designer Valentino at the start of Matt Tyrnauser’s terrifically entertaining fly on the wall documentary. And after 45 years at the top of his profession, designing dresses for everybody from Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn to Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow, who can argue with him. Following the flamboyant fashion icon and his long-time professional and personal partner Giancarlo Giammetti for more than a year as the jet-setting pair prepare Valentino’s spring/summer 2006 collection, micromanaging the creation of every hand stitched dress, holiday on their yacht, on the piste, then oversee a 45-year retrospective in Rome as investment bankers wait in the wings to take over his business empire, the film isn’t shy about showing the rough as well as the smooth. From cleaning their dogs’ teeth, to mixing with Hollywood and fashion elite, Valentino and Giammetti make a wonderfully touching double act, bitching and moaning like the two old lovers they are, partners who have spent just two months apart in 50 years. “Your belly is showing,” says Giancarlo at one point. “I don’t look fat,” snaps back Valentino who moans about the camera being too intrusive but then insists it follow him not anyone else. Affectionate, absorbing and, above all, huge fun.

Venice: Burn After Reading

For their follow up to their Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men, the brothers Coen, Joel and Ethan, are back in darkly comic territory familiar to fans of The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink, returning with their Intolerable Cruelty and O Brother star George Clooney for the final instalment of what they fondly refer to as Clooney’s trilogy of idiots. Part sex farce, part social commentary, part spy movie, Burn revolves around the sexual shenanigans of several Washington DC residents and a missing CD of what is purported to be sensitive material but is really nothing of the sort. The result is occasionally very funny and frequently extremely black but is missing the spark that would elevate it onto the list of classic Coens - that said, a lesser Coen is, to my mind, better than almost anybody else’s work. Clooney (wearing his Syriana beard) plays Harry Pfarrer, a bed-hopping Federal Marshall who is engaged in an affair with Tilda Swinton’s paedotrician Katie Cox whose foul-mouthed CIA analyst husband Osborne (John Malkovich) has just been fired and is determined to write an explosive memoir as a rebuke to his former bosses. Meanwhile, Frances McDormand’s gym employee Linda Litzke is desperate for plastic surgery when a CD containing supposedly sensitive information turns up in a locker room and together with fellow employee Chad (Brad Pitt hamming it up in lycra a side-splitting comic performance) attempt to blackmail Osborne before trying to sell the disc to the Russian.

Meanwhile, Clooney’s Harry meets Linda via an internet dating site and the plot takes another even more convoluted comic turn before running out of steam towards the end, by which point at least one major character has died and the feelgood factor kicks in somewhat. Beneath the screwball comedy and shameless mugging, the Coens are, however, clearly making some serious points about society today - every character is undergoing some personal or professional crisis and desperate for a change, while Swinton’s Katie is angry at everybody - as well as the perils of internet dating. JK Simmons contributes a droll cameo as a sweep-everything-under-the-carpet CIA boss while the contraption Clooney’s character knocks up in his basement as a “gift” to his wife has to be seen to be believed.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


... for the lack of posts, it's been non stop films since I've got here and I haven't had any time to write, but I will have my Burn After Reading review plus a couple of others up here soon(ish).

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

In Venice

I arrived last night and have a day of films ahead of me...

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The Brothers Bloom

I watched Rian Johnson's Brick again the other night. I loved it when I first saw it and loved it even more second time around. What a debut. As such, I've been eagerly awaiting his second film, The Brothers Bloom, which I very nearly went on the set off, but it never happened. The film's playing in Toronto and opens in the US in October. Hopefully a UK release won't be too far behind. The trailer looks like fun.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Monday musing

Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK, typically a time for DIY, but I'm useless at that stuff. Thankfully.

Friday night was spent the BFI Southbank, hosting a special BFI/BAFTA Craft Event that also fell under the umbrella of the Comic Book Movies Season — a talk by two members from leading London visual effects house Double Negative — animation supervisor Eamonn Butler (Hellboy II: The Golden Army) and Paul Franklin, VFX supervisor on The Dark Knight — followed by a Q&A. Twas very interesting with tons of before and after clips. The Dark Knight footage was particularly illuminating, seeing quite how much VFX went into making a film look realistic. The Batpod, for instance, was almost all CGI.

