Saturday 27 September 2008

So long...

Paul Newman has left us aged 83 after a long battle with cancer. He was not only one of the good guys but one of the greats.

Thursday 25 September 2008

It's official...

Johnny Depp is the Mad Hatter. But we knew that already, didn't we.

Monday 22 September 2008

DVD review: Zodiac Director's Cut

When the history books remember the best films of 2007, There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men will be at the forefront by virtue of their victories at the Oscars. Quite how Zodiac missed out — not even scoring a single nomination — remains a miscarriage of cinematic justice akin to Ordinary People beating Taxi Driver to Best Picture. At the very least, Zodiac should have won for special effects (witness the supplementary featurette for an insight into the seamless digital work involved throughout, from adding blood to creating entire city blocks), although this extraordinary film deserved much more.

A triumph from David Fincher, who reined in his usual stylistic flourishes to present a simple, disciplined, study of the serial killer who terrorised the San Francisco Bay area during the late 60s and 70s but was never caught, Zodiac is a densely detailed police procedural, a meticulous, near obsessive examination of the murders and the subsequent investigation by San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) and homicide detective David Toschi (Ruffalo) that includes virtually every frustration, misstep and dead end, but which goes so far as to identify a prime suspect whose guilt is debated on the accompanying ‘His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen’ documentary. It’s a movie about obsession, too, and its consequences: particularly for Graysmith, whose two books about the Zodiac form the basis for the script, but also Fincher. Raised in Marin County, just across the bay from San Francisco, Zodiac was the bogeyman of his youth, and he spent three years checking every piece of evidence, tracking down every living person involved in the case to figure out “the closest thing to the truth” before shooting began.

This Director’s Cut is four minutes longer than the theatrical, with just a handful of new scenes, among them an audacious sequence where the screen goes black for a full minute and we hear a music montage that marks the passage of four years. Fincher shot Zodiac on HiDef, and the result, at the cinema, was astounding. Disappointingly on DVD, the picture appears a shade muddy and soft. Blu-Ray, clearly, is the way to go. Nevertheless, the film’s forensic attention to detail carries over to the extras which are both bountiful and a boon. Fincher’s typically measured and erudite commentary is again essential for anyone interested in the art of filmmaking; while the second, spliced together from separate chats with Gyllenhaal and Downey, and another with screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer, and novelist and “fan” James Elroy, makes for hugely entertaining listening.

The impressive behind-the-scenes documentary ‘Zodiac Deciphered’ reveals Fincher’s Kubrick-like quest for perfection, whether shooting 36 takes of Gyllenhaal tossing a notebook onto a car seat, helicoptering in trees to recreate a murder site exactly, or insisting on changing one line of thread in an executioner’s mask. Even better is the stellar feature-length ‘This Is The Zodiac Speaking’, a disquieting chronicle of the murders featuring crime scene photos, vintage news footage and interviews with many of those involved in the case, as well as surviving victims, Bryan Hartwell and Michael Mageau, all of whose lives seem forever altered. Sadly, there’s no contribution from Toschi or his SFPD partner Bill Armstrong. That minor quibble aside, this is a monumental package for what Elroy terms “a luminous work of art”.

Extras: Commentary by director David Fincher; Commentary by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and novelist James Elroy; ‘Zodiac Deciphered’ documentary; ‘The Visual Effects Of Zodiac’ featurette; ‘Previsualisation’ featurette; ‘This Is The Zodiac Speaking’ documentary; ‘Prime Suspect: His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen’ documentary

* originally published in DVD & Blu-ray Review.

Who watches the Watchmen?

Judging by this article in the New York Times, it might very well be just the lawyers.

Talking of great writers...

Here's an interview with the legendary Philip Roth that was the cover story of yesterday's Observer magazine.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Great writers

We all have our favourites, at least I do, those writers — and I'm talking journalists and critics here not novelists or screenwriters — whose byline in a magazine or newspaper is enough to get me to buy it. Writers whose work is so good, you know no matter how long you do what you do, you'll never get close to them.

