Saturday, 28 November 2009

[272] 18 Foreign Language Films You Really Should See

Den of Geek ran another of their irregular collaborative list articles this week, the brief was 'recommend a foreign film'. I wrestled with the idea for some time, and eventually settled on Man Bites Dog. A film I can watch and rewatch, and be affected by with equal power each time. Weirdly, despite the very casual nature of the whole article, many commenters have criticised the writers for not picking films that 'should' be there - such as Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai), or Park's Oldboy.

I got quite riled, really - these are recommendations, and what is the point of choosing a film that people have probably seen? The point of going for 'recommendations' over 'The ## Best Foreign Films' means you can be a bit more idiosyncratic, and enlightening. Striving for objectivity, or using personal taste as some benchmark for objective quality, is a much trickier business. And one I don't like at all. Tough, as we're getting towards the end of the year, and the end of the decade. So I'm going to have to suffer.

In the meantime, check out what I wrote on Man Bites Dog. It's A Good One; You Should See It.

Just one? Cripes. Where to start? This is almost carte blanche to go art-house, to strike a pose and declare 'This Is The Canon'. Something by Jean Renoir? Tarkovsky? How about À bout de souffle? La jetée? 8 1/2? I'll go against all inner urges to whip out the beret and condescend, and instead highlight - for your esteemed consideration - the 1992 Belgian flick Man Bites Dog.

Exhibited at the same Cannes Film Festival as Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs,
Man Bites Dog shares more than just a canine-derived title, offering a similarly comic look at violence and society, with tricks and quirks borrowed from low-budget indie filmmaking. Man Bites Dog is a black and white mockumentary, in which a group of shoe-string filmmakers follow around a hardened serial killer, Benoît (Benoît Poelvoorde). The film mixes up scenes of Ben's day-to-day criminal activities ('I usually start the month with a postman'), and more biographical sequences with his family and friends.

Poelvoorde's gives a powerhouse performance, carrying the film while creating a uniquely bizarre character. Benoît is a gentleman crook, a charismatic drinking buddy, and an effete pseudo-philosopher quick to wax lyrical on architecture and art.
He is also arrogant, bigoted and aggressively self-centered. He plays up to the camera, and before long, the film crew find themselves complicit in his cycle of murders and - most chillingly - a brutal rape. It is a deftly-handled shift from dark comedy to a wholly unsettling commentary on the media's two-way relationship with the horrors of society.

It's a startling piece of work, tinged with a sense of unfulfilled promise, as the three-headed directing-writing-acting team - Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel - have yet to match this early peak in their careers, which, with Belvaux's death in 2006, seems unlikely to ever happen. In
Man Bites Dog, however, they produced a film that was cut from the same cloth as Tarantino, offering a quotable, gripping, stylized crime drama, yet did so with an intelligent, polemical edge that their American counterpart has yet to attain.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

[271] Solipsistic Pop #1

I met a girl recently who, after suffering through a good dozen or so minutes of me gesticulating and effusing all over the place, furrowed her brow slightly and mused '...comics? You mean, they still make them?'. I had to restrain myself from showering her with over-compensatory enthusiasm - judging by the situation, I assumed she wasn't the type to appreciate residual zeal-juice dripping off the ceiling onto her shoes. So I closed up the conversation hastily and a bit defensively, before we embarked on a wholly more suitable ensuing topic (East German Cinema, or something like that).

Let's just say that Solipsistic Pop would have been incredibly handy in that conversation. It is the kind of anthology that should be issued to those that respond to comics talk with a vacant 'Quoi?' expression. It starts with a declaration ('It is time for a new paradigm. A new wave of comics') and ends with a rousing battle cry of 'DO EVERYTHING', and is infused with a sense of enthusiasm and pride that can't help but be infectious.

Edited by How to Date a Girl in Ten Days creator Tom Humberstone, Solipsistic Pop brings together new works from some of the best creators around at the moment - some part of the small press 'scene', some from elsewhere. Most importantly, from an immediate point of view, the book looks, feels, smells wonderful. One of the unfortunate roadblocks for small press creators when courting non-fanatics is the (often necessarily, often consciously) cheap production values of their work. Solipsistic Pop has a great weight and presence to it; Philippa Johnson's intricate, understated cover illustrations and the interior's lush, colour pages certainly make an impression.

