Tuesday, 30 June 2009

[207] Public Enemies (2009) Review

Public Enemies is shaping up to be one the summer's biggest films. If last night's premiere was anything to go by, it seems that the pairing of Depp and Bale is going to attract plenty of punters outside of Michael Mann's target audience. Reviews are still popping up, with early aggregators showing opinion to be slightly divided (at least beyond one or two overly hyperbolic write-ups) - but it will do well nevertheless, and maybe garner Depp another Academy Award nomination. I didn't take to it too well. You can read my review below.

Public Enemies is the story of John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), one of the top crooks that terrorised police forces and thrilled the American public during the Great Depression era.

Dillinger, and contemporaries such as Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), were mythologised by the media and became folk heroes due to their anti-authoritarian escapades.

These interstate bandits transcended the jurisdictions of local police, in turn seeing the rise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) at the helm.

This 1920s-1930s era of crime, termed by the film as a 'Golden Age', has been mined solidly by American cinema over the years, in both fictionalised and historically-accurate accounts. Gangster and crime films are also some of the most successful, critically lauded and zeitgeist-grabbing, such as the pre-Hays Code grit of James Cagney in The Public Enemy, Arthur Penn's landmark New Hollywood meditation, Bonnie And Clyde, and Brian De Palma's zinging 1980s romp, The Untouchables.

Mann's approach to Public Enemies is unique and admirable, but almost damned from the outset. The narrative is classic crime drama: Dillinger robs banks with a theatrical flair, and easily outwits any cops that are lucky enough to apprehend him. While pilfering the vaults, he refuses to take the money of everyday citizens, cooking up a reputation of an early 20th Century Robin Hood; this softer interior is mirrored in his relationship with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), a coat checker in a Chicago hotel. Their romance flourishes as Dillinger's luck starts to run out, and as he is pursued to the death by FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale).

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

[206] Lillian Wilkie, Dresden I-IX

Lillian Wilkie, an old friend of mine, has just finished her degree in Photographic Arts at the University of Westminster. Her final project, a series of nine books titled Dresden I-IX, is quite an astounding piece of work.

Simply on a design level, it looks lovely, but her actual images are wonderful. Taking the German city as her inspiration and primary model, the photographs in the series rarely feature people, and Wilkie instead uses some innovative framing, and extraordinary scouting, to render Dresden's urban landscape as equally vivid, unreal and poetic.

Here's a quote from her project outline:

My current area of interest is the peripatetic mapping of the modern city and my major project focuses these ideas on the German city of Dresden, exploring the multiple layers of history and experience that can be found. The form of Dresden I - IX, a series of nine books, is based on Heinrich Schliemann’s quest to discover the mythical city of Troy. His amateur excavations at Hissarlik in the mid 19th century revealed nine layers of a mysterious city, exposing traces of destruction by fire and warfare.

I project this discovery on to the equally mysterious and historical city of Dresden, a city itself comprised of multiple layers, not least since it’s rebuilding in the wake of the 1945 Allied bombing which resulted in some of the most severe firestorms recorded in the history of warfare. Using perambulation as an investigative and artistic tool, each of the nine books is based on a walk across Dresden. In contrast to the Situationist tradition of dérive, these walks have fixed start and finish points; the primary element of the work is the journey, the process, and the ideas and stories collected in the hinterland between ‘here’ and ‘there’.

Dresden I-IX is a fascinating collection of photographs, excursions and musings, I strongly recommend you take a look. Check out Lillian's work at her personal website here, or read a recent interview with her at ilovethatphoto.net here.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

[205] Che Part 2: Guerilla (2008) Review

Here is my review of the second Che movie, Guerilla. A crucially different film from the first, which I probably prefer, if ever so slightly.

