Tuesday, 31 March 2009

[166] The Boat That Rocked (2009, dir. Richard Curtis) Review

Another review for Den of Geek, this time for Richard Curtis' latest non-rom com. I tried to be stylish with this one, and I'm not entirely sure how successful I was. It spun out into a long essay again, and I cut it down. Glad I'm starting to feel like I can experiment a little with the form. See for yourself how it turned out.


Remember the 1960s? No? What do you mean you weren't born? What do you mean you were a toddler? Oh, well, Richard Curtis' latest film might still be for you, if you don't mind gulping down a boatload of second-hand nostalgia with your comedy film experience.

The Boat That Rocked is set in a defanged, exaggerated 1966, 'the greatest era for British Rock and Roll', where everyone is beautiful and everyone loves music. Apart from the government, that is, whose square and backward old ministers, led by Kenneth Branagh, conspire to shut down the immensely popular Radio Rock, which broadcasts from a ship in the North Sea and spearheads a movement of pirate radio stations that beam great music into the country.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 30 March 2009

[165] Electric Dreams DVD Review

I had some trouble with this review. Even though Electric Dreams as a film is disposable fluff, I felt I had a lot to say, so the article became a mini-essay about music, ADD-culture and the 1980s, with awkward 'review segments'.


A man, a woman... and a personal computer! Mike checks out this bizarre technological love triangle beamed straight from 1984...

It would upset many to be reminded that in the near future, the 1980s will be at least 20 years ago, at most 30. Yes, you are that old. However, confronting readers with their advancing age is a goal for another article. Nevertheless, that decade lives on at the intersection of experience, nostalgia and culture. It seems so close, as its major film franchises, toy lines, stylistic quirks and musical eccentricities ebb and flow in their influence. But, seriously, it is far, far away, and the world we live in now has progressed much. That's where Electric Dreams comes in.

Read the full article here.

[164] Rhys Darby Interview

Last week, I covered the pre-release press parade for Richard Curtis' The Boat That Rocked for Den of Geek. Here is the first article from that, an interview with comedian and actor Rhys Darby. He seemed like a nice chap, and I'm quite happy with this interview.


We talk to the New Zealand comedian Rhys Darby, who stars in the new Richard Curtis film The Boat That Rocked, out on April 1st.

Straight outta New Zealand, Rhys Darby has made waves with his sound effect-laden, character-heavy stand-up performances. After appearing in Flight Of The Conchords, the NZ music-comedy series that has taken the UK and USA by storm, he has now set his course for the silver screen. The Boat That Rocked is only his second film credit, after Yes Man earlier this year, but is this the start of a long career?

We met him in London, the night after the new film premiered, and chatted about how he became involved with Richard Curtis' latest, as well as his career ambitions, his views on comedy and acting, and his home country.

Read the full interview here.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

[163] UK Web & Mini Comix Thing 2009

A quick sort of round-up post.

Yesterday I went down to the annual UK Web & Mini Comix Thing, which is held over in Mile End. After initially being overwhelmed by the amount of people there and how packed the QMUL Main Hall was, I had fun chatting with Mr Hardiman and Mr Wynne, and also Ms Ashwin, as well as browsing through the assorted delights on offer.

(Flyers, etc)

I went for the same approach as with the Comiket from last year: take a load of flyers/cards, and follow up at a later date. My budget was still very small, so I only managed to buy a few comics, even though I saw a good few that looked very impressive.

I was given a few freebies, and picked up the Thing's chunky anthology, but I actually bought the following (will most likely be writing about them individually as I read them):

- A Darken comic book, by Kate Ashwin. (Not entirely sure if this has its own name, though)

- Two cards and a little nicely-bound book called Rabbit: Love Story #1, by tpcat/Melody Lee.

- A Music Paper #2 (The Red Guitar Issue), by AM. (A follow up to the indie music-themed comic I reviewed a while back).

- Massacre For Boys In Colour, by Steven and Chris Denton.

- Ghosts, by John Allison.

- Microwavable Fox, by Tammy Taylor.

That is quite enough to get through for the time being, I think. More from me later.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

[162] NIN|JA Free Tour EP (Review)

[Time for some awkwardly loquacious musical nonsense]

Two musical products that have fallen by the wayside in the recent recording climate are the tour and collaborative EPs. Trent Reznor, the former king of fashionable fetishism and fatalism, now a reborn figurehead for sticking two fingers up at the narrow-minded suits behind the major labels, who released the last Nine Inch Nails full-length for free on the internet, is quietly bringing this tradition back with the NIN|JA tour EP, currently free to download on the tour's official website.