Saturday night included a visit to FrightFest to see the Clive Barker short story adaptation The Midnight Meat Train which got several whoops of delight from the gorehounds in the audience although I found it rather disappointing. Barker's original was set on the New York subway, this was shot in LA, although I wasn't sure what city it was meant to be taking place in. And they couldn't even be bothered to shoot the cold storage scenes either in a real cold storage facility or, failing that, CGI some fake breathe in after. Stuff like that bothers me. Candyman is still the benchmark for Barker Books Of Blood adaptations.

Tomorrow I'm heading off to Italy for the 65th Venice Film Festival and have already got a list of 16/17 titles I'd definitely like to see, including the Coens' Burn After Reading, the new Takeshi Kitano, Archilles And The Tortoise, Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea, and Babel screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut The Burning Plain. Alas Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, Aronofsky's The Wrestler and Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker are all screening after I leave, which is a bummer, but you can't see everything.

I'll be posting as often as I can while I'm in Venice with reviews, musings, and (hopefully) some photos.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Sweeney gets pinched

It was reported yesterday that DNA Films, makers of 28 Days Later, Sunshine and 28 Weeks Later among others, had the plug pulled on their big screen update of The Sweeney which was only weeks away from shooting under the direction of Nick Love with Ray Winstone rumoured to star.

According to Variety, Fox Searchlight, which backs DNA, is said to be concerned about the international prospects of the project.

"DNA reps said Fox execs are believed to have had doubts the $16 million pic, while looking a sure-fire hit in Blighty because it's based on a cult 1970s TV series, would sell elsewhere without a major star.

"Rather than continue with pre-production in the hopes of nabbing a big name at the last minute, Fox and DNA mutually agreed to step back and wait. They are still hoping to go into production next year.

"We're confident we'll get the film made next year," said DNA production chief Allon Reich.

Let's hope so.

Dave Gibbons Q&A

Here's the Dave Gibbons/Watchmen Q&A I hosted at the BFI Southbank last Sunday. Fortunately I'm not in it, but you do hear me cough every now and again.

Nowhere Fast

I've always liked this film even if it's probably not cool to say so.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

It's Alive redux

I didn't even know they were remaking this until I saw this today.

Death Race lawsuit

If the lukewarm reviews for Paul W.S. Anderson's Death Race weren't bad enough, screenwriter Adam Stone has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in LA claiming that the forthcoming reboot of Death Race 2000 is based on a script he pitched to writer-director Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. He's seeking a court order stopping the film's release. Stone claims that after the producers passed, Bolt made and kept a copy of his screenplay, Joust, to use as a "blueprint" for Anderson's revision of the script for Death Race. What with this and the Watchmen dispute, the winners are, almost inevitably, going to be the legal teams involved.

On a side note, my interview with Anderson can be found in the current issue of Fangoria.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

DVD review: Mad Men Season One

Following the demise of The Sopranos and The Wire, the mantle of best American television drama has been picked up by this superb show, a smart, alluring and totally engrossing take on 1960s ad men on Madison Ave — those sharp-suited, long-lunching, serial-shagging masters of consumerism who helped shape the American Dream. Or, at the very least, sold it to the masses.

Although set in the offices of fictional Manhattan advertising agency Sterling Cooper, Mad Men isn’t so much concerned with the business of selling product as it is with its characters selling themselves — to each other and to themselves. And the undisputed master of them all is Sterling Cooper’s resident creative genius Don Draper (Jon Hamm) who, with his matinee idol looks, highflying career, trophy Betty (January Jones) and perfect family, appears to possess everything a man could aspire to. But, in a business based on appearances and image manipulation, there’s more to Don than meets the eye. Smooth and successful on the outside, conflicted, ruthless, unfaithful and full of self-loathing on the in, by the end of 13 episodes, as his past is slowly revealed, he’s developed into one of the most fascinating and complex characters on TV. Part of what makes Mad Men so compelling is that he’s not the only one, and, over the course of this season, characters you think you know reveal their true selves with frequently shocking effect.