Che Part 2: Guerilla is, on a very basic level, a harder film to sink into than The Argentine. Whereas the first part had the benefit of its dual narrative structure, which gave it a feeling of space, context and room to breathe, Part Two is single-minded in its storytelling. After a quick series of scenes in Castro's Cuba, and La Paz, Guevara joins up with the Bolivian revolutionaries in the jungle. For the most part, the film retains this perspective, doggedly mimicking the stifling drudgery of the guerillas' progress.

Che's final campaign in Bolivia, documented in his Bolivian Diary, was crucially different from the Cuban Revolutionary War. It was almost doomed from the start, with the various left-wing political groups being disparate and unwilling to support armed action. Likewise, the local population, in Che's mind the source of any revolution's power, proved unreliable and suspicious of their cause. The soldiers themselves weren't as united, or passionate in their mission. And, to make matters worse, the involvement of American-trained anti-Guerilla forces gave the revolutionaries - starving, divided and listless - a real, embittered enemy to contend with.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

[204] Che Part 1: The Argentine (2008) DVD Review

I first saw the two Che films, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Benicio Del Toro, in a double bill at the Prince Charles Cinema. As biopics, they are surprisingly unique, complex films. I was intrigued, and jumped at the chance to review the DVD releases of them for Den of Geek. Better to help me sort out my response to them. Read the first below.

Argentina-born revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara has the strange distinction of being equally ubiquitous, mysterious and controversial. His standing as a Marxist icon has kept him dangerous and relevant to successive generations of disaffected youths and vanguard lefties alike, irrespective of his face selling more t-shirts and other assorted apparel than Jesus Christ and Manchester United combined. So, it is almost fitting that in making his two-part biopic, Soderbergh decided to keep Che (played by Benicio Del Toro) as a vessel - he is neither vindicated nor condemned, neither analysed nor explained. In this respect, both Che films are crucially different in intention, execution and feel from The Motorcycle Diaries, the 2004 film that dealt with Che's youth, his long road trip around South America, and his political awakening - which at times seemed like a wet dream for humanities students.

Like The Motorcycle Diaries, The Argentine is based on one of Guevara's many written works -- specifically his book Reminiscences Of The Cuban Revolutionary War (Pasajes De La Guerra Revolucionaria), which is concerned with Guevara's experiences with Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement, and the lead-up to their successful campaign against the Batista government, from their landing in Southern Cuba in 1956, to the decisive victory in Santa Clara in 1958.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

[203] Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes Review

I'm really interested in Golden and Silver Age comics, but one of the problems with trying to get 'into' that huge span of the medium's history is that if the comics are reprinted, it is usually with the hardened collector in mind. Hardcover Archive editions are the norm, often priced upwards of £40-£50, collecting a chronological span of the hero or publication in question. There are few cheap, well-produced colour anthologies that cherry pick and sample. Fantagraphics have put together a good little collection of Golden Age strips in Supermen! - it has flaws, but it is very well-intentioned and looks lovely. Read my review for Den of Geek below.

Chances are that, unless you're a self-confessed comics obsessive, you probably wouldn't be able to name more than a handful of comics publishers. It is probably due to the monopolised nature of the comics industry, where totemic, decades-old franchises rule the roost, that condescending parents, lovers and other innocent bystanders may have only heard of DC or Marvel Comics. It didn't always work like that, however, and there was a time when the comics landscape was a lot more varied - with Superman and Batman having to compete with other colourful characters from publishing houses such as Novelty Press, Fiction House Magazines, and Chester, Centaur and Fox Publications.

In the foreword to Supermen!, a beautifully designed volume of early American comics from Fantagraphics Books, Jonathan Lethem asks the reader 'Who was your first?'. Meaning superhero, of course. One of the tidier, mainstream accounts of the rise of the comic book tells of Superman revolutionising the nascent medium in June 1938's Action Comics #1.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

[202] Gigantic (2008) Review

A few weeks ago, I saw a preview of the upcoming indie flick Gigantic. I ended up submitting a short review of it to ScreenJabber. It seems to be getting quite a few negative reviews around the web, but it's not all that bad. It's not all that good, either, but hardly deserves to be slated.