Anthony Lane is one. I know he's not everyone's cup of tea but when he was working for the Independent On Sunday, Lane was my go-to critic. While I still read his stuff in The New Yorker, it was his weekly column in the IOS that made me sit up and take note. His style, his wit, his attitude was like manna from heaven to me when I started writing. I would cut out his reviews, collecting them all in a large brown envelope. I still have them and do occasionally flick through those early writings. (It's a shame his terrific book, Nobody's Perfect, only includes his New Yorker work.)

Then there was Chris Heath whose interviews in Details and Rolling Stone I would read over and over again, examining every sentence or turn of phrase, trying to grasp the secret of his deceptively simple but oh so smart writing. Heath gave me my first break in journalism when he worked at Smash Hits and I got to commission him in turn when I worked at Empire. If you've never read his work, then google his name, sit back and enjoy. Or buy his books on the Pet Shop Boys or Robbie Williams. You won't be disappointed.

And then there was John H Richardson whose writings for Premiere set the benchmark for on set reporting and investigative film journalism as far as I'm concerned. During Premiere's heyday, Richardson was one of a number of exceptionally talented writers but he was always top dog. (He later wrote a chapter a month for Premiere of a Hollywood set novel that, from what I understand, was one of the reasons why he gave up film journalism.) Alas, very little of what Richardson wrote has been archived online (it's the same sorry story for almost all of what Premiere published during its near 20-year lifetime, and if it doesn't exist online these days, it's as if it never did). Richardson now writes for Esquire specialising in crime reporting, and some of his work can be found here although there are only two Premiere pieces. His interview with Paul Thomas Anderson in the latest Esquire is his first film piece in a decade and should be well worth reading.

I've been reading a lot of novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace's articles in the last few days following his death last week. I confess I haven't read his acknowledged masterpiece Infinite Jest but I remember his David Lynch piece that Premiere published and an article on the adults video awards that he also wrote for Premiere under a pseudonym and being bowled over. There have been a number of touching tributes to him but may I direct you to this one written by Glenn Kenny who edited him at Premiere and was a friend.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

I see Golden people...

Streep in a habit. Seymour Hoffman in a dog collar. I think it's a safe to predict several Oscar nominations for John Patrick Shanley's Doubt at the very least.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Keanu, barada, nikto

Seven and a half minutes of The Day The Earth Stood Still remake for your viewing pleasure. Or not, as the case may be. Did you know that Gort was the superior being in the original short story?

Trailer park

Regular readers will know of my love for [REC] which I reviewed here. The Hollywood remake Quarantine had already been announced when I saw the Spanish original and I'm seeing it later this week. From the look of the trailer they've made a carbon copy — only that night vision footage looks a little too clean and sharp to me.

I first saw Run Lola Run at the Angelika in New York and it blew my mind. Nothing director Tom Tykwer's done since has really grabbed me in quite the same way and the trailer for his latest, The International, seems to promise another slick if bland action thriller, although the idea of a bank welding so much power and influence in today's financial climate feels a little far-fetched.

Monday 15 September 2008

DVD review: Chemical Wedding

There’s a great movie to be made about Aleister Crowley but this sadly isn’t it. Not that Chemical Wedding, co-written by Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and director Julian Doyle, is without interest, it’s just that the idea of resurrecting Crowley in contemporary England (well, the year 2000) isn’t, to my mind, the best way to deal with this intensely fascinating character. Clearly Dickinson and Doyle know their subject, and there are abundant nods, references and homages to Crowley, his predilections (sexual Magick, buggery, redheaded women, orgies, the occult, et al) and many of the acolytes (John Symonds, Joshua Mathers, Oliver Haddo, Victor Neuman), it’s just that the plot — the self-styled Beast 666 is resurrected into the body of Cambridge don Oliver Haddo (a hamming Simon Callow) via a virtual reality suit and a super computer — which even manages to shoehorn in L Ron Hubbard, Jack Parsons, quantum physics, and the astral plane into the mix, is too preposterous and the execution too Hammer horror circa Dracula AD 1972. A shame.