There is, too, a delicious sense of irony — the show’s set against the Nixon/Kennedy presidential campaign and for a supposedly forward-thinking bunch they don’t see Kennedy coming — that comes with the hindsight of forty plus years. In depicting the sexual, social, political and racial mores of the period, Mad Men positively revels in the differences between now and then, when a woman’s place was said to be at home (or on her back), where drinking at work, being openly anti-Semitic, or harassing your female co-workers was considered acceptable. Or where Don’s demure new secretary Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) is actively encouraged by the office vamp (the curvaceous Christine Hendricks) to make herself more desirable if she wants to get on. And then there’s the incessant smoking. So much so that the show should carry its own Government Health Warning.

On his commentary to the pilot, series creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner — who wrote the script in 1999 as a writing sample and earned himself a job on The Sopranos as a result — tells of having made everyone audition, even his guest stars, and laying down a decree that there’d be no English actors playing American on his show. “Because I’m sensitive to accents,” he says. His resultant, impeccably dressed ensemble is impressively top notch, as is the writing throughout, the season ending with a bombshell that should have been obvious to anyone paying attention, and setting up all manner of complications for season two.

Of the smattering of extras, the short but sweet Advertising The American Dream is arguably the best, providing some historical context and more than a few laughs as former ad folk remember the era fondly (“by far the most fun you could have with your clothes on,” says one), but it’s a pity this release doesn’t come in Zippo-shaped packaging like its Region 1 counterpart. Nor on Blu-ray for that matter. For a show whose glorious retro visuals cock a shop full of hats to Hitchcock, and where the atmosphere’s so thick you can almost cut it, that’s a crying shame.

Extras: Commentaries by cast and crew, Scoring Mad Men featurette; Advertising The American Dream’ featurette; Subtitles

* originally published in DVD & Blu-ray Review

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Random matters...

Having seen some Watchmen footage at the weekend, it seems safe to say that director Zach Synder evidently has the best interests of the comic and its fans at heart. However, things aren't all hunky dory in Watchmenland.

"A judge has denied a Warner Bros. motion to dismiss 20th Century Fox’s lawsuit over Warners’ right to make a film based on the graphic novel Watchmen" writes Variety. "Ruling is potentially a huge victory for Fox, which could wind up as a profit participant in the film, and could cost Warners millions considering the film’s box office prospects. However, Fox’s legal team says it isn’t looking for monetary compensation and instead wants to prevent the big-budget film from being released altogether."

Yikes! I can't imagine this won't be sorted because the idea of Synder's film not being released does not bare thinking about.

The Coens' Burn After Reading will open Venice next week — boy am I looking forward to seeing it — and they've already announced their next project. Entitled A Serious Man, it will star Tony-nominated actor Michael Stuhlbarg and Spin City's Richard Kind as brothers in the period black comedy.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Guillermo at BAFTA

A while ago I had a front row seat for Guillermo Del Toro's A Life In Pictures talk at London's BAFTA HQ. For those who weren't there, BAFTA has put up 23 minutes and 28 seconds of what was a hugely entertaining and informative two hour lovefest here.

Monday musing

So The Dark Knight finally gets bumped off the top of the US box office (by Tropic Thunder) but still makes $16.8 million which is enough to push it pass the original Star Wars to number two spot behind Titanic in all-time North American grossers, having taken a — deep breath now — $471.5 million in just 30 days.

The Q&A I hosted with Dave Gibbons yesterday seemed to go down well, as did the footage of Watchmen which was so good we showed it twice. I. Cannot. Wait. For this movie.

And finally, it appears The Banana Splits are returning. I loved this show as a kid, although I don't imagine the 21st century versions of Bingo, Drooper, Fleegle and Snorky will be quite so "groovy" and "psychedelic" this time around.

Altogether now: One banana, two banana, three banana, four. Four bananas make a bunch and so do many more...

Sunday, 17 August 2008

In awe...

It's been a film free weekend thus far as I've spent many hours watching the Olympics coverage and cheering the achievements of the British team as well as that bloke in the 100m who didn't even seem to be trying. Plus, the Premiership started yesterday and there are only so many hours in the day. But I will be at Movie-Con later. Can't wait to see the Watchmen footage.

Friday, 15 August 2008

And talking of TV...

The final season of The Wire that's currently airing on FX. Genius. It was a slow start, sure — let's call it simmering — but now that Omar's back, and Marlo (or rather Chris) is gunning for ultimate control, and Jimmy's got himself a (fake) serial killer... Wow. Wow. Wow. This really is the best programme on TV. Ever.