But what's colour and lushness without content? What's inside is sweet confection for the eyes. As if M&Ms were made into coloured candy eyedrops. There's a real smattering of talent in Solipsistic Pop, including a few names I've mentioned before. Julia Scheele leads the pack with 'My Year as a Christian', an autobiographical piece that tells of a period of her life lived in Honduras, and her attendance at an evangelical Christian school in Tegucigalpa. Most of Scheele's work (at times in collaboration with Matthew Sheret) that I have seen before has been made up of short subjects, or longer pieces that are more evocative than narrative-driven. Here, her distinctive art and bold approach to page layout are married to a touching little story of growing up, and the role of often painful and awkward experience in forming someone's personality.

Just as impressive is a two-page piece by Howard Hardiman, called 'Bondage'. I've said this before, but it is a joy to see Hardiman's work progress and develop, from Badger and Polaroids From Other Lives onwards. 'Bondage' is more like Polaroids than Badger, with external, poetic narration linked with quite observational, snapshot-style artwork. It is a musing on pain and loss, well-evoked and drawn with grace.

Across the board, Solipsistic Pop is an artists' book, and it is quite staggering in this capacity. Moving from Scheele and Hardiman, there is a great diversity, including the welcoming colour-crayon style of 'Spiderwings' by Rachael Reichert, the pink-blue-green minimalism of Robbie Wilkinson's 'Meanwhile...', and reaching a particularly heady explosion of mad expressionism in the nightmarish 'I Never Knew Her', from Andrew Blundell and writer Mike Rimmer.

Of course, Solipsistic Pop isn't the first (or only) anthology with this underground focus (with a recent, similar example being B.A.S.T.A.R.D.S.) but it stands out thanks to some great design ideas. There is a sly nod to the project's small press roots with twominicomics glued in the inside covers, with both (Anna Saunders' Through the Square Window, and Sarah Gordon's Noses) being sterling examples of how to use the form well.

This is a nice addition, but Solipsistic Pop's real coup comes when you hit the centre spread, and find a pull-out section. Folding out to what approaches magazine-size, this supplement features a handful of pieces that really earn the right to a larger page size. Chief among these is the gob-smacking work from Stephen Collins, a veteran newspaper illustration contributor, with his comics 'Sunday Columnist Adventure Stories' and 'Vague Scientist' best displaying his tight design work and gleefully twisted sense of humour. Likewise, the pull-out features Humberstone's own 'The Adventures of... Chicken With Its Head Cut Off' (a contribution to the How Fucking Romantic project), and Mark Oliver's 'Jailbyrd Jim and the Kurse of the Kapital Kode', which bares its Underground Comix influences with pride.

Worthy of a special mention, however, is 'Ninja Bunny and the Broken World', from Philip Spence; usually working in a square, minicomic medium, Spence's work here dazzles, as the story is writ large, in a style that evokes the vertical, colourful ukiyo-e paintings of Hiroshige's Upright Tokaido series.

Gosh, it's all painfully impressive. It's not without its minor hiccups, however, with some little editing mistakes and errors (that only nitpickers and copywriters would notice, to be fair). But this is mighty product, and the fact that it is the first in a potential series of volumes is tantalising. As it is, it is a triumph and a call to arms that is worthy of support. It bears the gift of comics: the joy of words and artwork collided together to make wonders, dreams and nightmares.

Read more about Solipsistic Pop at their website. The book is available online, or from London's Orbital Comics - where there is also an exhibition of (stunning) original artwork, displayed until the end of the month - as well as at the upcoming Lost Treasures of the Black Heart event in Camden, curated by Josie Long. You can listen to an interview with Humberstone, Scheele, Sheret, and Collins at Panel Borders here.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

[270] A Serious Man (dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen, 2009) Review

More words from me spilled about a film I enjoyed. This time, the new effort from the Coen Brothers.

Initially, I thought it seemed like lazy promotional shorthand that A Serious Man, the new film from the Coen Brothers, had been referred to as their 'Jewish film'. However, after watching it, there are few better descriptions that come to mind, as the brothers conjure up another dark, quirky comedy that manages to be both character-driven and oddly metaphorical. A film that is just as much about the Jewish-American experience, as it is about faith, religion and ideology in the face of the bleakness of modern life.

