Friday, 28 August 2009

[231] Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos) Review

One of my favourite films of this year, easily.




Memory, trauma and obsession are all key themes in Pedro Almodovar's new film Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos). Unsurprisingly for the writer-director, accepted as one of Spain's greatest cinematic artists, this is a complex, yet stimulating film - a graceful tragicomedy that blends genre and tone. Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) is a blind, middle-aged screenwriter, living comfortably with his ex-production manager Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her son Diego (Tamar Novas), until the death of old businessman Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), excavates consciously-forgotten experience - of a film, shot over 15 years prior, before Caine was blind, involving the beautiful actress Lena (Penelope Cruz).

Broken Embraces hinges on a twisty plot that flashes from the present to the early 1990s, but Almodovar and company are fully capable of keeping the tone light and far from needlessly convoluted. In fact, in a showing of quite masterful flair, the narrative itself shifts in tone and style throughout - encompassing drama, comedy and thriller often within the same scene. Thankfully, this never becomes jarring or diffuse; Almodovar and director of photography Rodrigo Prieto's (Brokeback Mountain, Amores Perros) warm, colourful palette is highlighted by graceful pans and tasteful close-ups. Coupled with Alberto Iglesias' nimble score, these production aspects give the film an assured, consistent feel, despite the drastic shifts.


Read the full article here.

Friday, 21 August 2009

[230] Archer MacLean Interview, and Wheelspin Hands-on

Last week, I got to go to the Bethesda Softworks office in London and check out the new game from designer Archer MacLean. It was a funny experience, as I must have been 5 years old when I played MacLean's 1991 game Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker on my Amiga. While preparing for the interview, I came across this clip on Youtube, of Archer appearing on Saturday morning kids' show Motormouth, with Andy Crane. Bizarre, memory-stimulating stuff. You can read my article below.




Game designer Archer MacLean has been plying his trade for quite some time. His first game, the space shooter Dropzone, came out on the Atari 800 and Commodore 64 back in 1984. Since then, he's released games in various genres, including the fighting title International Karate, snooker simulator Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker, and, most recently, the PSP liquid puzzler Mercury. Now, he's turned his wizened eye on racing, with Wheelspin (SpeedZone in North America), which is coming to the Wii this Autumn from Fallout 3 publishers Bethesda Softworks.


Read the full article here.

Monday, 17 August 2009

[229] Inglourious Basterds Press Conferences: Quentin Tarantino, et al

Here are the last two articles from my coverage of Inglourious Basterds. These were two press conferences, held at Claridges. One with Quentin Tarantino, the other with Lawrence Bender, Christoph Waltz and Diane Kruger. It was fascinating seeing Tarantino in the flesh, and quite intriguing to hear Waltz and Kruger talk about their take on the film. Check out the pieces below.



Quentin Tarantino is a force unto himself. Whether you are a fan of his work or not, it is hard to deny that he has been a key figure, and recognisable personality, in the cinema landscape for the last 20 years. His latest film, Inglourious Basterds, trains his left field, stylish, post-modern sights on World War II. He was recently in London for the film's premiere, and, when not being spotted browsing in HMV or gallavanting around Soho, he attended a press conference at the achingly posh Mayfair hotel Claridges.

Slightly at-odds with the grandeur of the French Salon venue, QT strolled in dressed in jeans and a casual shirt, saying excitedly, “Hi, everybody! Thanks for coming!” Settling down, Tarantino motor-mouthed his way through the long genesis period for Inglourious Basterds, his complex line of influences for the film, and his musical choices, as well as his approach to writing a crazy, history-defying war movie that, in his eyes, sticks on the conservative side of indulgence.

Self-deprecating, open, yet still fiercely confident, Tarantino is a veritable film encyclopedia, throwing out plenty of candidates for numerous prospective film marathons. Check out our transcript below, with questions slightly altered, in order to be less sycophantic - and, caution, there be spoilers ahead.


Read the full article here.


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Quentin Tarantino's latest flick, the World War II movie Inglourious Basterds, is almost upon us. Recently, the cast were in London for the premiere of the film, and cast members Diane Kruger (Bridget von Hammersmark) and Christoph Waltz (Colonel Hans 'The Jew Hunter' Landa) conducted a press conference with producer and long-time Tarantino collaborator Lawrence Bender.