James Watkins/Eden Lake Q&A part two

Here's the second half of my chat with Eden Lake writer-director James Watkins in which we discuss the film's ending so for all of those who have yet to see the film, please stop reading right now, go and see it, and then come back and read the rest.

Let’s talk about the ending which made me more angry than any film has in quite some time.

With me or the film?

Both, I think.

Is that a good or a bad thing?

Well, it’s not that I didn’t like it, because I did, otherwise I wouldn’t be here talking to you…

It’s really interesting. Brett’s reaction, how much is it him getting away with it? How much is that look at the end bravado? I don’t want to impose a viewpoint on the ending but I think it’s very true, you’ve gone through that journey with Kelly…

Were there many discussions about the ending?

Yeah, lots of discussions. I didn’t want to have an ending… she’s a school teacher, she’s been through this horrible journey, she’s reached almost this point… you know when she gets the knife and it’s kind of almost pathetic when she hits the dad with the knife and she’s almost at the end of the road I think. I didn’t want her to turn into this take charge Ripley, Sarah Connor, pull a grenade out of her dress and kill everybody Death Wish.

But it wasn’t Kelly Reilly's character getting it that bothered me.

It was Brett upstairs?


Interesting. I guess it depends on whether you think he gets away with it or not. I remember Anthony Minghella talking about the ending of Ripley and Ripley’s just killed his boyfriend and gets away with it, and he was talking about does anybody ever get way with it in their soul, and I guess that how I feel about it with Brett, does he ever get away with it, is he really a winner here, I don’t know. It was the ending that I had and the ending that felt right and I didn’t have another ending. I wasn’t trying to spit in your face, that was never my intent. I don’t have those snickering frat boy sensibilities. I don’t get off on that particularly. [Writing it] I probably thought that’s arresting. That’s an interesting place to end, tragic and traumatic… I’ll tell you what it is, I always had that image of Brett in my head from the beginning of the film. It came from that image, I was drawn to that image of Brett and the glasses and the mirror and never shook that image off. Sometimes you really think through things on a logical, manipulative level, and some things are more intuitive, I suppose, and that was a more intuitive ending and it just felt right. Or wrong.

My Little Eye, Gone, Eden Lake — clearly you’re drawn to dark subjects…

I’ve written other stuff I have to say, that’s just what’s got made.

Does that horror pigeonhole bother you?

Nobody likes being pigeonholed. I don’t see myself as the gore guy pr anything like that. Having said that, I am definitely more drawn to thriller territory, suspense thriller, psychological thriller, horror thriller, any of those things and that’s probably what I’ll try and do next, probably do something more psychological, less survivalist and maybe with a touch more redemption at the end.

And that would be for you to direct?

I hope so, I guess if people will still want to give me money but yeah, having had a taste for it, I’ve got a taste for it. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, write my way into directing so hopefully I’ll be able to continue.

You've written The Descent 2. How does it pick up from the original?

We always talked about Halloween and Halloween 2, almost a real time thing, so you’ve got a bunch of girls, they’ve gone down a cave, they’ve gone missing, they don’t check in, and so you have the rescue team. Again you’ve got a group dynamic and for those people who have seen the first film you’re ahead of the game, those that haven’t it plays both ways. It was so tricky, you play both ways there, and then you’ve got, What about the Americans?

So what did you do about the "happy" US ending?

We had lots and lots of discussions. I’m not trying to hold out on you here I just honestly can’t remember, it go so complicated, we had different things that we tried. We definitely tried to address it and then we reached a point where we wrote a point where it has to address that… but my focus and energies were trying to address the English version, really, and then think fuck it’s got to work for the Americans.

So is Shauna’s character alive?

Yes, she is alive.