It is all-encompassing in its Jewishness (there are four credited as 'language and liturgy' advisers, and two 'Yiddish translators'), yet still proves to be as humorous, daring and barmy as their best work, with its closest siblings, no doubt, being The Big Lebowski or Barton Fink.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

[269] Devi / Goddess (dir. Satyajit Ray, 1960) DVD Review

Here's another DVD review from Screenjabber, this time of Satiyajit Ray's Devi (Goddess).

Bengali auteur Satyajit Ray followed up his ambitious, landmark Apu Trilogy in 1960 with Devi (Goddess), a relatively low-key, hemmed-in affair that exhibits a sharper edge to the filmmaker's art. Adapted from a story by Prabhat Kumar Mukherjee, which was in turn inspired by the work of Nobel Prize-awardee Rabindranath Tagore, Devi focuses on familiar themes of both Tagore and Ray's work, such as the collision between the modern and traditional worlds. However, here, the over-riding tone is darker and more caustic, as Devi more concretely plays out the conflict between religious fanaticism and rational thought.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

[268] Lynch (one) DVD Review

A couple of DVD reviews I wrote for Screenjabber have finally been put online. Here is the first, a piece on a documentary about David Lynch, and the creative processes behind Inland Empire. I wrote this back in June.

David Lynch's films are often inscrutable, inspired and indulgent in nature. However, the work seems at odds with the unassuming demeanour of the director himself, who stands by his self-written, cheeky biography of 'Filmmaker. Born Missoula, MT. Eagle Scout.' Lynch (One) is an impressionistic, artful sort of documentary, directed by an anonymous band of filmmakers under the moniker blackANDwhite, which attempts to get to grips with the artist and his work.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 20 November 2009

[267] The First Day of the Rest of Your Life / Le premier jour du reste de ta vie (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (2008) Review

Even though I didn't think this film was that good, I was completely set on fire by its cultural aspects. As I say in the review, The First Day of the Rest of Your Life is teeming with American cultural references. There are two sequences where characters quote from Hollywood films, but not in English, in French, from the dub.

I am now almost a term into my MA in History of Film and Visual Media at Birkbeck. So far, I have assumed that my research project would continue the work on translation theory that I have previously done in a literary field, but instead focusing on filmic translation - namely subtitling and dubbing. Seeing this film, especially with its display of dubbing and cultural markers, has given me quite a lot to think on - and probably a direction to pursue.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (Le premier jour du reste de ta vie) is an award-winning, French family comedy-drama with a twist. Attempting to defy formula, writer-director Rémi Bezançon has structured the film in a chapter-like fashion, with each segment corresponding to five different days over a twelve year period, charting the lives of the 5-strong Duval family. Running with the title concept, each chapter relates to a different integral moment in the characters lives - be it eldest son Albert's (Pio Marmaï) moving away from home, or daughter Fleur's (Déborah François) sixteenth birthday - while navigating the poles of melodrama and nostalgia that seem endemic to the genre.

While the film has a pleasant, easy charm, the whole project gives off a sense of the contrived. Moments of levity and comedy can often be sickly sweet, moments of trauma are sudden and heavy-handed, and emotions are always foregrounded, seemingly without regard for the logic of character interiority. This makes the characters feel a little schizophrenic, and their world feels squeaky clean, even a little claustrophobic - with the polished, wistful cuddliness of a Richard Curtis film. Although, the broad canvas gives Bezançon the opportunity to bring up plenty of key family moments, that are picked and presented for maximum sentimentalism - with the death of a family dog being the starting point for a collective lifetime of loves, deaths and relationships.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

[266] Laura Howell: Comic Pie / Tales from the Crust

I'm still rummaging through the pile of comics that I've picked up over the last couple of months. I'm hoping to eventually highlight a few, and post comments on them. Bear with me.

I met Laura Howell at the MCM Expo, and was immediately taken with her two minicomics Comic Pie and Tales from The Crust. Not that I tend to judge books by their covers, but, well, that's exactly what I did. They're awesome, humorous evocations of both EC Tales from the Crypt and Action Comics style cover images. Check them out!