The NIN|JA tour, which begins in May and features dates around the USA, is co-headlined by Nine Inch Nails and the recently-re-reformed Jane's Addiction. For his last tour, Reznor compiled and released the compilation Lights In The Sky EP, which contained primers and choice cuts by the contemporary and relatively unknown bands opening for Nine Inch Nails, such as A Place To Bury Strangers, Deerhunter and Crystal Castles. This NIN|JA EP is a slightly different, and more complicated, beast. It features a mixture of new and old tracks, obvious off-cuts and demo-level playthroughs. In other words, something that is entirely suited for a diversionary, promotional slice of downloadable distraction.

The EP cycles twice through a song each from the co-headliners and Street Sweeper, the humble opening band which, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a collaboration between Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello and Californian rapper Boots Riley.

The sampler opens with a track from Jane's Addiction, titled 'Chip Away'; produced by Reznor, it is two and a half minutes of rhythm, sound and echo. It is propelled forward by a rumbling, primal drum pattern as Perry Farrell shouts out into the reverb-drenched aether. It is riff- and chorus-less, and instead moves in an abstract, impressionistic way. In comparison, their second track, 'Whores', is straightforward, but it is given an overtly sexual, alluring grind by Eric Avery's fuzz-toned bassline and the metallic power chords of Dave Navarro's guitar.

These are not exactly timeless classics, but they sound committed and full of vigour, and sweeten the potential of seeing the once-revered band in a reunified live setting.

Street Sweeper, in stark contrast, contribute two tracks that are anemic and limp. 'Clap For The Killers' is damning evidence for the theory that Tom Morello used all of his best riff ideas on Rage Against The Machine's self-titled debut album, and had run out of interesting guitar effects by Battle Of LA, their third album. This track, and second contribution 'The Oath', are woefully self-plagiarising, lazy and are both slightly too slow to have any real punch.

Boots Riley is a mumbly sort of rapper, and doesn't bring enough charisma or showmanship to make this song work - and his lyrics are all sloganeering and no substance. The chorus for 'The Oath', is a laconic repetition of 'alright motherfuckers, fight motherfuckers!'. The most surprising, and enticing element in either of their songs comes like a welcome kick in the teeth (if there can be such a thing), when 'Clap For The Killers' segues into a clean, melodic guitar solo for its outro. Sadly, it is barely 50 seconds long, and comes far too late to save the song.

Caught in the middle, Nine Inch Nails offer two out-takes from the With Teeth album from 2005. Both 'Non-Entity' and 'Not So Pretty Now' became live staples, and it is interesting to hear their studio counterparts. They are both second-tier tracks at best, and are tied to the halfway house style of their parent album - With Teeth was stripped back and slick, but distant and clinical. They are by no means bad songs - they are both capable anthemic workouts, one upbeat and energetic, the other atmospheric and crawling - but neither stand up to the best of NIN/Reznor's work in his highly-creative, highly-committed period of the last 3 years.

The NIN|JA EP might not provide classic songs or important statements, but it is fascinating and free. To download the album, go here, where you can also stream the tracks and other select cuts from the artists. Multitrack files for all of the songs are also available for remixing purposes over at remix.nin.com.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

[161] NowGamer Blogs, The Legend of Princess

Again, I've been neglecting the blog. However, this is mostly because I have been busy doing writing for places, as opposed to sitting around doing nothing. I have been covering a lot of Den of Geek and Film & Festivals at the moment, and I am going to start blogging for the new Imagine Publishing gaming megasite NowGamer.com. I'll be cross-posting my blog articles here as well, though.

I decided to start modestly with my first post, about a Freeware PC game I came across a couple of weeks ago. Next, I'm prepping a piece about recent mulitplayer-oriented gaming and 'meta-game' structures and achievements, with generous reference to Call of Duty: World at War and Street Fighter IV. Should be interesting.


Ever wondered what the Legend of Zelda would be like if it was reimagined as a side-scrolling action platformer?