Quirky "indie" comedies are a dime a dozen nowadays, and seem to become more formulaic and less, well, independent with each year. Gigantic, the debut feature by writer-director Matt Aselton, tries to single itself out in this saturated marketplace, but, with its spotty inspiration, it doesn't quite get beyond novelty.

Dano stars as Brian, a young mattress salesman whose one goal in life is to adopt a Chinese baby – a goal complicated by his youth and bachelor status. Further complications present themselves as larger-than-life, borderline-psychotic businessman Al (Goodman) and his ethereally attractive, candidly sexual daughter Happy (Deschanel) barge their way into his life.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

[201] Nintendo Show Off Its Upcoming Games, Preview Feature

This week, I was invited down to a post-E3 preview event put on by Nintendo Europe, where UK journalists were able to have hands-on playthroughs of the games they exhibited in Los Angeles earlier this month.

After their mostly-maligned spread at 2008's E3 expo, Nintendo came back this year with a wholly impressive selection of titles coming our way in the next year. Far and away the headline-stealers were Super Mario Galaxy 2 and the new 'Other M' Metroid project featuring the input of Ninja Gaiden and Dead Or Alive developers Team Ninja - but conference spectators had already been softened up by a hefty list of games due out in the next few months. These games were playable at E3, but Nintendo Europe recently held a swish, sushi-fed soiree for UK journos to take a gander. Here are our impressions and reactions of some of the games we tried out.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

[200] Classics Live Again: The Art of Downloadable Remakes

Today's exciting development concerns a feature of mine being published on the brilliant games industry analysis/news site Gamasutra. I really respect the writers at Gama, so I'm proud to have my work counted among theirs.

Also, the fact that this specific feature has been published at all feels like a miracle. It was an idea that I started working on back in February, where I conducted interviews with a number of developers behind certain downloadable game remakes on Xbox Live Arcade. I pitched it to one place, but ended up having to find a new home for it. It was a long, gruelling process, with a lot of disinterest and unanswered emails. But in the end, it found its place in the world - it just took 4 months to get there!

I'm quite happy with the way it came out; it's a long-form, heavy sort of feature, with 3000 words of developer chatter and analysis, but I was glad to explore this topic, and speak with the developers behind R-Type Dimensions, Bionic Commando Rearmed and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Check it out below.

One of the areas of gaming culture that has progressed in leaps and bounds during this current console generation is the digital download. This development is occurring irrespective of platform, with all three major consoles, and even the handhelds, featuring varied libraries of downloadable games and content.

Without the potentially stifling expectations and overheads that come with full-fledged retail releases, developers working on these platforms are able to do so with elements of daring and idiosyncrasy -- with some of the more talked-about and successful games, such as Braid, Pixel Junk Eden and World of Goo being as much mini-supernovae of creativity and inspiration as they are out-of-sync with mainstream gaming conventions.

Parallel to this, the download platforms also provide a new avenue for publishers to re-release selections from their back-catalogues for the pleasure of nostalgics, canon-hungry gaming historians and new audiences alike.

Nintendo's Virtual Console service, as well as early games to appear on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade platform, would often be direct ports or emulations of titles from a variety of older consoles, from Super Mario Bros. to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

However, with the success of these downloadable platforms, and the progression towards more original content, it has become increasingly common for classic franchises to receive radical updates, or even full sequels (such as Capcom's multi-platform Mega Man 9) that offer more than mere nostalgia.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

[199] Charlie Gibson Interview

I'm yet to see Terminator Salvation, but one element of the film that I've heard much praise for is the visual effects. I had the opportunity to have an interview with Charlie Gibson, the VFX Supervisor and 2nd Unit Director on the film. I think it went really well, and we covered a lot of bases. Check it out below.

