Wednesday, 29 April 2009

[177] Coraline (2008) Review

I am painfully aware that there has been little new content on the blog this month. I went through a bad patch early on, losing momentum and then losing the apparent will to write. Then, in the last 2 weeks, I have found myself picking up a lot of articles for other sites, so I'm drowning in features and reviews for elsewhere. They'll slowly show up on here - hopefully this will be a sign of good things to come. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here is my review of Coraline. I remember buying the book when it came out, and was going to get it signed when Neil Gaiman came to Manchester on his book tour - however, I couldn't make it. Thankfully, a friend took my copy along with him. I think Henry Selick's film version is better - fuelled with so much creative inspiration and intelligent storytelling. One of the best films of my year so far.


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The grotesque is something you really don't see in many children's films. Today's big successes - the Pixars, the Harry Potters - deliver broad chuckles, wide-canvas thrills and eye-popping visuals, yet in terms of depth, subtlety and pure imagination come up a little short.

Not to tie oddity with inspiration, but for all their well-crafted charm and brilliance, modern family classics such as Toy Story, or even Wall-E peddle a mundane sort of fantasy, lacking the expressive weirdness found in some of the best children's literature from the 19th and 20th centuries. Coraline, the new stop-motion 3D film from director-artisan Henry Selick, bucks this trend with admirable, awesome skill.


Read the full article here.

Friday, 24 April 2009

[176] Centurion Set Visit Article

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the set of Neil Marshall's new film Centurion. It was a great experience, and now my feature on the day is up over at Den of Geek. In other news, things are getting very busy over there - I'm currently working on a huge pile of features and reviews, so hopefully that will materialise into some good content over the next week or two. Overwhelming, but stimulating.


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They used to say that all roads led to Rome, but for me, one chilly but clear-skied April morning, it took a bus, two trains (change at Woking) and a short car journey for me to be transported to Second Century Roman Britannia. I had been invited to visit the set of Neil Marshall's (Doomsday, The Descent) new film, Centurion, which is shaping up to be a different, unique take on ancient history.

That day, they were filming a late scene from the picture, which took place in a ransacked, scorched fort, as well as further scenes in a meticulously-designed ancient cottage in the heart of Surrey's Alice Holt Forest. I had the chance to have an early peek at this new flick, and asked some of the cast and crew to shed light on the whole affair.


Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

[175] International Women's Festival - Dortmund | Cologne

Starting today is the Internationales FrauenFilmFestival in Dortmund and Cologne. Here is my festival preview feature from this month's issue of Film and Festival Magazine. To see the nicely edited, formatted version from the magazine itself, click here.


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Internationales FrauenFilmFestival Dortmund|Köln (Dortmund and Cologne International Women's Festival)

21-26 April





Coming late in April is the Dortmund and Cologne International Women's Festival, or the FrauenFilmFestival. Shared between the two cities in the North Rhine-Westphalia state of western Germany, the festival was created after a merger between the Feminale and Femme Totale festivals. This year, it is screening over 100 films in its 6 days, and is focusing on the central topic of freedom as discussed in contemporary and classic films directed by women filmmakers.

This central topic spins out into a number of more specialised programmes, such as the Inner Freedom section, which seeks to engage with the ideals behind notions of freedom. As part of this section, the festival will be screening Marianne Chaud's documentary Himalaya, La Chemin du Ciel (Himalaya, Path to the Sky), which presents the life of a young boy who leaves his family to return to his former life's calling as a Buddhist monk in the Himalayas. In the Unter Kontrolle section, the festival will turn its attentions to institutions, and their influence on experience, with screenings of Daniella Marxer's Zuoz, about life in a stiflingly-elite Swiss private school, or Julia von Heinz's Standesgemäß (Noble Commitments), about the restrictive structures of marriage for women in the aristocracy.

These contemporary films will be featured alongside classic-oriented selections, such as Films of the 1960s and Feminist Classics. Another programme is concerned with experimental films by women filmmakers, such as Yoko Ono's Freedom, Valie Export's Tapp- und Tast-Kino (Tap and Touch Cinema) and Carolee Schneeman's Meat Joy, all of which negotiate the relationships between performance, cinema, and the human form.





The festival will also highlight works of cinema that discuss the notion of borders, such as Frozen River by American writer-director Courtney Hunt. The film, which tells of the lives of two single mothers, separated by cultural boundaries, who live near and live off the American-Canadian border, has been celebrated at many festivals and awards ceremonies since its release in 2008, notably receiving the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and garnering two Academy Award nominations. The theme of boundaries will also form the centre of the FrauenFilmFestival's main conference, titled 'Crossing the Border - Transcultural Perspectives and Women's Film', a two day symposium organised by the film studies department at the Johannes Gutenberg University in nearby Mainz.