I'm all for a bit of revisionism in your fanaticism, and the Freeware PC downloadable Legend of Princess is a nice little treat. Indie developer/artist Joakim Sandberg (otherwise known as Konjak) has made his name with his colourfully-designed, impressive PC games, such as the two installments in the fast-paced action series Noitu Love (which, if you've not already, you should sample). As a break from work on his next game, the puzzle-action-platformer Solar Plexus, Sandberg decided to design tribute to his favourite video game franchise.

Taking heaps of inspiration from dynamic action games of the early 90s, Legend of Princess is short but sweet, featuring a couple of stages with mid-bosses and enemies galore, leading up to an encounter with Ganon. The 16-bit era-evoking graphics are lush and look lovely in motion, and Sandberg's redesigns for baddies like the Octarocs, Tektites and even Wall Masters are more than enough to make a fanboy smile. Even cooler is the item usage: Zelda favourites such as the clawshot, bow, boomerang and bomb-chu are included, but the player can only take two along. These secondary items change up the tactics somewhat, and provides the temptation for another playthrough just to try out another combination.

Plus, the music rocks. Sandberg, like any Zelda fan, knows and loves his themes and tunes, and the original soundtrack lifts and hints in all the right ways to make the player squirm with the delight of familiarity. He even put up the soundtrack for a free download.

Legend of Princess is a great look at Zelda from another angle. Check it out (and download!) over at Konjak's website here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

[160] How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008) DVD Review

Another DVD review for Den of Geek. Apart from one or two tiny errors, I'm quite happy with this one. I generally don't like reviews that 'savage' or 'skewer', but How to Lose Friends and Alienate People stirred up something in me - and I'd like to think I made my case well enough.


Adapted from journlist/caricature Toby Young's memoir about his stint as a [contributing] editor at glossy American mag Vanity Fair, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People is a mollified and utterly defanged comedy.

The story goes that Sidney Young (Simon Pegg), a hard-nosed, doltish English journo, obsessed with the celebrity lifestyle yet absurdly adept at creating sticky situations, somehow gets hired by Sharps Magazine, the USA's premier high society publication. Coming from the rough and ready, take no prisoners approach of his Post Modern Review magazine, Sidney must contend with the sleazy, glitzy two-facedness of the New York social world.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 13 March 2009

[159] Interview with Turkish Director Cagan Irmak (Issiz Adam)

Last night, I attended the London premiere and opening gala for Issiz Adam (Alone, read my review here), a film which was a huge hit in its native Turkey, attracting an audience of upwards of 3 million. I had the chance to speak with writer/director Çagan Irmak, where he filled me in on his work methods, his inspirations and his intentions for the film. We also spoke of Turkey, Turkish culture, and its standing in the world.


Where did Issiz Adam come from? What was your inspiration?

In the last five years, I realised something in Istanbul. There is loneliness. This is a new thing for Turkey, maybe you know that feeling in England or in the big city, but this is a new thing for us. Everybody is experiencing loneliness... This is a metropolitan story; it is not a love story for me, it is a story about loneliness, about a lonely man. If this movie was a song, it would be an Alan Parsons Project song. The inspiration came from the street, the crowds. This is my first story about big city life, after my last movie The Messenger (Ulak), which was fantastical and epic, a kind of fairy tale.

You say that this isn't a simple 'love story', yet it has found a large audience. Why do you think the film is so popular?

It depends. I didn't plan that. The film came from the heart. It is a 'letter to George'; where you are lonely, and you write something to yourself. This movie is like murmuring for me.

The movie has many specific Turkish elements, including its soundtrack containing specific tracks from the 1970s and other periods. What are these 'Turkish' aspects, and could you explain them for those outside of the culture?

All of the songs help the storytelling, and they are storytellers in the movie. They came from my childhood - all the records you see in the movie are from my collection. Alper, the lead character, is coming from a small town, and he is lost in a big town. His mother asks him 'why are you so unhappy?' And he doesn't know why, because he is lost in the metropolis.

Do you think that identity is found in the family? An identity which is lost when a person moves to the city?

Sometimes the family can turn your life to hell, sometimes they can give you little joys and happiness. In Turkey, the family ties are so important to us. We stay between our life and our families. I don't know which one is 'good', but that is how we live.

On the flip side, the main female character Ada reads Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd...

I love that book! The woman in the book is so strong. Ada is a strong woman for me. I wasn't planning this as something for the English audience, it just happened like that, it could have been House of Mirth (by Edith Wharton), or lots of Turkish books which you wouldn't know.