Dodgy former photo, I know, but wow. The two books cherry-pick pieces from Howell's two Strip-A-Day Spectacular projects, from January 2007 and earlier this year respectively. Something immediately noticeable as you flick through the books is how versatile she is as an artist and storyteller. She easily slips from style-to-style, bringing intelligence and an often twisted sense of humour to a lot of the strips. Most are short, one-page pieces, but there are a couple of longer stories, such as the tale of a rat who discovers the meaning of life, or an autobiographical reminiscence about video shops and horror films.

Both books are chock-full of bonkers, brilliant stuff. It was only afterwards that I found out that Howell is a full-time contributor to The Beano, and created The Mighty M, about an aspiring rock band, that was my favourite strip in The (now defunct) DFC. Wholly impressive stuff! I can't wait to see more from her.

To find out more about Laura Howell, visit her site here, or read her webcomic about The Bizarre Adventures of Gilbert and Sullivan here.

Friday, 13 November 2009

[265] We Live in Public (dir. Ondi Timoner, 2009) Review

Last week, I had a really fascinating discussion with my good friend, and upcoming documentary filmmaker Edward Szekely, about the nature of the documentary film as a genre/movement/mode of expression. We came from entirely different angles: I, probably revealing my journo-critical roots, see documentary as non-fiction narration of history, theory, criticism or people; he sees it as much wider, encompassing documenting in a larger capacity. Our point of departure was probably Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, and Ron Fricke's Baraka, which are purely cinematic, non-verbal documents of life, industry, and other aspects of earthly existence.

I'd more likely describe them as art films, but then again I'm coming from the point of view of journalistic commentary and purpose - something that is either lost or made oblique by the lack of narration, and sole reliance on the films' (utterly staggering) use of cinematography and editing for a creation of 'meaning'. Nevertheless, he has a point - when one accepts all filmed content as a document of a time-and-place, then there is plenty of documentary-like material out there to discover, not unlike the use of everyday, non-artistic texts in linguistic and cultural criticism. It's a discussion I'd like to revisit someday.

Sadly, We Live In Public isn't fully satisfactory for either of those definitions.

It is, no doubt ironic that, as soon as I had finished watching We Live In Public, the new documentary from DiG! director Ondi Timoner, I posted a 140-character micro-review on Twitter. The film is squarely focused on Josh Harris, an Internet visionary who, during the 1990s, spearheaded a number of projects, experiments and services that anticipated much of how our relationship with the web would develop in the first decade of the 2000s. If you've not heard of Harris, don't worry; he was one of the generation of tech-geeks that burned quickly and brightly during the American dot-com boom of the 1990s, before fizzling out and disappearing into obscurity, bankruptcy and self-imposed exile not long into the new millennium. Timoner's documentary, not unlike DiG!, is cobbled together from footage shot through her long liaison with the film's subject, and at times lacks the perspective that would facilitate a compelling character study.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

[264] Harry Brown (dir. Daniel Barber, 2009) Review

This was the first - and only - screening I was able to take The Finnish Girl along to when we lived together. She didn't like the film, and I did (with some big reservations). Bonus, though - Michael Caine was at the screening! I had a complicated reaction to this film - but I think that it is worth seeing. Read my review below.

Michael Caine is having a stellar year. After appearing in the most crowd-drawing of blockbusting money spinners, The Dark Knight, in 2008, he has eased back into his part-time role as patron to the British independent cinema sector, with two roles that are testament to his real talent.

Back in May, he appeared in low-key drama Is Anybody There? as Clarence, an aging, dementia-suffering magician. Now, he stars in Harry Brown, another small-budgeted indie, this time a chilling thriller from first-time director Daniel Barber. Ostensibly billed as a 'modern urban western' by the creative and publicity teams, Harry Brown is a more complex melange of a film, just as much a showcase for Barber's versatility as Caine's acting.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

[263] Comica '09 -- Dark We Were & Golden Eyed / Comiket

We're currently neck-deep in Comica season at the moment, and I went down to the ICA over the weekend to check out two of the impressive programme's events.