More Heroes

There seemed to be a lot of resentment towards season 2 of Heroes and while I'll admit it took a while to get going (perhaps too long), the end result was on a par with season one. Here's the trailer for the forthcoming season, subtitled Villains, which looks to be much darker than what's gone before. Just check out black haired Claire. The US gets it September 22. Us Brits... well, not soon enough.

Can you hear it?

Listen closely. There... it... is. The sound of millions and millions of Harry Potter fans weeping at the news that Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince has been moved from November to July 17 next year.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

There is a God

"Saving civilization, honey"

I wasn't sure about the previous Body Of Lies trailer but this is much more like it.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Movie-Con Weekend

This coming weekend is Movie-Con Weekend at London's BFI Southbank, two days of specials events, exclusive footage and film screenings. Alongside previews of Hellboy II, Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express — the first two are, alas, sold out — there will be presentations of footage from the likes of The Wolfman, Watchmen and Twilight as well as assorted Q&As with some of the talent involved. I'll be hosting a Q&A with Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons on Sunday afternoon. Tickets are available here. More details here.

Currently reading...

The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made by David Hughes (Titan Books)

Actually, I've already finished it, because once you pick up Hughes' marvelously entertaining and highly informative tome (published again in a revised and expanded edition with new chapters) you won't be able to put it down (and not just because I'm quoted in it).

Examining the production histories of a host legendary unmade projects (Spielberg's Night Skies, Burton's Superman et al) and several that have come to pass since the book's first incarnation (Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Thunderbirds), Hughes leaves no stone unturned and no ego unruffled — well, all except the unnamed screenwriter on the aborted Outer Limits movie who director Rupert Wainwright refers to as a "complete prick".

But as readable and solidly research the book is, there's a marked sense of disappointment and frustration to so many of the chapters, not just at the sense of what might have been regarding various projects but also at the development process itself that churns through writers and money and ideas — a lot of which, judging by Hughes' script descriptions, simply don't work. As Oscar-winning producer David Brown explains, so many times you end up with eleven first drafts rather than eleven drafts by one writer.

The quote on the cover proclaims, read it and weep. I couldn't put it better myself. Terrific stuff.

Toilet humour

Make of this what you will.

And here's the latest trailer.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

More Argonauts

As a young child, Jason And The Argonauts was probably my favourite film. I've lost count of how many times I've seen it on television and laserdisc but never on the big screen. Harryhausen's work in that film remains amazing, even compared to today's effects. The skeleton fight. Silas, the stone statue that comes to life...

Variety is reporting that Zak Penn, screenwriter of X Men and The Incredible Hulk and director of the terrific Incident At Loch Ness (if you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to track a copy down on DVD) is penning a remake of the classic tale that was remade as a TV movie in 2000 although I never saw it.

Hollywood's clearly big on Greek/sword and sandal movies again in the aftermath of 300 although quite how many of the projects listed in the article will actually make it to the big screen is uncertain. (I must admit, I liked the sound of DreamWorks' competiting Argonauts project about a group of treasure hunters who discover the wreck of the mythological sunken ship thought to have been captained by Jason, and are transported back in time to ancient Greece. Well, all except the transported back in time bit.)

The end of (popcorn) days

I hate popcorn. Hate it. The smell. The taste. Sweet. Or salty. Never understood the appeal. And so the news that a number of cinema chains in the UK are banning the stuff brings me great delight.

"Popcorn is a contentious issue. Lots of people absolutely hate it and have asked us to ban it, so we're going to do exactly that," said Gabriel Swartland, head of media at the Picturehouse Cinema, a chain that comprises 19 Picturehouse-branded screens across the country, including such non-branded venues as the Little Theatre Cinema, Bath. Throughout September, the Picturehouse's Cinema City screen in Norwich will hold popcorn-free screenings at 7pm every Tuesday. "If it's a success, and I've no reason to suspect it won't be, we'll roll it out across all our cinemas and make it a permanent fixture."

Now, if they could only ban people who talk during films...