In line with tradition, the FrauenFilmFestival will be handing out its own awards, such as the International Feature Film and the National Director of Photography prizes, which aim to praise the work of the next generation of women filmmakers. The festival's programme is filled out with unique and interesting events, such as a live concert by the Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, who will perform music while backed by silent movie clips, and the A Wall Is A Screen event, a guided cinematic tour through Dortmund, with periodic pauses as short films are projected onto walls throughout the city.

For more information, visit http://www.frauenfilmfestival.eu.

Monday, 20 April 2009

[174] UK Film Festival Previews for April

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


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Glimmer 2009: The 7th Hull International Short Film Festival

April 21-26





The Hull International Short Film Festival, titled Glimmer, returns in April for 6 days packed to bursting with screenings and events. This year, the East Yorkshire festival will be introducing the Anthony Minghella Awards for Best International and Best UK Short, to be presented at the festival in the memory of the late filmmaker and University of Hull alumnus. Over the course of the festival, various shorts will be screened in competition for these awards.

These competitive selections will be sharing space with out of competition screenings and events. Glimmer will be hosting retrospectives dedicated to two short filmmakers, avant-garde artist John Smith and Internet flash-based animator David Firth (Salad Fingers), as well as cherry picking notable films that were nominated for short film BAFTA awards in 2009 and the best in student-created short cinema in the STUDENTFEST programme. There will also be selections along thematic lines, such as the Country in Focus: Israel and Figuring Landscapes series.

Accompanying the screenings in the event calendar are talks, presentations and panel discussions on topical subjects about the film industry. What Happens Next? will tackle the challenges facing a filmmaker after the shoot is over, including how to handle reviews, marketing and print budgeting, and Pay to Play will discuss issues related to low paid and voluntary work in the film industry, as well as the often exclusive entry fees for festivals.

For more information, including the full programme, see: http://www.hullfilm.co.uk/


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Cambridge International Super 8 Festival
April 29 - May 2





Since 2007, the Cambridge International Super 8 Festival has been championing the small film format. After it's successful second edition in 2008, where 88 films were screened, all points indicate to another great line-up at the end of April. At the heart of the festival are its four competitive awards, the Jury Prize, Audience Prize, Development Prize, Best UK Film and Special Jury Prize. Winners of these awards will be promoted by the festival team, and will tour around the UK and other selected countries.

The in-competition selection will be presented in a series of programmes throughout the festival, and will include films such as Dead Joe, directed by John Aldridge, an absurdly comic deformation of film noir, and Four Kilos of Memories (4 Kilos de Recuerdos), by Mexican filmmaker Faride Schroeder, a meticulously planned feature that required no editing or postproduction. Although primarily focused on the opportunities granted to Super 8 filmmakers by the digital revolutions of the last decade, this year the festival will premiere its Cambridge Memories programme. This selection feature unearthed family films from the Cambridge area, providing perspectives and insight from the last 40 years that were made possible by the format's affordability.

Also, previous Audience Prize winner Dagie Brundert will be heading a masterclass on filmmaking in Super 8, as well as participating in a retrospective of her work. Additionally, there will be an Industy Panel, discussing the role of Super 8 in the wider film industry, titled 'Super 8, another paintbrush for filmmakers?'

For more information, see http://www.cambridge-super8.org/


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Sci-Fi London
April 29 - May 4





London's top Science Fiction-oriented festival is back this month, providing a smorgasbord of geekery. Now into its 8th year, the festival straddles the borderline between April and May with a selection of screenings and events. Housed at the Apollo West End cinema, Sci-Fi London will be holding UK premieres for films such as Canadian zombie flick Yesterday, mockumentary The Mother of Invention and Stingray Sam, a bizarre mix of western, sci-fi and musical.

Esteemed guests this year include Marc Caro, co-director/writer of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, and Kevin O'Neill, artist for comic books such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, who will both be participating in Q&A sessions and screenings of their work.

For those nocturnal film fans, the festival will be offering a series of All Nighter events, centered around genres, themes and topics such as Star Trek, Italian Horror, and Anime. Outside of these screenings, Sci-Fi London will also be holding a variety of discussion panels on the literary, stylistic and scientific backgrounds to the science fiction culture, as well as handing out the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel of the previous year.

The festival will be preceded by a 48 hour film competition, where entrants are invited to create a 5 minute sci-fi film in between the 4th and 6th of April. The competition will be judged by a panel featuring Marc Caro and Franklyn director Gerald McMorrow. With more details yet to be announced, Sci-Fi London is shaping up to be a varied treat for all fans of fantastical film. For up to date information, see http://www.sci-fi-london.com/

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

[173] 20 Comedians Turned Actors

Inspired by my chat with comedian-actor Rhys Darby a couple of weeks ago, I decided to start work on a long feature for Den of Geek on famous comedians who have moved into acting. It's long, and took a lot of research and work, but I'm quite happy with it - even if it is just a list at the end of the day. Enjoy.