With the UK release of Terminator Salvation sitting in the not-too-distant future, we've had the chance to talk to Charlie Gibson, the VFX Supervisor and Second Unit Director on the film. Part of the Academy Award-winning visual effects teams on Babe and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Gibson has carved out his career working on both spectacle-based summer movies and more dramatic projects such as The Green Mile and The Terminal. He fills us in on his background, tells us about his approach to one of the most iconic VFX creations in movie history, and gives us an expert's insight into the future of digital effects (and James Cameron's Avatar).

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

[198] New Wave or Old Guard? Film & Festivals Feature

Yesterday, I went to see Helen, the debut feature from writer-director-producer duo Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, with my good friend, aspiring playwright and veritable wit Nick Moran. Helen is a left-field, art-y film - very brilliant and uncommercial in its way - and received funding through various local and national bodies, from Art Council England, to Birmingham City Council.

It reminded me about my recent feature from Film and Festivals Magazine, titled 'New Wave or Old Guard?', where I discussed the current 'wave' of British film (which has probably been in residence for 20 or more years now), and track this cultivation of talent to certain funding bodies, whose role it is to support upcoming talent and innovative pictures. I'll post it up below; elements of the feature were Cannes-specific, but I think that the main thrust is still relevant (especially as Fish Tank, a film supported by the UK Film Council, won the Prix du Jury).

To see the article in its fully-edited glory, click here.


'When we started out, we had no stars, we had no power or muscle. We didn't have enough money, really, to do what we wanted to do. But what we had was a script that inspired mad love in everyone who read it... Most of all, we had passion and we had belief and our film shows that if you have those two things, truly anything is possible'

An inauspicious sort of acceptance speech for a Best Picture Oscar from producer Christian Colson, but Slumdog Millionaire, which caused a stir at the 81st Academy Awards, is a brilliant representation of the humble beginnings of many projects in the current wave of British cinema. Indeed, along with Best Documentary Feature winner Man on Wire, this year saw a veritable coup of the Academy Awards by UK-produced films.

Unlike much larger film industries, such as Hollywood, the British film industry releases fewer pictures every year, with a specific focus on smaller, independently-minded productions. British films have gone through various phases, giving birth to many stereotypes on the international stage, but in the last decade, the country has produced a selection of quality films that have excelled both in critical and popular terms.

Slumdog Millionaire, produced by Celador and Film4, is a prime example of one such film which, without relying on tentpole stars or other traditional blockbuster trademarks, managed to innovate, educate and capture the world's attention in equal amounts. Integral to this success is the UK system of funding for these projects, giving freedom for innovation and support for achieving potential. Institutions and production companies such as the UK Film Council, BBC Films and Film4 currently co-produce or co-finance many award-winning films each year, with other recent successes being Notes on a Scandal, Woody Allen's Match Point and In Bruges.

The UK has been home to a thriving industry that is almost as old as the medium itself, with major focal points and successes over the years, from the films of the Arthur Rank organisation to the comedies of Ealing Studios. Also, British film has over the years challenged Hollywood in scale and polish, with the widescreen epics of David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Quai) and Powell and Pressburger (A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes). To this day, there are still huge British film franchises, such as the James Bond series, and the Harry Potter series, which are still largely produced in the UK, even if they are mostly Hollywood-funded.

However, the tradition for financing smaller British-produced films started in the 1980s, when production companies like Handmade Films and the then newly-created Channel 4 Films (now Film4) started putting trust in younger, more radical filmmakers. Handmade Films was first set up by ex-Beatles musician George Harrison and his business partner Denis O'Brien to help produce the controversial Monty Python biblical comedy The Life of Brian, but eventually moved towards funding and producing films from up-and-coming writers and directors, resulting in independent and cult film landmarks such as Terry Gilliam's early solo directorial project Time Bandits, Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I, and Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa. Likewise, Channel 4 Films, set up by the commercial television station, funded or co-produced key films in the early careers of Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting), Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette) and Shane Meadows (Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, Dead Man's Shoes).