Monday, 11 August 2008

Monday musing

It's been a shitty few days, what with the passing of Simon Gray, Bernie Brillstein, Bernie Mac, and Isaac Hayes, not to mention the various political situations around the globe which don't make it a happy planet at the moment despite the Olympics. Given all that, it's hard to muster the energy to congratulate The Dark Knight on a fourth weekend at the top of the US box office. But congratulate it we must. Nolan's film has knocked Shrek 2 (!) off its perch as the third highest domestic grosser of all time and now has Star Wars in its sights. Talking of which, I skipped The Clone Years yesterday with a crappy cough which has plagued me all week but reading Variety's review this morning I don't think I missed much. What I did watch last night, was writer/director Jeff Nichols' indie gem Shotgun Stories which is out in the UK on DVD in September and which I will review nearer release.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

File under "stuff"

I've always loved this song. And I never grow weary of watching this video. Can't think why. Oh yes, I know, Helena C.

Friday, 8 August 2008

"Go Flash Go!"

In contrast to Joe Versus The Volcano, Mike Hodges' Flash Gordon has always been a guilty pleasure and was one of my picks for the BFI Southbank's Comic Book Season. (Although, I would have loved to have seen original director Nic Roeg's take on the material.) I never saw the Sci-Fi Channel's recent TV series — by all accounts, it was pretty terrible — but another movie version has been on the cards for a while now. Sony have picked up the rights from Universal and have hired some writers to go back to the character's comic book origins.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

What they really wanna do is act

I'm all for film directors making fleeting cameo appearances (Hitchcock, after all, was almost as famous for his onscreen walk-ons as for his films) but it's when they actually try and act that I have my doubts. Variety is reporting that Eli Roth is in talks to play a baseball bat-swinging Nazi hunter in Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards. On the bright side, it'll stop him directing. At least for a while.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Welcome back...

... John Patrick Shanley.

I remember seeing a preview screening of the Moonstruck Oscar-winner's directorial debut Joe Versus The Volcano at my local cinema a few weeks before it came out and absolutely loving it. I've seen it many times since then and its charms haven't faded one bit. I don't consider it to be a guilty pleasure because I don't feel guilty for liking it.

Doubt, based on Shanley's own play, marks his first time behind the camera since Joe. And that cast is mighty impressive.

Monday, 4 August 2008


John Carpenter

Growing up, John Carpenter was a complete hero of mine. Halloween, Assault From Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Dark Star, Christine, Starman, Prince of Darkness, They Live, Big Trouble In Little China. The man could do no wrong. (I remember writing a fan letter to him — the only one I have ever written, I believe — and got a signed photo in the post.) He was the master of the B movie. And then something happened. Suddenly, around the time of Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, Carpenter stopped making good movies. In The Mouth Of Madness had some creepy moments but Escape From LA, Vampires, Ghosts Of Mars, the Village Of The Damned remake were all faintly embarrassing, especially coming from the director of The Thing. He's been in movie jail of late, dabbling in TV with a couple of episodes of Masters of Horror but his return to big screen movie making has been mooted for some time, and now comes news that he's teaming with Nic Cage on a prison thriller called Scared Straight. Now, I haven't warmed to anything starring Cage for a long time, and so this could be a disaster on so many levels, but the fan in me is praying and hoping that Carpenter comes good again.

DVD/Blu-ray review: Rambo

It’s been more than 25 years since Sylvester Stallone first donned the headband to play pissed off Vietnam vet, expert in guerrilla warfare, and all-round patriot John Rambo in First Blood, although it wasn’t until 1985’s sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II, that the character truly entered the zeitgeist when Ronald Reagan proclaimed him a Republican posterboy and his name subsequently became a byword for any have-a-go-hero or nutter in a combat jacket.

Two decades on from fighting the Russkies in Afghanistan in Rambo III, the character clearly hasn’t mellowed much. “When you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing,” he mumbles herein, and, as to prove his point, soon starts whacking Burmese bad guys with characteristic abandon. This is not a great movie, but it sure as hell is a violent one. Limbs are hacked off, bodies explode, heads are decapitated or pop like cherry bombs under sniper fire, flamethrowers torch villages, women are raped, men sodomised, and innocent civilians are gunned down or blown up for sport. The film even opens with some horrendous news footage of real atrocities in Burma. “It was important to let the audience know this is not a fantasy film,” says director/star/co-writer Sly. “This is happening here and now.”