In the film, you use very specific cinematic techniques to mirror the film's tone, or the romance. You start off light and breezy, with many quick cuts, but then settle into slow pans...

It depends on the characters. In my movie, the camera is in the lead role. I have to make things clear as a director through the camera - it is for storytelling. I am a storyteller, before being a director. And I wanted to feel the camera, and the camera depends on the characters' moods. I don't want to seem big-headed or narcissistic, though!

On the posters, the film is described as being 'controversial'. Do you think it is controversial?

Actually, I didn't plan that. It is a small story, for me... This is a new story for Turkey, and young people love the movie because they found themselves and their lives in the story. They found their streets, their coffees! They say, 'I am like that man, like that woman'.

It did feel authentic. I read that you filmed on real locations, in restaurants and apartments...

But, actually, we created the houses and costumes from nothing, I believe that if you're telling stories about a man, you have to build them up. You have to build his or her house again. It depends on the characters - everything is important. For example, Ada is a woman who makes art. Did you realise, she was touching every table, wall, surface. Nobody notices that, but it is important for me - it is her feelings!

Turkish cinema seems to be experiencing a new wave of filmmaking, what do you think of Turkish culture at the moment?

Where is Turkey in the world? Turkish cinema is in the same place. What is the opinion of Turkey in the world? The opinion of Turkish cinema is the same. And we are living in complicated times in Turkey. It is very like purgatory, we have to jump over to the other side, but we are waiting. We are searching through styles, searching through our histories and lives. One day, we will jump through - I am waiting. We don't have a 'mainstream' cinema in Turkey. Sometimes we make art-house movies, sometimes we make big box office movies, but there are no 'mainstream' stories in Turkish cinema. With this film, I wanted to make a mainstream story for the young people. We need that.

So you wanted to create something mainstream for normal young people?

Yes. I am standing in between. But it is not a big deal, I am happy with the mainstream.

Issiz Adam is currently playing in London, at the Odeons Holloway, Lee Valley, Panton Street and Whiteleys. Çagan Irmak photograph appears courtesy of http://www.iksv.org.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

[158] San Francisco Asian American Film Festival

Likewise, the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival starts today, so here is my preview feature from this month's issue of Film and Festivals Magazine. See the online version here.


San Francisco Asian American Film Festival
March 12-22

With its healthy, vibrant mix of cultures and lifestyles, San Francisco has been heralded as one of the USA's most cosmopolitan cities. The popular West Coast tourist destination is also home to one of the country's biggest Asian American communities. Seeking to promote and present films created by and concerning this burgeoning demographic, the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival was set up in 1982. Organised by the Center for Asian American Media, this 27th iteration of the festival is holding events at a dozen venues across the San Francisco Bay Area, taking in stints in Berkeley (March 13-21) and San Jose (March 20-22) as well as San Francisco itself (March 12-19).

Opening with a gala premiere of My Dear Enemy (Meotjin haru, pictured), the latest work from South Korean filmmaker Lee Yoon Ki, the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival promises a lively and jam-packed mixture of screenings, panel discussions and non-film events. At the heart of this storm of cinema are the festival's two awards, for the best Asian American Narrative and Asian American Documentary features. Being shown in competition for the narrative category are a selection of USA-produced films that speak of the Asian American experience, such as Half Life, a mixture of live-action and animation written and directed by Jennifer Phang, which appeared at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 and was described by Variety as 'an Asian-American Beauty'. Also up for the narrative award, and having its world premiere at the festival, is Karma Calling, which portrays the clash of Hindu and American cultures for a family living in New Jersey. In the documentary category, there are films such as Project Kashmir, Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel's documentary of the disputed region, and You Don't Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story, directed by Jeff Adachi, a biographical film about the Asian American actor, comedian and performer.

Alongside these in-competition screenings is an open selection of features produced outside of America in an International Showcase, and a set of short film programmes under titles such as 'Family Portraits' and 'The Secret Lives of Urban Space'. There is also a retrospective of genre-bender and J-horror pioneer Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who will be in attendance to discuss his latest film, the Cannes 'Un Certain Regard' award winning drama Tokyo Sonata, as well as an 'Artist in Focus: Observer Observed' mini-retrospective of the experimental media works of Takahiko Iimura.