The trio fielded questions from the assembled journos that ranged from the usual queries about the protracted production period, to the German actors' individual takes on the WW2-set film. Bender and Kruger, both charismatic and broadly charming, were nonetheless slightly overshadowed by Cannes Best Actor Award-winner Waltz, whose dry, dark, yet modest, sensibility made him an interesting, unconventional press conference attendee. Read on for the full transcript, but be warned, there are a few (not major) spoilers ahead.


Read the full article here.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

[228] Lawrence Bender Interview

Another article from my Inglourious Basterds coverage. This time, here is my interview with producer, and Tarantino bud Lawrence Bender. The interview was at Claridges, an achingly posh hotel in the high-class Mayfair area of London. I was astounded by the opulence. The interview was short (6 minutes), but to the point and full of character.




With Inglourious Basterds coming out on August 21st, we got the chance to have a chat with producer Lawrence Bender. A close collaborator with Tarantino, Bender is credited as producer on all the writer-director's projects, apart from 2007's Grindhouse, but has also found success with producing the likes of From Dusk Till Dawn, Killing Zoe, The Mexican, and the Academy Award-winning Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

He speaks here about his quirky, yet tight working relationship with Tarantino, the pressures behind filming Inglourious Basterds, and his period as a Global Warming awareness activist.


Read the full article here.

Friday, 14 August 2009

[227] Inglourious Basterds (2009) Review

Now published over at Den of Geek is my review of Quentin Tarantino's latest film, Inglourious Basterds. Quite a tough one to get my head around, this. I'm a big fan of QT's work, but this film just didn't sit comfortably with me.




Quentin Tarantino has been talking about Inglourious Basterds for almost 10 years; over time, it grew, changed shape and medium - from television mini series to novel, and back to film. After Grindhouse, he stepped into gear, reportedly writing a screenplay that took a lean approach to his bedraggled epic. Then he shot it, gathering momentum and getting the film finished, in under a year, for exhibition at Cannes in May.

With a final edit, it is now released to the international audience - and is being greeted with the anticipation and scrutiny to be expected of any new work from such a household name auteur. The result is probably Tarantino's most ambitious and provocative film - and is in equal parts his most underwhelming, and fractured work to date.



Read the full article here.

Monday, 10 August 2009

[226] Film and Festivals, Issue 15, Out Now

The latest issue of Film and Festivals Magazine is now available from their website.





This issue takes the theme of Film & Music, with a wealth of features and interviews on the topic. There are three great pieces on the inter-mingling between music and film in the world of festivals, as Laurence Boyce takes a look at the Latitude Festival, and writes a more general piece on festivals that straddle the to media, and Chris Patmore takes a look at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, which is now a subject of a documentary feature film. Another feature, from Suchandrika Chakrabarti, charts the history of music video directors who have transitioned into the film industry.

This month, I contributed a short feature that investigates how classic films have been re-introduced to younger generations through musical means - using as examples recent projects like Mother India 21, and Laurel and Hardy's Comedy Mayhem.

Importantly, this is the first issue of the magazine that is charging for its digital content. It is priced at £1.50, and will hopefully generate enough revenue to cover the production costs. It's certainly not a great deal of money, and the content is, without doubt, worth the entry fee.

Check out the new issue here.

[225] A Perfect Getaway (2009) Review

After last week's interview article with Comen VFX, my review of A Perfect Getaway is now up at Den of Geek.




Writer-director David Twohy's (Pitch Black, Chronicles of Riddick) entertaining thriller may not be winning any awards in the near future, but it is an amiable, light spin on tired genre clich├ęs. Exoticism is the order of the day, with a narrative following newlyweds Cydney (Milla Jovovich) and Cliff (Steve Zahn), who have traveled to Hawaii for their sun-kissed honeymoon.

However, among the grass skirts and widescreen vistas is a thrilling horror plot, namely a killer couple prowling the islands for other conjugal victims. Cydney and Cliff are on full alert, as each new development on their vacation provides yet another mysterious couple to feed the flames of paranoia.

For the most part, the film takes great joy in wringing tension out of the holidaying experience, as the couple indulge in the unique sense of security afforded by being away from home. Picking up hitch-hikers, crossing sheer verges, skinny-dipping in a warm spring, even shopping in a local store are mined for red herrings and knowing nods to the audience.