Dark We Were and Golden-Eyed was a panel conversation event with guests including artists Brian Bolland and Bryan Talbot, comics retailers Phil Clarke and Derek 'Bram' Stokes, and Forbidden Planet and Titan Books co-founder Mike Lake. The topic at hand was 'The Birth of American Comics Fandom in Britain' in the 1960s and 1970s, and the discussion was lively and heartwarming.

While Lake, the chair of the event, had come along armed with slides of various photographs and scans, the discussion frequently collapsed into the sharing of half-remembered anecdotes, such as Clarke getting his stream of comics from a connection at a local US Air Force base, Lake attending the first British Comics Convention in Birmingham (which cost Clarke £111 to put on) the week before travelling down to London to see The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, or Stokes opening his shop - Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed - on Berwick Street, paying £36 a week rent, and reimbursing young surveyor Dave Gibbons in comics for sorting out a new staircase for the building.

It was fascinating and welcoming, and a great insight into the personal side of being a comics fan in the time before Diamond Distribution, and before there were comic shops both large and small at which fans and enthusiasts could congregate, where issues would be transported as ballast on freight ships, and young comic lovers could only communicate and hone their craft through mail order lists and self-published zines.

Skip forward 40 years in comics culture - or a day later in Comica's 2009 calendar - and we have the Comiket, a comics market that features some of the best small press, self-published, independent creators currently active. I went to this event last year, and it was my first London-based comics excursion, but this year it had moved down into the ICA theatre, with seemingly even more exhibitors in attendance; if last year was 'packed to bursting' with talent and punters, this year was vacuum-sealed for maximum creativity-per-square-inch.

I like to think I'm getting more well-versed with the small press 'scene', and now recognise a fair deal of people at this sort of event - such as Howard Hardiman, Marc Ellerby, Jamie McKelvie, and the We Are Words + Pictures collective. However, I was surprised, and deeply impressed, by a number of stalls that had seemingly sprung out of nowhere (with regards to my awareness, anyway) - from the beautifully grotesque expressionism of My Eye Is On Fire, to the colourful artwork of Nobrow, or the slightly glum wonkiness of Nicolas Saloquin. Also a surprise were two stalls from art colleges, namely the Atlantic Press and Ink Soup! spreads, which were displaying the developing talents of students at University College Falmouth and the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design respectively.

Lots of beautiful stuff, but I had committed my budget to one purchase: the sumptuous Solipsistic Pop, an anthology of some sterling work from plenty of characters on the small press scene (it is edited by Tom Humberstone, and features work from Philip Spence, Julia Scheele, Hardiman, and Matthew Sheret, among many others). It's a very well put together artifact, with a pull-out section, and two extra mini comics for good measure. I'll hopefully write more about it at a later point, but for the moment I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Check out their site for details and extracts.

Another nice touch of the Comiket event was an elongated collaborative piece of artwork, placed on the ICA's corridor wall, with exhibitors invited to take a line from a famous British graphic novel (reportedly Watchmen, according to Sarah McIntyre, whose photos of the piece are excellent), and create designs of their own. It was quite staggering, really, seeing the diversity of talent - otherwise represented in the stuffy claustrophobia of the stalls - splashed out on the wall for all to see. Lovely!

Comica runs until November 26th, for more details visit the festival's site here.

[262] Modern Warfare 2 London Launch Report

"So who is in this film?" asks a beautifully accented girl, as I turn from snapping a photo of the impressive premiere-style spread across the Vue West End foyer for Modern Warfare 2. Her sweet, rising intonation was not misplaced. Indeed, if she had been in Leicester Square a mere week earlier, she could have spotted Jim Carrey, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins. I had to burst her bubble. "No. It's not a film, it's a video game."

"A video game!" - a mere hour later, in Screen 5, Vernon Kay booms out charisma by the decibel, positioned in front of a cinema screen cycling through trailers and gameplay footage.

Who'd have guessed? All this for a video game. But it's not just any video game. It's Modern Warfare 2. Sequel to the preposterously successful realignment of the Call Of Duty series. The kind of game that can set an above-average RRP, strip the PC version of all its quirks (and alienate hundreds of thousands of fans in the process), and even court controversy with leaked details before release, yet still remain an untroubled, undisputed blockbuster.

It's Activision's money-spinner - the kind of self-sustaining cultural monster that just prints the stuff. And it warrants this - nothing less than the best that early evening ITV, or Sunday morning radio, can offer, backed by glitz, if not glamour.