Friday 12 September 2008

James Watkins/Eden Lake Q&A part one

Eden Lake, which opens in the UK today, is the most compelling and provocative British horror thriller I've seen in a long while, although it's definitely not for anyone of a nervous disposition. Or scared of kids. The director is James Watkins, co-writer of My Little Eye and Gone, as well as the forthcoming The Descent 2. Here's the first part of my interview with Watkins who makes his directorial debut with Eden Lake. Part two, which deals with the film's controversial ending as well as The Descent 2, will be along later.

Was this written for you to direct?

It was very much written to direct. I had a deal with Working Title and I had one opt out and this was it, and I went to [WT head honcho] Tim Bevan and said there’s this idea that I want to do and it was sort of below their radar, my grubby little film, so I was able to take it to other people and I took it to Christian Coulson, who produced The Descent. And Christian read the script and phoned me up that afternoon having just read it. He said, I love it, which is pretty unheard of in the film business for someone to respond that quickly. Before he read it I told him, here’s the deal, I want to direct. And I was very open to where that might go and how that might go. I was thinking maybe this is me, my credit card, my camcorder and my cousin, let’s do it for nothing kind of thing. And Christian got involved and he saw potential in it and thought maybe we could make this properly and get it properly financed and so he said let’s make a couple of shorts. Firstly, as a development tool it was helpful for me and my learning, but also so that when went to financiers and you say Here’s the script and they say Who’s directing? [And you say] it’s the writer. Faces fall. So we got to a position where we could say, Here’s a DVD of seven minutes of the film, have a look. I was incredibly lucky because Christian fought for me and believed in me. People are weirdly resistant to writers wanting to direct. It’s such a directors business and writers are so badly perceived, generally.

I remember talking to one screenwriter who said that people don’t want him to direct. They like him in the box marked “writer”.

It’s out of their comfort zone, they want him in that writer box. So I strove really hard to get myself out of the box and in terms of making the film what I didn’t want, because I’d heard it so many times when a writer directs, even in the theatre, they go, He’s a good writer but somebody else should have directed it. And it’s niggled me for years and years and years, so I didn’t want to make a writerly film, one of those ones that’s two people talking in a room, I wanted a spare, muscular, tense thriller, stripped down. That’s kind of what I’m interested in aesthetically as a filmgoer and a filmmaker but politically I was really aware of that. Let’s make a film that people think It’s directed.

Let’s talk about the film’s genesis. I’ve heard it classed as hoodie horror…

Not a word I use.

… but it’s at the forefront of this wave of movies with evil kids in it. But clearly you wrote this a while ago.

Of course. That’s what’s really interesting when you get hysterical headlines or reactions, oh you’re just jumping on the bandwagon of tabloid headlines and you forgot how long it takes to make a movie. I was writing this three years ago. I didn’t have any direct experience of being beaten up or anything like that. I think I thought there was something in the ether, this powder keg of this sense of disconnect between adults and kids and youth and this sense of a fear and sense of a threat and do they ever match up. I just though those were interesting issues but at the same time I wanted to write a hard, muscular genre horror thriller and glance at them — it’s not a social realist Ken Loach film. I’m trying to walk a line and make a film that works as a genre film but also something that has a little bit more resonance.

It’s interesting that horror doesn’t tackle these kind of issues, the monster is almost always supernatural.

Well that really interested me. I thought why don’t we have a horror film, back to those films from the early 70s, where the horror is from within, the horror is unavoidable, where you leave the cinema and the horror lingers. One thing I’ve discovered is its relatively easy to create a jump in the cinema through a card cut or a pump of music, but ultimately that’s not that satisfying. For me, the best horror films are the ones where you leave the cinema and the horror stays with you and you can’t quite shake it off, it slightly gets into your bones, and I think by making a film that has some degree of reality plays into that.

What horror films are you talking about specifically?

Well the one that came into my head as I was talking was the original The Vanishing which really kind of scared the hell out of me, but in terms of the 70s stuff, survival thrillers like Deliverance, Straw Dogs, that whole 70s cinema of queasiness, that sense of uncertainty that informed that cinema I find quite interesting, you’re watching a film and you’re not quite sure where it’s going or what side it’s taking, and for me that’s kind of interesting.