These programmes will be backed up by individual events, such as a discussion with Academy Award winning director Ang Lee following a screening of his 2007 film Lust, Caution (Se, Jie), and 'An Afternoon with Screenwriter Alex Tse', where Tse will be going into detail about his work with Spike Lee on Sucker Free City and, most recently, adapting the much-loved graphic novel Watchmen with director Zack Snyder.

With all these and other non-film presentations, such as the Directions in Sound concerts and CAAM Interactive competitions, the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival is positively brimming with attractions and events. For more information, including interviews, trailers and other updates from the organisational team, consult the festival's official website at http://festival.asianamericanmedia.org/2009/

[157] The Deauville Asian Film Festival / Festival du Film Asiatique de Deauville

The Deauville Asian Film Festival kicked off yesterday, so I thought I would post my preview, originally written for Film and Festivals Magazine earlier this month. To see it all spruced-up and in its magazine context, click here.


11e Festival du Film Asiatique de Deauville (11th Deauville Asian Film Festival)
11th - 15 March 2009

The seaside town of Deauville in the Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) region of Northern France is known for its racecourses, horse-breeding and attractive resorts. It is also home to two film festivals; one of which, the Festival du Film Asiatique de Deauville (Deauville Asian Film Festival), has its 11th edition this March.

Since its inception in 1999, the Deauville Asian Film Festival has celebrated the motion picture industries from the world's most populous continent, with a wide selection of interesting pictures shown in its programme. The Feature jury, which in 2009 is chaired by French-Belgian writer and filmmaker Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, will be handing out prizes including Lotus du Meilleur Film (Best Film) and Lotus d'Or (Jury Prize). In conjunction, the 'Action Asia' prize will be awarded by a special panel of arts and culture insiders headed by French director, writer and producer Xavier Gens.

This year, no doubt inspired and aided by its recent twinning with the Pusan International Film Festival, Deauville focuses on the cinema of South Korea. Korean cinema has been enjoying a varied, committed and inspired 'new wave' of filmmaking in the last decade, thanks to directors and writers such as Park Chan-Wook (Joint Security Area, Oldboy) and Kim Ji-Woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Good, The Bad, The Weird), leading to consistent international acclaim and success.

Following the festival's tradition of highlighting the work of a particular filmmaker, which in the past has given rise to programmes featuring the films of Amitabh Bachchan and Takashi Miike, this edition's five-day programme includes a career-spanning tribute to the work of novelist, screenwriter, director and former Korean Minister for Culture and Tourism Lee Chang-Dong (pictured), whose 2002 film Oasis won international awards, such as the Special Director's Prize for Lee at the 2003 Venice Film Festival. His latest film, Secret Sunshine (Milyang), about a woman who has to cope with the deaths of her husband and child, was presented in competition at Cannes in 2007, where lead actress Jeon Do-Yeon won the award for Best Actress.

Deauville will also be celebrating the rise of emergent Korean filmmaker Lee Yoon-Ki, whose finely-crafted, economical dramas have garnered attention on the international festival circuit. Lee's debut feature as a screenwriter and director was 2004's This Charming Girl (Yeoja, Jeong-hye), about a woman's life of seclusion and solitude after a history of trauma. The film won a brace of awards, including the Jury Prize from 2005's edition of the Deauville festival. Likewise, Ad-Lib Night (Aju teukbyeolhan sonnim) was awarded the Critics' prize by Deauville in 2006. His latest film, My Dear Enemy (Meotjin haru), stars the aforementioned Jeon Do-Yeon as a girl who is hoping to set things straight with a previous lover.

The festival promises to transform Deauville into an Eastern dream-scape, as 'the colours, the perfumes, the rumours and the mystery of the Orient' take over the French resort. The full programme for the festival, including screenings, events and special guest appearances, is yet to be announced.

For more information, visit http://www.deauvilleasia.com/.

Monday, 9 March 2009

[156] GamerBytes Preview: Grab Gold And Swap User Created Levels In Lode Runner

Remember the gaming feature I've been talking about over the last few weeks? The work for it still rumbles on. Slight obstruction in the road due to the editor pulling the plug on it, so now I'm looking for a new place to pitch it. Hopefully something will come up.

