Thursday 30 April 2009

The Art Of Tim Burton book

Sorry for the paucity of posts, I've been away. However, here's some great news for all Tim Burton fans.

The book weighs in at a whopping 400+ pages and more than 1000 illustrations. I've seen the proofs and it's a veritable visual feast. And you can quote me on that.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Jack Cardiff, 1914-2009

One of Britain's great cinematographers has gone. His work with Powell and Pressburger on A Matter Of Life And Death, The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus (pictured) where he created the Himalayas on the Pinewood Studios backlot, was described by Scorsese as "painting with the camera" and takes the breathe away, even today.


It's been one of those weeks and it's only Wednesday. By "one of those", I actually mean a week filled with many pleasures and surprises. A very brief chat with JJ Abrams at the Star Trek party. (Being an uber-fan of Alias and Lost, I'm sure you know how excited I was.) A super cool set visit of which I can say no more. And today I got to hold a copy of Batman issue 1. Okay, it was in plastic, but I was still geeking out big time as I held it in my hands.

Tonight I'm hosting a Q&A at at London's Cineworld Haymarket with Eran Creevy, writer-director of the fabulous Shifty, and one of the film's star, the always delightful Jason Flemying. The Q&A will follow an 8.30pm screening of what is the best British film of the year by miles. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

Monday 20 April 2009

J.G. Ballard, 1930-2009

I was a big Ballard fan and while news of his passing wasn't that much of surprise it was still a shock hearing about it yesterday evening. His fiction was powerful and pertinent and polemic and affected all who read him. The mainstream probably knew him best for Empire Of The Sun and Crash, and the feature film adaptations, but he was more than those two novels. He will be missed.

Friday 17 April 2009

"Who was that pointy-eared b*****d?"

It does exactly what it says on the tin. Consider this franchise successfully rebooted.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Swedish vampires

If Let The Right One In doesn't make it into my top ten films of the year, it's going to be a very good year indeed. Alas, I don't have time to get into this now, beyond saying it's stunning. And even if you took out the vampire aspect, it would still be so.

Sixty years young

Carol Reed's The Third Man.

"The most famous collaboration of the director Carol Reed and the screenwriter Graham Greene has the structure of a good suspense thriller and an atmosphere of baroque, macabre decadence. The simple American, Joseph Cotten, arrives in postwar Vienna to meet an old friend, only to be told that the friend has been killed in an accident. In trying to discover the facts, Cotten learns so much about his friend that when he finally finds him alive, he wants him dead. Orson Welles' portrait of the friend, Harry Lime, is a study of corruption--evil, witty, unreachable. It's balanced against Trevor Howard's quietly elegant underplaying of the Army officer who teaches the simple American some of the uglier facts of life. There is an ambiguity about our relation to the Cotten character: he is alone against the forces of the city and, in a final devastating stroke, he is even robbed of the illusion that the girl (Alida Valli) is interested in him, yet his illusions are so commonplace that his disillusion does not strike us deeply. Greene has made him a shallow, ineffectual, well-meaning American. Robert Krasker's cinematography won the Academy Award. The zither music is by Anton Karas." — Pauline Kael

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Stuff I read today

Wired says goodbye to 100 Bullets.

The New York Times on MOMA's Mike Nichols retrospective.

Great news for John Carter Of Mars.

Lost channels Ancient Egyptian Legend to explain Smoke Monster.

Brett Ratner launches his own publishing company.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Simon Channing Williams, 1945-2009

I never met Simon Channing Williams but he had the reputation of being one of the good guys. Channing Williams, who died of cancer this past weekend aged 63, began his career at the BBC where he worked with Stephen Frears, James MacTaggart, Mike Newell, Michael Apted and Mike Leigh with whom he went on to produce 11 films, including Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake and Happy-Go-Lucky. He also produced Nick Love’s debut, Goodbye Charlie Bright, Brothers Of The Head, and Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener, working again with Meirelles on Blindness.

"He was a natural-born producer," said Leigh, "a great leader, always an enabler, a protector; never a dictator or an interferer. Infinitely generous, his life was all about doing things for people, and bringing out the best in everybody. He was the ultimate fixer, and a phenomenal organiser. He relished the impossible challenge, and loved the cut-and-thrust of negotiations, at which he was a genius."

Happy Birthday Julie Christie

I've had the good fortune to interview Julie Christie twice. Once for Premiere, to coincide with the release of Afterglow, and once for a documentary. For the former I drove to Oxford where she was starring in a play and spent a very lovely couple of hours with her. Back then, she didn't give very many interviews (not that she's Mrs Ubiquitous now), and I had spent the previous week watching every film of hers I could get my hands on — Darling, Billy Liar, Dr Zhivago, Shampoo etc — as part of my research, as well as the best part of a day at the BFI library reading every article I could find on her dating back to the 1960s, virtually every one of which talked about her not having married (although she is now) or having children. And so when I met her, the first thing I told her was I wasn't going to ask her about either subject and that seemed to break the ice. I remember asking her about the aging process and how she felt about it, and she offered up that she'd had a little surgery, on her chin. (I hadn't been fishing, I assumed she'd had nothing done.) For years after, every time there was a piece of plastic surgery in a British newspaper, that Christie quote would be trotted out.