More recently, in 2000, the Labour government set up the UK Film Council, an agency that focused on the funding, promotion, support and distribution of film in the UK. Sustained by National Lottery Fund money, the Council operates three separate funds, which together invest around £17 million into the development and production of British films - supporting both commercial and outside-of-the-mainstream films, as well as cultivating new talent.

Due to the current economic climate, there are worries that these funding bodies will find their budgets restricted, and that filmmaking in general will suffer. Indeed, Tessa Ross, head of Film and Drama for Channel 4, told the London Times in October last year, that it would be the 'mid-range movie' - like Slumdog Millionaire - which would be in danger and require the most protection. John Woodward, Chief Executive Officer of the UK Film Council, recently commented on the production statistics for late 2008 and early 2009, and explored similar territory - focusing on the system allowing UK-based productions to apply for tax relief benefits:

"As regards the big US studio financed films... the 2nd half of this year is looking good and we fully expect a serious bounce back... What I'm much more concerned about right now is the drop in UK independent production starts - by which I mean co-productions. And this is largely a function of the one flaw in the otherwise excellent film tax credit which disincentivises co-productions by focusing tax relief only on production spending made on the ground in the UK."

Even though many films funded through these bodies have been honoured with Academy Awards over the years, a crucial proportion of them were first screened, appreciated and lauded on the international film festival circuit - indeed, Slumdog Millionaire premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, and Man on Wire won both the the Jury Prize and Audience Award in the World Cinema: Documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival. This artier, less mainstream side of British film has been typified by its focus on character, as well as British history, society and identity, with often great success.

The Cannes Film Festival is one such festival that has celebrated British film over the years - with certain filmmakers developing an auteuristic standing for themselves off the back of their festival hits. Ken Loach and Mike Leigh in particular are two filmmakers who have developed an acclaimed relationship with Cannes, with both working on projects that have won the Camera d'Or prize (The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Secrets and Lies respectively). Furthermore, two Loach-directed films have been awarded the Jury Prize (Hidden Agenda and Raining Stones), whereas Leigh won the Best Director Award in 1993 for Naked, and has directed prize winning performances from Brenda Blethyn (in Secrets and Lies) and David Thewlis (in Naked).

Coming hot on the heels of UK cinema's success at the Academy Awards earlier this year, as well as the Camera d'Or win for Steve McQueen's Hunger last year, eyes will be focused on the country's contributions to the programme at Cannes later this month.

Screening a are four UK-produced films, all featuring the talents of established filmmakers. Two films received significant funding from the UK Film Council and BBC Films: Bright Star, written and directed by previous Palme d'Or winner, New Zealand's Jane Campion (for The Piano), tells of a love affair between 19th Century Romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish); Fish Tank, the second film from director Andrea Arnold, whose debut Red Road won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2006, stars Michael Fassbender and tells the story of a 15-year-old girl coming to terms with her mother's new boyfriend.

Also competing is the new Ken Loach film Looking For Eric, in which a fanatic Manchester United supporter receives life lessons and guidance from football icon Eric Cantona, as well as the latest project from Terry Gilliam, a fantasy picture called The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which has already garnered headlines and attention for featuring one of the final recorded performances of actor Heath Ledger.

Screening alongside these in-competition contemporary pictures are a selection of classic British films from the archives of distributor Park Circus, who will be showing such films as Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes, David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, and Basil Dearden's radical 1961 film Victim. These choice cuts not only affirm the strong tradition of UK cinema, but provide useful context in which to better appreciate the industry's recent embracing of inspiring, passionate filmmaking.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

[197] Bob Dylan 1966 European Tour: National Portrait Gallery, London

Barry Feinstein is one of the more recognised photographers in the popular music world, having snapped plenty of performers in his time, and providing many iconic album covers such as Janis Joplin's Pearl and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass. However, it seems that his continuing reputation lies in the volume of photographs culled from his time shadowing Bob Dylan on his 1966 European Tour - a tour semi-mythologised in the annals of rock music for its electric innovations (previously-folky Dylan was backed by the fully-amplified Hawks) and riotous reception.