You made a couple of shorts prior to filming.

The first short I tried to take the film into a standalone piece condensing it and it didn’t really work, partly because one of things about Eden Lake or a long form project is you can take your time and let the sense of dread build. In a short film you’ve got one hit on the hammer. A lot of people develop into making feature films from shorts, I haven’t, I’ve developed from writing feature films and so I find the short form difficult. The second one we just did an extract from the film, we did the torture scene and chase scene and that was in many ways a technical exercise, shooting in a circle, over three days, keeping up the performance levels and the intensity, so I learnt an enormous amount about the filmmaking process but once you can learn those skills, like Orson Welles and his train set, there’s a lot of mystification that directors do. I’ve always raged against this, it’s just another form of storytelling with different tools, and I think if you can focus on telling the story, there’s a lot of very capable people around who can help you with lenses. I’ve always said that writers start with a blank page and that’s an act of creation and directors have a script and that’s an act of interpretation. For my money creation is more difficult. Working with actors was the one big one, that was a new experience but again Christian would say, as a writer you’re privileged because you fall back on the same things of character, motivation.

Did making those shorts inform the final screenplay?

The first one was a bit more abstract, it was like an arthouse French film and the kids weren’t scary. The kids were a little bit younger, couple of more stagey school kids, so I decided not to go that route. The kids were much more withheld, in many ways, but I realised that on the page you could keep them metaphorically in the shadows, but onscreen where things are shown, you had to show them. So the rewrite after that was rewriting the gang, to bring them forward, differentiating them, trying to have a sense of the dynamic within the gang, the power relations and the peer pressures, and the whole process of making the film has been bringing the gang more centre stage and spending more time with them.

Dealing with kids is always tricky but especially in terms of having kids kill and kids being killed…

The two taboos. Killing children and having children commits acts of violence are two massive taboos and sure that’s going to upset some people and the film has strong reactions, both ways, fortunately not all bad. I’ve had people [say] You’re a sick bastard and weirdly I’ve had people say you should show your film in schools. It’s a troubling issue, if you can't be thought provoking within the context of a horror film where can you be.

In terms of writing and filming, did you have a line in terms of what you could and couldn’t show regarding the kids.

Many times we were quite restrained, for example, the little boy burning. Because it was a stunt, I shot it on two cameras and one of them was on a long lens and it was a midshot and I didn’t use that all, I kept it just glimpsed in the background. There were lots of case, even in the torture sequence [where] I’m focusing much more on the reactions of the kids than actually what’s happening, and you’re seeing them look scared and be sick and seeing their hands quivering. I very much wanted to show the consequences of violence as much as the violence itself and to replicate that visceral sense within the audience. Any experience I’ve ever had in my life of violence has been queasy and left me feeling sick and horrible and unpleasant and violence is nasty and I wanted to hopefully reconnect the audience with that experience and that nastiness.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

LFF launch

The Times 52th London Film Festival runs from October 15-30 with films from 43 countries and includes no fewer than 15 world premieres and 20 European premieres, kicking off with Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon and closing 15 days later with Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, two films, coincidentally, concerned with politics and the power of television. In between is a fascinatingly diverse programme featuring the best of the year’s fests (Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Venice et al), a people’s premiere of Quantum Of Solace (love the new trailer), plus a whole load more, including masterclasses/talks with Danny Boyle, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Carlyle, Peter Morgan and Michael Sheen, short films, documentaries, animation, and various educational events, and, judging by the half hour clip reel they showed this morning, there really is something for everyone. The list of films I’m looking forward to seeing is growing every time I flick through the catalogue but here are ten I don’t want to miss:

Frost/Nixon (dir. Ron Howard) — didn’t see the play but the trailer looks great

Franklyn (dir. Gerard McMorrow) — was on set and the script’s terrific

W. (dir. Oliver Stone) — the first Stone movie in an age I’ve actually been excited to see

Che (dir. Steven Soderbergh) — Del Toro renuites with his Traffic director

Once Upon A Time In The West (dir. Sergio Leone) — a 40th anniversary restoration