In the meantime, I pitched an excerpted preview/interview mini-feature about Tozai's upcoming Xbox Live Arcade revamp of Lode Runner to Gamer Bytes, a great little blog by the Think Services people (who also run GameSetWatch and Gamasutra, among others). The game is due out in April, as part of the XBLA 'Days of Arcade' promotion, but I'm very interested in how it turns out, it looks like they've put a lot of effort into it. Anyway, check out the piece.


Finally coming to Xbox Live Arcade in April is Lode Runner, an HD remake of the classic 1980s action-puzzler title. The game was first announced at CES back at the beginning of 2008, but few details have materialised in the months since. Developed by Southend and Tozai Games, the pairing that recently brought the re-vamped shooter R-Type Dimensions to Live, Lode Runner is shaping up to be a unique, robust experience on the platform.

Read the full article here.

[155] Alone (Issiz Adam, 2008) Review

It is always interesting to see how a culture is reflected in its films. This is especially true in the more mainstream, popular flicks that fill out the top end of the highest-grossing lists year after year, the cookie-cutter movies that cast their net wide, and don't dabble in precious, art-house posturing. I recently had the opportunity to see such a film from Turkey.

Alone (Issiz Adam) was a huge hit in its native country, reaching an audience of almost 3 million. It is, at its heart, a love story described in the promotional poster as 'controversial' and 'poignant'. For its own country, the film reportedly ruffled feathers and provoked tears in equal measure, but it is a somewhat flawed, one-step-forward-two-steps-back achievement when thrust onto the international stage.

Set in the glistening Turkish capital of Istanbul, Alone presents itself as a thoroughly modern urban film. Alper (Cemal Hunal), the male protagonist, is a successful chef, and owner of a high-class restaurant. He spends his days cooking, and nights going to clubs and hiring prostitutes. His passions are food and music, and while perusing a second hand bookshop's collection of LPs, comes across the radiantly beautiful 20-something Ada (Melis Birkan). The film frolicks along for its first hour or so as a mostly predictable, generic romantic comedy, as Alper pursues the initially stubborn, but progressively relenting Ada. He buys her a book, she buys him a record. He cooks for her, she rejects his advances (but, really, she wants it).

It is typical Richard Curtis stuff, full of serendipity, exaggerated supporting characters and longing glances. However, the innocence of this light comedy is submerged in a distinct obsession with the modern and the fashionable. The film is almost fetishistic in its display of iPhones, flashy cars and spacious apartments. Each scene is shot with a lavish decadence, with locations scouted and contexts conspired to present Istanbul as if in a tourism promo.

Indeed, tourism features in a more concrete level of the film, as Alper's mother (Yildiz Kültür) visits from her rural village, and is wowed by the metropolis and its many delights. This accompanies an acute, even jarring shift in the film's tone towards something much more quiet and dramatic. In its second half, Alone becomes a family drama, full of buried emotions, tense silences and conflicts of values. Here, director-writer Çağan Irmak attempts to bring much depth and thematic weight to the narrative, but the lightness of the film's opening mismanages the darkness in Alper's character (his empty, kinky sex and abusive tendencies are not explored, but rather pushed under the rug). Therefore, his shift from doting lover to distant emotional recluse is ineffective and puzzling. There are scenes with potential, however, especially one eruption of repressed frustration at a meal with his mother, but this seriousness feels messy, ungraceful and heavy-handed.

The film shirks complexity and conflict for easy, sentimental resolution. Alper is painted, through contrived expository dialogue, as a damaged soul - lonely and chronically depressed in his urban life. He rejects the safety of the romantic relationship in favour of 'freedom'. Ada, a victim in this game of shifting sympathies, is reduced to tears and discarded. This would be a suitable conclusion in itself, but Irmak inserts a coda, set years later, where a regretful Alper has thrown himself into life as a surrogate uncle for one of his employee's sons. One day, he has a chance encounter with Ada, now married and living in the UK. This addition effectively locks down the story, and is presented in such an expressive mode that little is left unspoken - even the thoughts of the two former lovers are overlaid as voice-over tracks. It is a tear-jerking conclusion, but it is over-the-top and a little exploitative.