London's National Portrait Gallery is currently hosting a small display of photographs from this 1966 collection, in part to mark the paperback release of Feinstein's sumptuous coffee-table book Real Moments, which anthologises his work with Dylan from 1966 to 1974, when Dylan returned to touring with The Band (a re-christened Hawks, by then successful in their own right).

The display is modest, yet fascinating. Many of the pieces will be familiar to the Dylan fan from their use on covers and in liner notes for various archive projects - such as the shot of the musician at the Aust Ferry terminal on the River Severn (used as the cover image for the No Direction Home DVD and soundtrack).

But there is much to enjoy, from candid shots of Dylan talking with French singer/actress Françoise Hardy (who is mentioned in the 'Some Other Kinds of Songs' liner-poems in 1964's Another Side of Bob Dylan), to posed photographs of Dylan exploring Liverpool's dockside area, and hooking up with some local kids. It's a fascinating collision of American (hobo/boho) counterculture and mid-2oth Century working class Northern England (so far from the 'swinging 60s' circus of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones).

This free-to-view display is housed in the Bookshop Gallery, downstairs in the NPG, and is on show until August 30th. For more information, visit the National Portrait Gallery's listing for the display here, or to find out more about Barry Feinstein, click here.

Friday, 5 June 2009

[196] Violent Cop (1989) DVD Review

Here is my second Takeshi Kitano DVD review for Den of Geek. This time, I take a look at his directorial debut Violent Cop. It's a very good film, and the DVD comes with some great extras. I quite enjoyed writing the review, too. Check it out below.

Originally meant to be much more of a comedy, and to be directed by Kinji Fukusaku (Battle Royale), Violent Cop (Suno otoko, kyobo ni tsuki) ended up being international cult icon "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's first directorial credit. After an uncredited, but significant screenplay re-write, Kitano made sure that this vehicle would be a distinct break from his public persona in Japan - where he first found fame as a comedian and a hard-working television presenter - in the process making a thrilling meditation on violence and the police action genre.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

[195] 20 Games For Your Laptop, Micro Mart

As it is now unavailable to buy from the shops, I thought I would post up some images of my feature article '20 Games For Laptops', from last week's issue of Micro Mart Magazine (which I first posted about here).

I'd recommend clicking through to Picasa, and zooming in to see the images at full size, especially if you're reading them. If you'd prefer, you can read a text-only draft of the article here on Google Docs.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

[194] Fireflies in the Garden (2008)

Fireflies in the Garden is writer-director Dennis Lee's debut feature; a promising, if uneven, film, it is eventually toppled by its ambition and amassed star power.

The film is grounded in the familiar landscape of highly intellectual, yet dysfunctional, upper middle class American life (as seen in the work of Noah Baumbach, especially, such as Margot at the Wedding, or The Squid and the Whale). Ryan Reynolds leads as Michael, a young author whose strained, oedipal relationship with his English Literature Professor father Charles (Willem Dafoe), forms the most immediate of the many strands of the tangled narrative.

Indeed, Fireflies in the Garden's plot is tangled like untended cables, frustrating and chaotic, as opposed to, say, perfectly formed like a ball of twine. The narrative flits between present day and flashbacks to a particularly damaging summer during Michael's youth, introducing new characters, traumas and complications far into its 99 minute run-time. The cast is stuffed with high class talent, with Julia Roberts as the hemmed-in mother Lisa and two scene stealing performances by Emily Watson and Hayden Panettiere as Michael's young, feisty aunt Jane. Carrie-Anne Moss and Ioan Gruffudd also appear, late into the film, as wafer-thin wall-paper plotting - adding in an estranged fiancee for Michael, and a secret lover for the mother.