Having successfully resurrected Rocky Balboa and, with it, his all but dead film career, it was only a matter of time before Stallone dusted off his other iconic action hero beginning with the letter R for another trip into the heart of darkness. Now living a simple existence in Thailand, collecting snakes for tourist sideshows and shooting fish with a bow and arrow, Rambo may be relatively at peace in his self-imposed exile but he’s still pissed off and stoic. (His first words are “Fuck you”.) Soon, a group of American missionaries led by idealistic wimp Michael (Paul Schulze) and his fiancĂ©e Sarah (Julie Benz) show up, asking him to take them by river into Burma to deliver medical and spiritual aid. Rambo initially turns them down flat, but eventually cracks, Sarah’s powers of persuasion rekindling the beast inside him in more ways than one.

En route, they run into a boatload of vicious pirates and before you can say “Kalashnikov” Rambo’s wasted the scum. He’s even got himself a new motto: “Live for nothing or die for something.” Later, after the “God squad” are kidnapped by the sadistic Burmese military, Rambo is hired to travel back up river, this time as guide to a group of foul-mouthed mercenaries sent to extricate them. So far, so Apocalypse Now. But, inevitably, it’s Rambo who proves the better equipped to deal with the jungle hellhole they soon find themselves in, although wisely, given Stallone’s now 61, the film keeps him on the sidelines during the real hand-to-hand stuff, and behind the barrel of a .50 calibre jeep-mounted machine gun that decimates everything in its sights.

On his amusing and thoughtful commentary, Stallone states that he only took on directing duties late in the day after the original (unnamed) director bailed. Searching for a style for the film, he hit upon the idea that maybe the movie should be shot from “Rambo’s point of view and have his personality. Never steady, but not overly active, the camera is alive, prowling, jittery.” To be fair Rambo’s a better director than Sly is an actor or even a writer (despite his Best Screenplay Oscar for Rocky). While the script’s simplistic at best and the dialogue simply atrocious — “Man, I have seen some shit, but brother I have never seen no shit like this,” bleats one mercenary upon seeing a local village massacred by the Burmese military — Stallone knows what his audience wants and choreographs his action sequences with an eye towards maximum spectacle, offering up bloody mayhem, shockingly realistic evisceration and earth-shattering explosions that look dazzlingly good in hi-def. “Let’s just show it the way it is,” he relates of his motives behind the onscreen bloodbath. “If we can’t be great, let’s be truthful.”

Alas the extras are a mixed bag. ‘It’s A Long Road: Resurrection Of An Icon’ is the longest at 19 minutes and the most disappointing, lacking context, clips from any of the previous three movies, and sound bites from anyone beyond those involved in this production. (Was it that hard to get a comment from novelist David Morrell who created the character in the first place?) The rest are, by and large, EPK fluff, although the ‘Weaponry Of Rambo’ featurette reveals that Thai authorities were understandably apprehensive about the production shipping in 90,000 rounds of ammunition — enough to start a war — while ‘Legacy Of Despair: The Real Struggle In Burma’ adds some welcome background info and historical perspective. Citing the film’s apparent impact in helping bring Burma’s horrendous human rights record back into the public’s consciousness, the featurette also exposes a country where Rambo DVDs are banned and watching one is punishable by ten years’ imprisonment or a life sentence if you’re caught selling them. Which puts an altogether different slant on the term “movie jail”.

Extras: Commentary by director; ‘It’s a Long Road: Resurrection of an Icon’ featurette; ‘A Score to Settle: The Music of Rambo’ featurette; ‘The Art of War: Part 1: Editing’ featurette; The Art of War: Part 2: Sound’ featurette; ‘The Weaponry of Rambo’ featurette; ‘A Hero’s Welcome: Release and Reaction’ featurette; ‘Legacy of Despair: The Real Struggle in Burma’ featurette; Deleted scenes; Subtitles. Blu-Ray exclusive extras: Picture in Picture commentary with Sylvester Stallone; Audio commentary with branching features: Snake sale (casting); Burmese pirates (shooting); Helping People (production design); Rambo’s dream sequences (editing); With the mercs (casting); Rambo’s arrow attack (visual FX); Nuclear claymore (Visual FX); Rambo returns (visual FX)

* this review originally appeared in DVD & Blu-Ray Review

Monday musing

So The Dark Knight continued to rule the roost at the US box office, headings the charts for the three week on the bounce and will soon have taken $400m in North America alone. That's mighty impressive. Less so is the fact that Mummy 3 took close to $35m(!).