This is the end

Not for reel world matters.

But for Brian Azzarello's and Eduardo Risso's Eisner Award-winning crime comic 100 Bullets, the final issue of which — number 100, no less — is out tomorrow.

If you haven't been reading this stellar series, then might I suggest you visit amazon or your local comic retailer and start picking up the trade paperbacks. You won't regret it.

Monday 13 April 2009

File under "stuff"

This is hilarious. And, ahem, dangerous.

Sunday 12 April 2009

"I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it."

Can it really be ten years since Keanu Reeves' Neo was offered the choice of the red and blue pills with the promise that, "Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself."

In the decade since Larry and Andy Wachowski unleashed their manga-influenced fantasy The Matrix upon an unsuspecting public, and in doing so pushed the boundaries of both mainstream action movies and special effects, very little has come close to achieving the same level of energy, excitement and cutting edge cool. Much like the character of Neo himself, The Matrix took us to a place that we, the audience, never knew existed. It wasn't just bullet-time, it was an attitude and style and a manner of filmmaking that hit a nerve with a world on the brink of a new millennium.

I remember seeing the trailer for it before a press screening at the old Warner Brothers' offices in London and felt my mind actually being blown. I saw the film itself a week or so later and didn't come down from it for an absolute age.

A couple of years later I found myself on a plane to Sydney, Australia to visit the set of the sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions, and I can't even begin to explain quite how excited I was. And while I never got to meet, much less speak to the Wachowskis despite spending four days on set, I felt incredibly privileged just to be there.

Alas the films themselves proved to be something of a disappointment — although I do like most of Reloaded — and it would be a while before I could revisit The Matrix again without thinking of the hideous dance sequence in part two or the majority of part three.

That said, The Matrix remains a modern classic and a favourite film of mine. I have so many "best bits", but here are just two.

Tim Burton at MOMA

New York's Museum Of Modern Art is hosting a five month-long retrospective of the work of Tim Burton beginning on November 22 and running through until April 26, 2010.

According to MOMA's website: "This major career retrospective on Tim Burton, consisting of a gallery exhibition and a film series, considers Burton's career as a director, producer, writer, and concept artist for live-action and animated films, along with his work as a fiction writer, photographer and illustrator. Following the current of his visual imagination from his earliest childhood drawing through his mature work, the exhibition presents artwork generated during the conception and production of his films, and highlights a number of unrealized projects and never-before-seen pieces, as well as student art, his earliest non-professional films, and examples of his work as a storyteller and graphic artist for non-film projects. The opposing themes of adolescence and adulthood, and the elements of sentiment, cynicism, and humor inform his work in a variety of mediums—drawings, paintings, storyboards, digital and moving-image formats, puppets and maquettes, props, costumes, ephemera, sketchbooks, and cartoons. Taking inspiration from sources in pop culture, Burton has reinvented Hollywood genre filmmaking as a spiritual experience, influencing a generation of young artists working in film, video, and graphics."

Saturday 11 April 2009

Messing with Adam Sandler

Prior to watching Don't Mess With The Zohan last night I had only seen one Adam Sandler movie in its entirety. That was Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love, which can scarcely be called typical Sandler fare. I don't quite know why I'd avoided him before now, but I thought I'd rectify that by giving the Blu-ray of Zohan a spin. And you know what? I laughed loads. Sure it's borderline offensive, puerile, sloppily scripted and poorly crafted (some of the HiDef cinematography looks pretty ropey in 1080i) but this ridiculous tale of a Israeli agent (Sandler) with aspirations of becoming a hairdresser in New York kept me reasonably entertained, although I doubt it'll have me scouring the comedy shelf at my local Blockbuster for the rest of Sandler's oeuvre.


I'm a sucker for all things Moon-related, with one of my best ever junkets a trip to Houston for Apollo 13 where we got to go behind the scenes at NASA and visit the original command centre where they presided over the Apollo missions. All of which is my way of saying that I'm very much looking forward to Duncan Jones' Moon. I've steadfastly tried to avoid reading too much about the film because I hear there are a number of twists involved, although this is another one of those trailers that gives a little too much away for my liking.

Friday 10 April 2009


I want to talk about the ending of Alex Proyas' Knowing so if you haven't seen it already and are planning to, then look away now. If you have, well, maybe you had the same thought as I did. But first, I have to admit that for the first hour or so I was pretty gripped. The trailer had me intrigued and the central conceit of a piece of paper written 50 years ago and then put inside a time capsule, a piece of paper filled with numbers that seemingly predict every global catastrophe from the last half century, and with a few still to come, is strong and creepy. Throw in the spooky Herrmann-esque score, the strange, blond, whispering men, and two spectacular action set pieces (the airplane crash and the subway disaster) and you've got a solid, suspenseful, well-directed, apocalyptic movie. But then the plot throws a curveball, and shoehorns some mystic melodrama as well as aliens into the heady mix and you've lost me. Especially the inclusion of the aliens which, to my mind, negate everything that's gone before. I mean, what was the actual point of the numbers in the first place if "they" were here all along? What purpose did they ultimate serve in terms of the overall story? And why did the aliens wait until mere moments before the end of the world before asking the kids to join them on a distant planet in order to continue mankind? Or did I miss something?