Lee obviously has talent, as this is an assured, confident work. Even if the direction often veers towards the overly dramatic and serious - with each cast member being assigned their sentimental 'Oscar moment' - there are still moments of quiet beauty and warmth. Fireflies is at its best during moments of innocuous levity, often involving the strong child actors as Jane's present-day kids. Watson and Reynolds in particular have a comfortable, playful chemistry, which is expanded into an unexplored pseudo-sexual connection in the flashbacks - where Panetierre is coy, and Cayden Boyd as Young Michael is confused.

For the most part, however, Fireflies in the Garden comes off as pompous and too self-serious; it attempts to highlight too many thematic touchstones - family politics, teenage sexuality, responsibility, maturity, independence, homecoming, and on and on - without having the tremendous skill necessary to either tie them together or cook up a worthy resolution. As it is, the film concludes anti-climactically, with a puzzlingly large proportion of its content dropped in favour of crystallising the father-son tension. Its cast may be uniformly impressive, especially Reynolds in an against-type role; unfortunately, those attracted to Fireflies in the Garden by the Big Name Actors will be presented with something promising, but diffuse.

Lee's flawed first film is immediately notable because of those attached to it, so he must grow up in public somewhat. Nevertheless, there is still enough quality in the film to make his next project, whatever it is, an interesting prospect.

Fireflies in the Garden is on general release now. See the trailer here.

[193] Pumping Iron (1977) DVD Review

Another DVD review at Den of Geek, this time the bodybuilding pseudo-documentary Pumping Iron.

Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be the Hollywood star he was in the 1980s and 1990s, but his mark on the landscape of international culture is still palpable. Yet it is still interesting to note that while he has found lasting fame as various iconic bulky monsters (Conan, The Terminator, Dutch in Predator, John Matrix in Commando), one of his first starring roles was as himself in the 1977 bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron.

Directed by Robert Fiore and George Butler (after a book of the same name penned by Bulter and Charles Gaines), Pumping Iron is based around the 1975 Mr Olympia competition, following the preparation and participation of a handful of entrants. Not that you would notice from this lean, no-frills DVD release (the Region 1 25th Anniversary Special Edition came with various behind the scenes and retrospective interviews), but some way into the production, the team found the documentary footage too dull, so decided to spice things up a little, adding in staged scenes and exaggerating the 'characters' in the film beyond any rational understanding of naturalism.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

[192] Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: The Game Preview

Here is the second part of my coverage of last week's preview event for Luxoflux's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: The Game. This time, it's an actual preview article of the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii iterations of the movie tie-in.

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen: The Game may suffer from movie-tie-in-double-colon-itis, but it seems that the title might buck sceptical expectations and offer something quite impressive. We recently had the chance to go to a hands-on preview event for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii versions of this multi-platform transform 'em up, behind the inauspicious black door of Soho House in Central London.

The assembled journos were treated to a short introductory presentation from Joby Otero, Chief Creative Officer at Luxoflux, the developers behind the Xbox 360 and PS3 version. Quick to flash the geek credentials, Otero characterised the studio as a bunch of grown men who still play with their toys, and regaled the group with an anecdote regarding one team member refurbishing his apartment with storage for his ample Transformers collection in mind.

With our nerd-radars piqued, Otero laid out Luxoflux's three point strategy for Revenge Of The Fallen, saying that they wanted to focus on player choice, multiplayer, and the central gameplay mechanic of transformation, trying to appeal to fans with a varied cast of playable Transformer characters, but also appealing to a general audience with distinctive gameplay and online action (for more on this, see our interview with Otero here). With that in mind, we were escorted to another room to try out the game.

Read the full article here.

[191] Kids Return (1996) DVD Review

I've been aware of "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's work for some time, although I had only seen him in Battle Royale. So I snapped at the chance to review two of his films for Den of Geek. The first to be published is Kids Return.

Takeshi Kitano's 1996 film, Kids Return, is a slow-moving drama which is in equal parts warm and melancholic. Mostly concerned with the lives of two young rapscallions, the film documents the ambitions and lifestyle choices of a generation of teenage boys as they come to the end of their high school career.

Read the full article here.