But Vernon loves it, and does a great job whipping up the crowd, giving shout outs to audience members, and CoD voice talent, Billy Murray ("Great in Caddyshack!") and Kevin McKidd ("Tommy in Trainspotting!") - just part of a guest list that boasts Dexter Fletcher, Jamelia and That Guy From T4.

Before long, we got to the 'good stuff'. A quick interview with Infinity Ward animator Chance Glasco (on the multiplayer: "We expanded it, and injected it with steroids... Okay, we injected it with heroin!'", a playthrough of the first level ("He's playing on easy!" Vernon jeers), and a visceral, hyperbolic featurette that mines the term 'blow you away' for all it's got.

Afterwards, a treat. A six vs six team deathmatch game open to members of the audience (part celeb, part PR/Media, part 'true gamer'). Glasco would captain one team, and the other would be helmed by Dom Joly - whose first teammate choice was Goldie. Throughout the match, Joly drops in cheeky comments: "What country are we in? Is this Belgium? I'm taking Brussels. There's Jacques Brel on the rooftop!", but Glasco prevails in the end.

A swift conclusion from Kay and it's all over. We're booted out into chilly November night, with any trace of the camo-carpet wiped clean from the City of Westminster paving slabs.

A few scant Modern Warfare fanatics had already started queuing at HMV Trocadero, but a handful of journos, Important People, and hipsters with funny hair were off to a secret underground bunker (actually a Student Union club in disguise) to drink free booze, and whittle away the 180 minutes until launch time.

Attendants dressed in strangely flattering khakis were on hand with cocktails and boxes of vegetable stir fry 'rations' to make the journey smoother. And, at midnight, who turns up but Dizzee Rascal, a musical force that should be weaponised, if the ringing ears and mild cases of tinnitus are to be believed. "This game, man, is serious, serious!" he intones, before launching into his current blend of Balearic hip-hop.

Of course it is. It's Modern Warfare 2. The Holst of head-shots! It layers its seriousness, its drama, its tension, on thick. And its 'epic' promotional events chimed perfectly.

Modern Warfare 2
is out now.

Article originally published at Den of Geek here. More photographs here.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

[261] True Blood: Nelsan Ellis Q&A

Last, and most certainly least, of my pieces culled from the MCM Expo, is a write-up of a Q&A session with True Blood actor Nelsan Ellis. I know next to nothing about the series, and haven't watched a single minute of it, so it's all Greek to me. I'm sure some people are interested in it, though.

One of the esteeemed guests at the MCM Expo back in October was Nelsan Ellis, whose performance as Lafayette in the southern-fried vampire series True Blood has brought the actor to the attention of TV fans and slash-fiction writers the world over. As part of the Expo's festivities, he took part in a Q&A session on the main stage, fielding queries from all and sundry - speaking of his introduction to True Blood, the creation of Lafayette, and working with show creator Alan Ball.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 6 November 2009

[260] 15th London Turkish Film Festival Opening Gala

I attended the London Turkish Film Festival last year, and was surprised at the wealth of quality films on offer in their programme. Some of those films, such as Dot (Nokta) and Times and Winds (Bes Vakit) were among my favourite films of the year. So it was with great anticipation that I boarded the 53 bus, in black tie, to attend the suitably swanky Opening Gala for this year's iteration of the festival, held at the venerable venue of BAFTA Piccadilly.

Now in its 15th year, the London Turkish Film Festival is expanding in an important and graceful manner, by introducing a selection of 'Golden Wings' festival awards. Chief among these is the Digital Distribution Award, which offers the winner a £15,000 distribution contract for UK and Ireland. The award was judged by a panel of industry members, including Jo Blair (Senior Programmer, City Screen), David Parkinson (Journalist, Empire), Jason Wood (Director of Programming, Curzon Cinemas), and Turkish actress Hülya Koçyiğit. Blair addressed the audience, praising the 5 nominated films, for displaying 'a mastery of their craft', and showing the 'depth and diversity' of Turkish cinema, before announcing Asli Özge's Men on the Bridge (Köprüdekiler) as the winner, commending the film's 'documentary aesthetic', and its 'Altman-esque tapestry' of contemporary life.

The inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award was given to actress and pioneer Turkish female filmmaker Türkan Şoray, who is reportedly known to Turkish film fans as 'Sultan'. A third, unannounced award category, the Patron of the Festival, was given to Koçyiğit, as well as the composing and performing duo of Sedat Sarıcı and Suzan Beyazit - whose music soundtracked the evening, in an entrancing arrangement from the Beattie String Quartet.

The Awards ceremony was followed by the UK premiere screening of The Bogeyman (Mommo - Kızkardeşim), a film that was given the Best Film prize at the Turkey-Germany Film Festival earlier this year. With its focus on young children and their life in a rural village, and with themes that encompass generation tensions, innocence and the allure of the urban, The Bogeyman is, in capsule form, quite similar to Times and Winds. However, there are a number of very distinct differences, largest being the shift in scenery and style. Where Times and Winds was warm, poetic and ambiguous, The Bogeyman is impoverished, emotionally-overt and based on a true story.

The key to the film's charm lies in the two central performances from Elif and Mehmet Bülbül as siblings Ayşe and Ahmet, who live in a dusty village in the Konya region of Central Anatolia. With their mother dead, and their weak, slimy father remarried and unwilling to accept responsibility, they are left in the care of their religious, aged grandfather. The film's central question is regarding their standing in life, between family and the care home - lost in the cycles of death and emigration.

However, the vast span of the narrative, directed by first-time filmmaker Atalay Taşdiken, revels in the touching chemistry between Ayşe and Ahmet, quietly doting on their days spent playing together. A series of static, lavishly mounted shots give their hopscotch games, their makeshift swings, whittled out boats and stargazing dreams a sense of moving importance - especially in light of the troubles surrounding their situation. Sadly, the inevitable reality is hammered home in a cathartic conclusion, that betrays the film's initially contemplative trajectory, in favour of manipulative emotional peaks. Nevertheless, The Bogeyman is a strong film to open what looks to be a varied programme of similarly strong cinema.

The London Turkish Film Festival runs for 2 weeks, until November 19th, with screenings at the Rio Cinema Dalston and the Apollo Piccadilly. For more information, visit the official website.

[259] Idris Elba Interview

Second to last piece from my MCM Expo coverage for Den of Geek. I might not be the most emotionally invested fan of The Wire in the world, but I did enjoy this.

Idris Elba is the inspiration of many a mancrush. I blame The Wire, the HBO crime drama series that has developed a huge cult following over the last couple of years, fuelled by boxsets and breathless sharing of plaudits and praise. It is truly one of the most popular of the current crop of DVD-based 'water-cooler' series. In fact, it seemed a little anachronistic when BBC picked up the UK licence and started broadcasting the show earlier this year.

Even though Elba has enjoyed a long and varied career, it was his appearance as Stringer Bell, the suave, business-minded head of a drug gang, that brought him to greater prominence. He was attending the MCM Expo in order to promote The Losers, an upcoming film adaptation of the Vertigo graphic novel, by Andy Diggle and Jock, about a crack Special Forces team getting revenge on their previous CIA employers. He spoke about his involvement with The Losers, his dealings with Diggle, Jock, producer Joel Silver and director Sylvain White, as well as the beauty of Twitter, and how the film is going to feel "like Call of Duty 4".

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

[258] Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie Interview

I'm a big fan of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's work, and have written about them on this blog before. So I was really happy that they were willing to chat with me at the MCM Expo. I kept the discussion entry-level, as this was going up at Den of Geek, but it was nice to be able to get an overview of their work, and ask Kieron about his upcoming comic for Avatar - The Heat - for which I believe I got the exclusive. Fun! (Although, it was hard writing about Phonogram in the introduction. What to say about my favourite current comic in such short space?)

My first attempt to start up an interview with Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, the creative team behind the music-worship comic Phonogram, was interrupted by a scheduled performance from a Japanese Taiko Drumming band occurring within blistering earshot. We reconvened later, at a pub nearby, overlooking the cosplay vapour trail as the thousands of cosplayers and expo-attendees traipsed home.