The Brothers Bloom (dir. Rian Johnson) — his follow up to Brick. Enough said

Genova (dir. Michael Winterbottom) — Britain’s most prolific and versatile filmmaker

Synecdoche, New York (dir. Charlie Kaufman) — should be different

Vicky Christina Barcelona (dir. Woody Allen) — good Wood, apparently

Three Monkeys (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan) — because I loved Uzak

Tickets go on sale September 27. Call 020 7928 3232 or book via


So the world didn't end and a whole load of physicists went home happy. Me, I went to the press launch of the LFF, then interviewed James Watkins, writer-director of Eden Lake — look for that interview here soon.

Apparently all they did today in CERN was turn the bleeding machine on. They've still got to fire the particles at each other. Crikey.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Big bang

Is anybody out there concerned about the possibility of a black hole forming tomorrow morning when CERN switch on their particle accelerator or is it just me?

Monday 8 September 2008

The Strangers

Finally caught up with Brian Bertino's The Strangers this afternoon and what a creepy and effective film it is. Nothing flashy. Or profound. Or even original. Just, for the most part, good, old-fashioned, wholesome, hand-wringing scares which, in this age of ramping, epileptic editing and multiple film stock, is a rare thing indeed in horror. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play the unhappy couple in a remote country pad at night terrorised by a trio of mask-wearing home invaders who enjoy drawing out the couple's ordeal until the head-scratching conclusion almost undoes all the good work that's gone before. The Strangers 2 is, inevitably, in the pipeline.

Monday musing

So The Wrestler won the Golden Lion and earned a rave from Variety's Todd McCarthy. Shame I wasn't still in Venice to see it. I was however tickled by the fact that Gianfranco Rosi's Below Sea Level won the Orizzonti Documentary Prize. A moving, melancholic and wryly funny look at a group of displaced individuals living in a community of buses, cars, vans and mobile homes in the Californian desert, I saw it on my last day on the Lido and it jumped right to the top of my list of favourites. (I'm aware I still have yet to post my final review round up. Again, sorry for my tardiness.) Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married and Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker also found much favour from the remaining attendees and I hope to catch up with both at the forthcoming London Film Festival where, I presume, they will be showing — although I won't know for sure until Wednesday morning when the line up is officially announced — and for which Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire has now been chosen as the closing night gala.

Elsewhere the US box office spluttered into September with a piss poor weekend, the box office charts led by the Nicolas Cage-starrer Bangkok Dangerous which didn't even make $8million. I thought the Pang brothers' original was stylish and empty but screaming horses wouldn't drag me to this remake. What the heck happened to Cage? Oh yes, terrible choices, I almost forgot.

In the UK, The Duchess duked it out with Rocknrolla both of which pulled out the PR/marketing stops with Keira's lovely visage adorning many a magazine cover and Guy Ritchie's latest gangsta outing, equally, hard to miss, although, thus far, I've managed it. Still, even without my money, the cockney geezers outgunned the period patter...

Sunday 7 September 2008

Flippin' heck

I promise this isn't turning into a sports blog but it's congratulations to Andy Murray for reaching the US Open Final — the boy done good!

File under "stuff"