Thursday 9 April 2009


Wearing its influences very much on its bloody sleeve, this low-budget monster movie borrows from the very best — Night Of The Living Dead and John Carpenter’s The Thing — and yet emerges as something altogether fresh and frightening. Biology PhD major Seth (Paulo Costanzo) and his spunky girlfriend Polly (Scarlett Johannson-lookalike Jill Wagner) find their anniversary camping trip interrupted by escaped convict Farrell (Shea Whigham) and his junkie girlfriend who hijack their car and hold them hostage.

Worse is still to come as they stop at an isolated gas station and are trapped inside by a parasitic organism that infects its victims via nasty black splinters before mutating into a hideous (though barely glimpsed) creature made up of its previous victims’ body parts. Adroitly balancing characterisation and gore, this sensational debut from FX veteran Toby Wilkins — a Brit no less — wrings maximum suspense from the spare, deceptively simple set up. Terrific stuff.

Red Dax and Sweet Georgia Brown

I've known Mark Kermode for more years than I care to remember, and can still vividly recall late night discussions with him about — yes, you guessed it — The Exorcist in the days before the film was legally available on video in the UK. But even I learned stuff about the Good Doctor from this particular piece in today's Guardian. Not least the wax he uses on his quiff. Two, in fact. Red Dax and Sweet Georgia Brown.

Broccoli And Beyond

Spent a very enjoyable evening at the BFI Southbank for the launch of the Broccoli And Beyond season which is celebrating the career of Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli. Former 007 Roger Moore was on hand to introduce a digitally remastered print of Dr No but, alas, didn't stay for the party. In attendance, however, were Bond director Lewis Gilbert, composer David Arnold, legendary stuntman Vic Armstrong, actors Colin Salmon, Samantha Bond, and Goldfinger's Shirley Eaton, plus current holders of the Bond flame, producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. I even spotted Star Wars sound effects wizard Ben Burtt in the crowd.

The Broccoli season runs from tomorrow until the end of May and includes a special weekend-long Bond celebration over the May Bank Holiday, as well as masterclasses and on-stage interviews with the likes of producer designer Ken Adam, Roger Moore, directors John Glen and Lewis Gilbert, and Bond baddie Richard Kiel.

For further details click here.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Occasionally I wish I lived in Austin, Texas

This is one of those occasions.

Wired UK

It is not, it must be said, the most propitious time to be launching a new magazine, but Conde Nast have recently launched two. Fashion doorstopper Love and the UK version of Wired. I was a regular consumer of the US edition when it launched but haven't bought a copy for years, although I do visit its website regularly. I also remember the first attempt to launch a UK Wired in the mid 90s and that didn't last long. But I wish them luck with this incarnation. (Call me old-fashioned but I still like magazines, even if I find myself buying fewer and fewer of them nowadays.) I've already got my launch issue (though yet to do more than flick through it) and a 32-page digital sampler can be viewed here.

Monday 6 April 2009

State Of Play

I was a huge fan of the Paul Abbott-scripted BBC miniseries State Of Play which, along with Channel's 4 Sex Traffic, helped usher David Yates into Hogwarts. And so I've been anxiously regarding the big screen remake which opens this month. Just because cramming six hours of excellent television into two hours was always going to be problematic. Having said that, if anyone was going to do the material justice it was going to be BAFTA and Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald, brother of producer Andrew and my editor on the original edition of Burton On Burton.

In yesterday's Observer, Macdonald told Amy Raphael that the film developed from Abbott's political thriller into a dramatic exposé of the declining state of print journalism.

"The original State of Play wasn't set in any recognisably real journalistic world. It's not what really interested Paul Abbott; in fact, he'll tell you proudly that he didn't even do any research with journalists, whereas we spent a lot of time getting advice from the Washington Post. I thought the crisis in newspapers was something to be explored; I love All the President's Men and, in fact, all films about journalism. I thought we could make the last film about newspapers before they die."

Here's Macdonald and Russell Crowe talking to The Times.

Monday musing

I know the world's going to pot (financially, environmentally, et al) but did Fast & Furious really make more than $100 million this past weekend?

Apparently so.

Friday 3 April 2009


Finally caught up with Timecrimes the other day on DVD — it's out May in the UK and I'll be reviewing it in greater detail nearer release — and have to report it's as good as I'd hoped it would be having read the Sundance reviews. Don't think much of this trailer, though, which gives a little too much away for my liking. But that's me. It some ways it reminded me of Primer — another low budget, big imagination, Sundance time twister.