Phonogram is definitely one of the more interesting comics of the moment. It brings together a metaphoric concoction of (mostly, but not solely 'indie') music, fantasy and youth culture to make startlingly well-observed and insightful commentary on music and those who listen to it. Taking concepts, applications and effects related to music, Phonogram manages to communicate a lot of the verve and energy of that subculture, in a way that trumps a vast amount of the journalistic, critical, writerly approaches to the topic. Chalk it up to the team's great balancing of style and content - of Gillen's sharp, character-led scripts, and McKelvie's consistently staggering artwork, that give small details (a pursed lip, a mid-dance freeze frame) great importance.

The success of the series has led to the two of them working on many other comic projects. McKelvie has released one series of his own book, Suburban Glamour, about teenagers in small-town Worcestershire. Gillen, known to many as a noted video games journalist, is now penning (plentiful) projects for Marvel, including an upcoming run on Thor, and a recently-published limited series Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter. He is also working on an only-announced-on-Saturday story for Avatar Press, The Heat.

We chat about their experience at the MCM Expo, as well as Phonogram, Suburban Glamour, and what it is like working for the larger publishers, on properties that have been developing and gestating for generations. Gillen also fills us in on The Heat, a project that has been teased as involving 'cops on Mercury'.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

[257] MCM Expo Comics Write-up

Here's the second piece from my MCM Expo coverage over at Den of Geek - a write-up about the Comic Village area of the event. I took the opportunity to conduct mini-interviews with a couple of creators that I admire, and to drop in a lot of references to other artists and writers that I have become acquainted with over the last few small press fairs. Hopefully, the article will drive a number of Den of Geek readers their way, or at least bring these alternative comics to the audience's attention. Just a way of giving something back.

Off in the corner of the huge exhibition hall at the MCM Expo - about as far away from the autograph desks as you can get - is the Comic Village. While one of the more recent additions to the Expo's programme, the Comic Village has developed and expanded quickly, now bringing together an impressive, varied collection of creators that, in many ways, rivals the line-ups of the larger, more specialised events. The welcoming mixture of writers and artists, selling their wares and inviting chatter from the punters, resulted in most of my time at the Expo being spent in the Comics Village, checking out what was on offer, and even interviewing a few guests as well.

Read the full article here.

[256] MCM Expo Report @ Den of Geek

I've already made some rudimentary comments about the MCM Expo here before, but here is the first piece from my more extensive coverage over at Den of Geek. More to come, but this is a good place to start, with some general remarks and a photo gallery.

Near the beginning, there was worry that the MCM Expo, held at the Excel Centre in London over the 24th-25th October, could have been re-dubbed, after a notorious goth-baiting blog, 'cosplayers in wet weather'.

It started at London Bridge tube-station, stepping onto the east-bound train to be faced with a spotty youth dressed as Final Fantasy VIII character Squall Leonhart, who had hastily wrapped his imposing gunblade in a big black bin liner, to protect it from the morning drizzle. Changing to the DLR, those not in costume were in the tiny, slightly awkward minority, and Expo fever had set in - with one twinkly-eyed teen crying 'Oh no! I forgot to make a Free Hugs sign!'. At Expo, human contact is encouraged.

The MCM Expo makes a claim to be the largest event for all things geeky in the UK, covering Anime, Manga, Sci-Fi, TV, Movies, Games and Comics. And, if the influx of excitable attendees - who swarmed the aircraft-hangar sized exhibition centre in the sparkly clean, regentrified wasteland of the old London Docklands - is anything to go by, it is also one of the most popular. A press release issued not long after the event totalled the amount of visitors at 38,366. That's more than there were French at Agincourt!

Read the full article here.

[255] The Men Who Stare At Goats (dir. Grant Heslov, 2009) Review

I may have only had the opportunity to see two films at the London Film Festival, but I enjoyed both of them a fair bit. Here's my review of the second, The Men Who Stare At Goats.

Rather than going for super-seriousness, heavily partisan posturing, or even documentary-like commentary, The Men Who Stare At Goats, directed by actor-turned-producer Grant Heslov, is a light, pleasant comedy, with extra lashings of silliness for good measure. The film rips its narrative from Jon Ronson's 2003 journalistic work of the same name, albeit with a fictionalised slant, and a cheery endnote declaring 'More of this is true than you would believe'.

Read the full article here.