I'm a huge fan of Formula One, have been ever since I was very young. I've been to several, and I watch every race on television. Today's Belgium Grand Prix was one of the most exciting and unpredictable I've seen in a long, long time, culminating with a dazzling victory in the rain for Lewis Hamilton. His was an audacious drive –- brave, skillful, fearless, exhilarating. And then, after the race, the stewards penalised him 25 seconds for apparently gaining an unfair advantage on a chicane (watch the footage, it didn't) which robbed him of his victory and demoted him to third place, thereby promoting his main rival in the world championship, Ferrari's Phillipe Massa, to first, and cutting Hamilton's lead in the driver's championship dramatically. Now this is the same Massa who only last week in Valencia wasn't penalised by the stewards for what many believe was a dangerous piece of driving in the pit lane, pulling out in front of the Force India driver Adrian Sutil and nearly causing an accident. The stewards discussed the incident and deemed Massa not to be at fault. (A drive through penalty, which is the usual punishment for unsafe driving, would has cost Massa his victory.) In Belgium, Hamilton was penalised. A cynic would say this is yet another example of blatant piece of favouritism towards Ferrari. Others might call it cheating. It certainly has cheated not only Hamilton out of a deserved and just win, but the millions and millions of viewers watching on TV around the world who love this sport. Maybe they won't love it quite so much any more. I'm not sure I do.

Saturday 6 September 2008

Still funky

Still lagged from Venice, having to catch up on a ton of stuff that's all but prevented my presence here of late. Normal service should be resumed next week.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Just saying...

Giving Tarzan to Stephen Sommers is asking for trouble. And I know I've been liking those GI Joe images but the man made The Mummy, The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing so forgive me if I don't feel confident. Besides, I really like Greystoke...

Post-festival funk

There's always a comedown when you re-enter the real world after a prolonged visit to a film festival where your priorities get bent seriously out of whack and life is dominated by screenings — in Venice they start at 8.30am with the final film of the day at around midnight and two competition films screening every night at 7/7.30 and 10/10.30, all of which leaves very little time to eat, much less sleep. I'm not asking for anyone's sympathy, just explaining while I'm a little tardy posting my final batch of Venice reviews, in case any of you out there were interested. Plus I took the afternoon off, seeing the Cy Twombly exhibition at the Tate Modern. Still, it's back to work tomorrow. I'm on set of Evil Aliens director Jake West's latest Doghouse.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Cutting it fine

One film I'm sorry not to be seeing in Venice is Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler which screens on Friday morning at 9am although when I spoke to someone connected with the movie at the weekend they said it wasn't finished yet. Talk about last minute...

Venice: Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea

There aren't enough superlatives to adequately describe Hayao Miyasaki's latest masterpiece, a delightfully sweet, extraordinarily imaginative Little Mermaid-esque children's fantasy that begins as it means to go on with a sequence of such astonishing colour and spectacle and creativity that it affixes a smile to one's face that remains firmly in place for the duration of its 101-minute running time.

Five year old Susoko lives by the sea with his mother Lisa who works in the local old people's centre. (His father is a ship's captain who seems permanently at sea.) One day, while playing by the shore, Susoko discovers a small goldfish whom he names Ponyo. But Ponyo isn't just any fish. Having escaped from her sorcerer father's underwater lair and after sampling a few drops of Susoko's blood from a cut on a finger, some ham, and a dose of his love, Ponyo decides to become human, the consequences of which put not only her life at risk but those of Susoko's entire community.

Armed with such a simple narrative, Miyasaki orchestrates a riot of bright colour and unbridled imagination, populating his triumphant, idiosyncratic vision with a plethora of charming characters and whimsical sea creatures that appear to have sprung wholly into existence from the mind of a five-year-old with a particular fondness for prehistorical monsters. There are nods too to environmental issues and a sly, subversive streak, plus a peculiarly Japanese sense of morality (Susoko's mother drives her car way too fast, often putting herself and her son in jeopardy, and has a fondness for cracking open a can of beer when stressed) but this is another memorable and wondrous film from an animation master who, aged 67, is at the peak of his game.

Monday 1 September 2008

Monday musing

Today's my last day here in Venice but I've got a couple more films to see before I head off to the airport. It's been an okay year in terms of quality with only a couple movies of exceptional quality, several others jostling in the category marked "good/very good", and more than a few turkeys. I have a number of reviews still to write, among them Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea which I loved enormously and which is tying with Valentino as my favourite of the festival thus far. The imagination involved is extraordinary and the film must be a serious contender for The Golden Lion. Ciao for now...