Oh, and The X Files tanked. Shame.

Universal have picked up the remake rights to Island Of Lost Souls, a nice little Danish fantasy film that I reviewed at last year's London Film Festival but at least they've got the original director, Nikolaj Arcel, to return.

Tomorrow's 2000AD panel at BFI Southbank is almost sold out, so if you're thinking of coming, do it quick.

Screenings of Rocknrolla and Clone Wars this week, plus a pile of films/DVDs/Blu-rays to review.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Great trailer... shame about the film

There's a perceived wisdom that if the trailer’s great, the movie will be terrible. A case in point being The Phantom Menace whose teaser stoked the fevered anticipation of legions of Star Wars fans only for them to discover, several months later, that the movie sucked, big time. More recently there was Wanted whose teasers left me salivating, while the movie left much to be desired.

Studios spend a small fortune cooking up these two-three-minute slices of cinematic foreplay. And with movies costing such huge sums these days, and the line between success and failure being such a thin one, who can blame them. Summer blockbusters, typically, have great trailers. Then again, if you’re stomping up that kind of money on stars and/or special effects, you’re bound to have enough cool moments to string together to whet one’s appetite. (And if you don’t, well…)

As a committed movie fan, I love trailers. I’m constantly linking to or posting youtube versions here because, well, they’re bloody exciting, generally offering the first peak at a film I’m desperate to see, sometimes pricking my interest in a movie I’m not.

A few months ago, prior to seeing Son Of Rambow, I caught the trailer for Robert Luketic's 21 , the release of which had pretty much passed me by. But the trailer (see below) made me sit up and take note. It was slick, fun, and flashy, and did its job brilliantly — it made me want to see the film.

For various reasons, I didn't manage to catch it while it was still in cinemas, and so I was very excited when a Blu-ray of 21 (***) turned up in the post yesterday. So much so, that it jumped right to the top of the viewing queue last night. The trailer had promised a sharp, edgy, snappy tale about a group of MIT students who uses their mathematical smarts to clean up at Blackjack in Las Vegas. But what I got was something much slower, more pedestrian, more conventionally plotted. Not that it’s terrible. It’s reasonably entertaining and diverting in a wet Sunday afternoon way. But it was most definitely not the movie its trailer sold.

Still, the Blu-ray transfer was gorgeous, particularly in capturing Vegas' razzle dazzle and neon hues, although Russell Carpenter's night time HiDef cinematography isn’t a patch on Zodiac.

Friday, 1 August 2008


I will be experimenting with this site's appearance over the next few days to see what, if anything takes my fancy. If you prefer the previous look, let me know. If this is more pleasing to the eye, ditto. All comments gratefully received.

Quote me

"Sex and golf are the two things you can enjoy even if you're not good at them."

Roy McAvoy, Tin Cup

For your viewing pleasure

If you're thinking of seeing The Mummy 3 this weekend, may I suggest you opt for this instead.

Seriously, don't encourage them. If it makes money, they're going to consider another one. And that will be your fault.

2000AD panel

I'm going to be hosting a 2000AD panel discussion as part of the BFI Southbank's Comic Book Movies season on Tuesday August 5 when I will be joined on stage by launch editor and legendary scribe Pat Mills, esteemed creators Dave Gibbons and Robbie Morrison, as well as the current incumbent of Tharg's hotseat Matt Smith. Tickets are still available via the bfi website.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Well, it didn't rain. In fact, the weather gods blessed the many hundreds of us gathered together in the courtyard of London's Somerset House last night with a dry and somewhat balmy evening for the People's Premiere of Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

The film, which was preceded by a typically hilarious filmed introduction from Guillermo Del Toro and an onstage appearance by John Hurt, is a loud, wildly imaginative, near relentless monsterfest that upped the ante from the previous movie in every conceivable way, although my favourite scene was the one quiet moment where Hellboy and Abe get drunk and listen to Barry Manilow. But if you love monsters, you'll love this.

Just imagine what he's going to do with The Hobbit.