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Everybody loves a comic, but clowning around isn't always the basis of a long and respected career. Many of the most talented funny-people have transcended their initial pigeon-holes on stage, radio or television to become big stars in the film industry, sometimes gaining respect and recognition in more serious, challenging roles. Here are 20 of the more notable comedians-turned-actors. In this case, comedy is a broad church - including stand-up, sketch-based, improvisational and other comedy groups - but on flip-side, we're focusing on proven cinematic success. The list is long, so there are many who didn't make the cut - but feel free to give us a good grilling in the comments.


Read the full article here.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

[172] The 11th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul Preview

Currently happening in Seoul is the 11th International Women's Film Festival. Here is the festival preview article I wrote for the latest issue of Film & Festivals Magazine. To see the spruced-up, edited version from the issue itself, click here.


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The 11th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul
April 9-16





The Seoul metropolitan area is one of the most populous in the world, and the South Korean capital is also home to one of Asia's most important Women's film festivals. With the tie-in catch phrase 'See the World Through Women's Eyes', the International Women's Film Festival in Seoul strives to bring focus and agency to an erstwhile marginalised movement in Asian and worldwide cinema.

To achieve this aim, the festival is presenting a rich tapestry of selections, events and competitions, starting with an opening night presentation of Jennifer Phang's family-based drama Half-Life. As part of its 'New Currents' section, highlighting up-to-date works from women filmmakers, the festival will be screening films from the world over. Included in the programme is the new film from French director Agnes Varda, called The Beaches of Agnes (Les Plages d'Agnes), which is described as a 'self-portrait documentary', and Crush and Blush (Misseu Hongdangmoo), from first-time Korean filmmaker Lee Kyoung-mi. Co-produced and co-written by Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance), the film is a comedy centered on a young Russian language teacher in a Korean high school, and her jealousies and pinings for the rest of the staff.

The festival will also be presenting a variety of films in its programme selections, which include the 'Queer Rainbow', 'Girls on Film' and 'Women's Labour and Poverty' programmes. One of this year's special sections is titled 'On Aging', and seeks to investigate the personal side of growing older. To that end, the festival is screening films such as Oriume, a drama by director Matsui Hisako about family life complicated by Alzheimer's disease, Breezy Day, a documentary about women in their seventies finally learning to read from Jung Ji-Won, and Sharon McGowan's The Oldest Basketball Team In The World, which documents the training regime of Canada's Retreads basketball team (average age: 72), as they prepare for an international competition.




The festival will continue to highlight and support the work of women filmmakers in Korea and throughout the world with its awards and prizes, such as those given in its Asian Short Film and Video Competition and the Women's News Award, which is awarded to a group or individual who demonstrates feminist action through visual media. This year also sees the second edition of the 'Open Cinema' section, where the festival will attempt to expand the definition of what is understood as 'women's cinema', by including work by male directors that addresses issues concerning women, such as Stefan Schaefer and Diane Crespo's Arranged, and Cheng Hsiao-Tse's Miao Miao.

Alongside these screenings, the festival will also be hosting an International Conference on issues concerning women's cinema today; titled 'Poverty and Women's Labour in the Age of Globalization', they will feature keynote speeches and panel discussions given by directors, academics and critics from Asia and beyond. There will also be events such as the 'Open Stage' series, which includes musical performances, book readings and a 'Girls in Uniform'-themed fancy dress party. For more information on the festival's varied, robust and impressive programme, see http://www.wffis.or.kr/wffis2009/main_eng.php.

Monday, 6 April 2009

[171] Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, 2008) Review

Let the Right One In is one of the best films I have seen so far this year, and easily one of my favourite vampire-themed films. It is inventive, moving and disturbing -- all with a subtle touch. I'm glad I was able to see the film and review it for Den of Geek. Check it out.


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Nowadays, cross-pollination seems to be the way to go for rejuvenating staid genres. Horror films are often as formulaic as they come, but Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) brings invention and inspiration in spades to its gothic mode of vampire fiction.

12 year old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) lives with his mother in a block of flats in suburban Stockholm. Bullied by other kids at school, he has private dreams of lashing out in violent defence - carrying around a pocket knife, which he only unleashes on a tree in the local playground. Parallel to a spate of murders, he befriends the ethereal, distant Eli (Lina Leandersson) - a girl who is also 12, and only comes out at night.

Thus begins one of the more original, and stranger romances of recent memory. Adapted from the Swedish-language novel by author John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let The Right One In takes its conventional premise and grounds it in a pre-teen relationship. It effectively captures and communicates the uncertainties and curiosity of developing sexuality - making the film quietly dramatic and sometimes lightly, sometimes darkly comical, while still crafting moments of chilling horror.