Alone is a schizoid film, part When Harry Met Sally, part Annie Hall. It attempts to be strident in its portrayal of 21st Century life and romance, but ends up being contrived, stagy and a little conservative. Fulfillment and peace are only found in accepted family-based structures. Early in the film, a little girl enters Ada's fancy dress shop, and asks for a cowboy outfit. This interrogation of gender norms, initially intriguing, turns out to be a red herring, as Ada can only move on from Alper into wife- and motherhood. Not that either roles are truly backward, or that urban life is all lovely, but Irmak's Alone feels too much like a mix of popcorn fluff and a half-written manifesto, with all of the sentiment of the former, and lacking the commentary and depth of the latter.

Alone will have a limited release, with screenings at the Odeons Panton Street, Lee Valley, Holloway and Whiteleys in London from March 13th. For more information, see http://www.moviealone.com.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

[154] Watchmen on the Thames

This morning, I saw a press release for a Watchmen promotional event due to take place on the Thames this evening. For the full details, check Catherine Bray's blog, but here's a quick quote:



To celebrate the Paramount Pictures UK release of the hugely anticipated and revered Watchmen (in cinemas 06.03.09), at exactly 8pm GMT, London’s River Thames will give birth to a Watchmen spectacle that is beyond the thinkable. Dr Manhattan, the blue skinned, super-powered being beloved of all Watchmen fans, will rise above the murky depths of the Thames to a height of over 70 feet and tower over all those who dare to attend.

I was going into London to rewatch Vicky Cristina Barcelona with the Finnish Girl, so we decided to have a walk back along the Thames to see what the fuss was about. I must say, we weren't too enthralled by what we saw.

I wouldn't really call that 'towering'. I don't think that is 70 feet tall, either. Possibly due to the wind, or some techinical issues, the spray onto which the images were projected seemed very small and warped. We waited in the chilly evening weather next to Jubilee Gardens (the view was worse on Hungerford Bridge), with a few people who had read about the stunt online, and some passers-by drawn in by the hubbub.

The projection swapped between Dr. Manhattan and the smiley badge until 20:15, when they started running through a handful of short teaser-y sequences depicting the film's main characters. The warped projection made it hard to tell exactly what you were seeing.

The first pic is from Hungerford Bridge, the second is back from Jubilee Gardens. If you squint, you can make out the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). I admit that my camera phone is probably exaggerating the murkiness, but even during the title reveal of each sequence, the cropped image would only show 'ATCHME'. Coupled with the lack of PR representatives, or indeed any posters, flyers or information it seemed, those puzzled bystanders stayed puzzled. The whole affair came across like an expensive, unsuccessful fumbling.

Infinitely more ominous, striking and clarified, however, was this secondary projection, onto the high rise building on the edge of Jubilee Gardens.

It's a shame that this promo stunt was a bit of a gaudy mess, but hopefully it won't put anyone off seeing Watchmen, which is released in the UK on March 6th.

[153] UK Film Festival Previews March

Here is my UK Film Festivals column for March. To see the nice, fully-formatted, slightly sub-edited version from the issue of Film & Festivals Magazine, please go here.


London International Documentary Festival
March 29 - April 5

Now into its third year, The London International Documentary Festival will be taking place in the capital at the end of March. Over the course of the festival's eight days, there will be 80 films exhibited, including UK and world premiere film showings, at cinemas around the centre of London, including the Curzon Soho, Barbican and Roxy Bar and Screen. On show are documentaries that cover the social, the political and the poetic, including The Unwinking Gaze (dir. Joshua Drugdale, 2008), an intimate profile of the Dalai Lama; With a Stroke of the Chaveta (Con el Toque de la Chaveta, dir. Pamela Sporn, 2007), showing book readings that take place on the floor of Cuban cigar factories; and Barbet Schroeder's Terror's Advocate (L'avocat de la terreur, 2007), which explores the life of controversial lawyer Jacques Verges.

Organised in association with the London Review of Books, the festival is subtitled 'A Conversation in Film', and is structured around encouraging debate and discussion between audiences and filmmakers. Many of the showings are followed by Q&A sessions or discussions with directors and critics. Highlight of the festival is its major event on Saturday April 5, where the location shifts to inside the venerable walls of the British Museum. Activities, discussions and showings are planned for throughout the day, from 10am to 6.30pm, in 3 museum-based theatres. The day is split up into sessions, priced at £3 each, with each featuring either a selection of short pieces or a feature-length documentary.

Also, the festival will be prefaced by a handful of events and showings in February and March. For more information, see http://www.lidf.co.uk


Celtic Media Festival
March 25-27

The Celtic Media Festival has been promoting the languages and culture of the Celtic countries for almost 30 years, and is in 2009 taking residence at Caernarfon in north-west Wales for this years line-up of visual and broadcast media from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. Over three days, the festival will be celebrating the best in Celtic media as well as handing out awards in categories such as Factual Series, Feature-Length Drama and wider media fields like Radio Station of the Year.

One of the notable entries on the festival's Feature-Length Drama shortlist is Declan Rick's Eden, an Irish adaptation of a play by Eugene O'Brien, which is a marital drama laced with anxiety and clashing values. The film was previously shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Eileen Walsh received an award for Best Actress. Also showing in competition is Senseless, a dark thriller from Scotland, written and directed by Simon Hynd , where a businessman is taken hostage by a group of political extremists, and is subjected to torture and humiliation as his plight is broadcast over the internet.

Running parallel with the festival is Celtic Media's Green Light programme, a series of events specially organised to help and advice media students about the industry. These events include workshops, Q&As and lectures with representatives from production companies, as well as a 1 Minute Film Competition. Chief among these events is a Masterclass With Hammer and Tongs, where the students can learn tips and tricks from the successful music video and Son of Rambow directing duo.

The programme is still to be finalised and announced, however the festival's shortlist is available to browse on their website. For more information see http://www.celticfilm.co.uk/


Renderyard International Festival
March 26-28

The second Renderyard International Film Festival is a free, three day event coming to London's Roxy Bar and Screen at the back end of March, before taking up a 10 day residence in Logrono , Spain in April. The festival aims to show the best of European and international cinema, focusing on the contemporary and the socially relevant. Set up by Renderyard , a digital platform that helps to produce and distribute experimental and animated films, the festival will feature long-form narratives, as well as documentaries.

Showing at the Roxy will be films such as Tao Ruspoli's Fix, a whirlwind tour through Los Angeles' suburbs, squalor and jarring distinctions. Director Ruspoli, who also writes and stars in Fix, won the Heineken Red Star Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and the film has had a warm response on the 2008 festival circuit.

Two documentaries that will be shown are both rooted in social and political issues: Lucy Martens' Voices From Inside features 12 interviews, discussing Zionism and the Israeli peace movement, and The Day After Peace, directed by Jeremy Gilly, documents his Peace One Day campaign, and the resulting events held and journeys made around the world to raise awareness for his dream of a mutually-observed international truce.

For more information, see http://www.renderyard.com


Bradford International Film Festival
March 13-28

No doubt galvanised by new patrons Simon Beaufoy (Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael G Wilson (long-serving James Bond producer), the 15th Bradford International Film Festival 2009 promises two weeks of exciting events and world-spanning screenings. Housed in the National Media Museum, the festival's line-up includes a variety of special programmes, such as CineFile, which features documentaries about filmmaking ; Uncharted States of America, showcasing new independent cinema from the USA; Premieres and Previews; the Industry Weekend; and a centenary celebration of the work of Yorkshire-born actor James Mason. The festival will also be handing out the Shine Award for best new short film.

The broadcast capabilities of the museum gives the BIFF the opportunity to screen films in a variety of formats, which gives birth to the Widescreen Weekend, where they will be celebrating the history of large-scale formats such as 16mm, 35mm, 70mm and 3-strip Cinerama. The weekend will feature a triple-bill of Richard Burton 70mm films, including Where Eagles Dare, Becket and The Taming of the Shrew, as well as tributes to Charlton Heston (Khartoum) and Sydney Pollack (The Electric Horseman).

The BIFF will also be honouring actress Virginia McKenna with a Lifetime Achievement award, and documentary filmmaker Peter Whitehead with a BIFF Fellowship Award. Films from the careers of both recipients will be screened throughout the fortnight, with McKenna also appearing at a Screentalk interview event.

The festival's programme is yet to be announced. For more information, see http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/biff/09/index.asp

Sunday, 1 March 2009

[152] Film and Festivals Magazine Issue 11

The new issue of Film and Festivals Magazine is now out, available to view on their website. This issue takes the theme of Asian cinema, with features that follow that topic.

I contributed the UK Film Festival Previews column, as well as two longer preview pieces, one for the Deauville Asian Film Festival, and another for the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. I'll be posting up those individual articles in due time, but please check out the issue here.