Read the full article here.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

[170] Film & Festivals Magazine, Issue 12

The new issue of Film & Festivals Magazine is now up on their official website. This issue revolves around the topic of Women in Film, and has some great related features and interviews. The article written by filmmaker Nandita Das, editor-in-chief Rose Chamberlain's editorial, and an interview with Rain Li (cinematographer on Paranoid Park amongst others) are particularly interesting, and worth checking out.





As with last issue, I contributed a UK Festivals preview column, as well as a pair of longer festival previews. This month I covered the Dortmund|Cologne Frauenfilmfestival and the International Women's Film Festival in Seoul, as well as the Sci-Fi London, Cambridge Super-8 and Glimmer Short Film festivals. I will be posting these articles invididually up here in due time.

For more information, visit http://filmandfestivals.com/.

Friday, 3 April 2009

[169] Bleach: Dark Souls DS Review

Here's my review of the latest Treasure game: Bleach: Dark Souls for the Nintendo DS. I decided to try a bit of a more subjective approach in the style. Check it out.

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In the interest of full, honest journalistic disclosure, I should reveal that I know next to nothing about the Bleach anime/manga series. I gather it is immensely popular with The Geeky Young. Those small fellows that gather in my local library and play on their PSPs or battle with Yu-Gi-Oh cards or read Death Note books, the teens and tweens I silently curse as my knees crack and back creaks from the strain of bending to pick up a Bitter Old Man comic, probably written by Warren Ellis, off the shelf. As they beam with hope and guffaw with unfettered joy, I skulk back to my shadowy hovel alone.

On one level, therefore, playing Bleach: Dark Souls is a fool's errand. Like many licensed games from the manga-anime world of geekery, it is an exercise in straightforward niche appeal. Unlike film tie-ins and other cash-grabs, Dark Souls is utter fan service. To make matters worse, it is the second game taken from the series for the DS, coming after the critically-lauded Bleach: The Blade Of Fate. I should highlight at this point that these Bleach titles have been developed by Treasure, the team behind some of the tightest, perfectly-formed games in the history of the medium (see: Ikaruga, Gunstar Heroes, Sin And Punishment, Bangai-O), a fact that gives these franchise adaptations much more notability than the pile of lazy junk out there. With both of these games, Treasure have sought to create a deep, innovative, handheld twist on the fighting genre -- taking the speed and action of Street Fighter et al, and blending them with extra gameplay opportunities afforded by the DS system.


Read the full article here.

[168] Race to Witch Mountain (dir. Andy Fickman, 2009) Review

This week has turned out to be much busier than expected. Lots of writing, topped off by a full-day set visit to the Neil Marshall's new film Centurion. I saw Race to Witch Mountain on Tuesday, and bashed out the review pretty quickly on Wednesday morning; trying to write something light and speedy, but still critical.


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This new Disney remake is released just in time for the Easter holidays, but should you race to the cinema to see it?

Race To Witch Mountain is a carefully-executed, conservatively-pruned family flick, positioned just in time to fill the void over the Easter school break where vacationing parents don't know what to do with their sugar-high spawn. It is a re-jig of the 'classic' 1970s movie Escape To Witch Mountain, re-modelled for the 2000s. Which means cutting out all distractions, like dialogue, characterisation and progression, in favour of thrills, adrenaline and excitement - yes, the 'race' part of the title is key.

It all starts with a UFO crash-landing in the desert outside of Las Vegas; the feds are spooked, and grim Man in Black Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds) barks orders with grave intensity. This is Big Stuff. Cut to Sin City cab driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne 'Don't Call Me Rock' Johnson), who spends his days ferrying around the weirdos and losers that are attracted to the bright lights and geek conventions of Vegas; he's repenting for his time as a wheelman for the mob, going straight after doing time. All this is set to change when he discovers two twins in the back of his taxi - two mysterious tween-y teens with strange powers and middle-distance stares, who need to get to the desert...


Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

[167] Tony Manero (dir. Pablo Larrain, 2008) Review

This is a review of a film I saw a few weeks ago now. Tony Manero is a Chilean film that mixes political history with a poetic sense of commentary. Looking back, I'm quite happy with the review.


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Tony Manero has one of the most intriguing mini-synopses I have ever read: a 50-something man in 1970s Pinochet-era Chile, Raul (Alfredo Castro), is obsessed with John Travolta's turn as the protagonist in Saturday Night Fever and spends his days perfecting his routine for a tribute show and lookalike contest on television. Far from a quirky, kooky boob, Raul is dangerous in his grim determination, and resorts to murder to get closer to his dream of being famous. This short pitch is infused with originality and promise. However, the film itself stumbles into the unwelcoming alleyways of pretension and inscrutability.


Read the full review here.