Read the full article here.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

[224] The Yes Men Fix The World (2009) Review

After yesterday's more general plug for The Yes Men Fix The World, here is the link to my review of the film, over at Screenjabber.




How best to fix the world? The Yes Men, a duo of activist-pranksters, think they have the solution. Their bag is to pose as representatives from large industry bodies and, through the use of persuasive, authentic-looking websites and savvy, charming fast-talk, receive invitations to symposia, seminars, even television broadcasts. There, they turn the tables, often letting loose broadly absurdist lectures that attempt to confront the assembled men-in-suits with the harsh inhumanity of their cold, calculated business plans, issuing exaggerated powerpoint slideshows that introduce gleefully cock-eyed propositions, like using dead ex-employees as a fuel source.

The film is mostly concerned with their ongoing battle with Dow Chemical, who are associated with the 1984 Bhopal disaster (frequently referred to as the world worst industrial accident), and starts with what is their biggest stunt to date - with Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum appearing on BBC World News, posing as a Dow spokesperson, accepting responsibility on the tragedy's 20th anniversary, and announcing that the company's annual profits would be funnelled into a Bhopal clean-up fund. A true masterwork of kamikaze activism, this prank reportedly caused Dow's stock value to plummet by $2 billion.


Read the full article here.

Friday, 7 August 2009

[223] Released Today: The Yes Men Fix The World

Released today in the UK is The Yes Men Fix The World, a fun, provocative documentary that blends satire and outrageous feats of gumption.




I recently saw this flick, and have written a review of it for Screenjabber (to be posted imminently). While not perfect, I think this is an entertaining documentary - especially when seeing the Yes Men in action, with their wildly inventive, cutting stunt-activism. Here's a quote from my review:

How best to fix the world? The Yes Men, a duo of activist-pranksters, think they have the solution. Their bag is to pose as representatives from large industry bodies and, through the use of persuasive, authentic-looking websites and savvy, charming fast-talk, receive invitations to symposia, seminars, even television broadcasts. There, they turn the tables, often letting loose broadly absurdist lectures that attempt to confront the assembled men-in-suits with the harsh inhumanity of their cold, calculated business plans, issuing exaggerated powerpoint slideshows that introduce gleefully cock-eyed propositions, like using dead ex-employees as a fuel source.

The film is mostly concerned with their ongoing battle with Dow Chemical, who are associated with the 1984 Bhopal disaster (frequently referred to as the world worst industrial accident), and starts with what is their biggest stunt to date - with Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum appearing on BBC World News, posing as a Dow spokesperson, accepting responsibility on the tragedy's 20th anniversary, and announcing that the company's annual profits would be funnelled into a Bhopal clean-up fund. A true masterwork of kamikaze activism, this prank reportedly caused Dow's stock value to plummet by $2 billion.





As part of the film's promotion, the Yes Men came to London, and posed as publicity agents for a new brand of Mineral Water - B'eau Pal - stated to be taken from the chemical-leeched pumps. In fact, the stunt took place after the screening, and it was quite something to see these activists in the flesh - handing out the water to passers-by on Carnaby St. You can see a video of the event below (and see some pictures here).



B'eauPal Water - Bhopal Water Prank


The film is currently being exhibited at the Odeon Panton St, in London. Next week, August 11th, there will be a simultaneous broadcast of the film, with cinemas from all over the UK participating, to be followed by a Q&A with the duo. Following this, The Yes Men Fix The World will tour the country. Check the official site for more information.

[222] Comen VFX Interview

A Perfect Getaway is out now in America, and comes out in the UK next week. I had the chance to talk with Tim Carras and Josh Comen, part of the VFX team that were brought on in the post-production, to do some significant work on shots throughout the film. In contrast to my interview with Charlie Gibson, this team specialises in lower-budget films - using their VFX expertise in cheap, effective ways. It was fascinating to talk to guys in this part of the film industry, and to get their behind-the-scenes take on where VFX is going, and the opportunities it now provides filmmakers. Check out the interview below.




Nowadays, the visual effects world isn't just about huge CG monsters, or intricate sci-fi creations, with plenty of VFX teams specialising in work that is more subtle, and is seen in films that are not your typical, effects-laden summer blockbusters. One such team is Comen VFX, a California-based facility set up by Josh Comen, a VFX Producer who has worked on over 60 feature films and television series in the last six years, including Saw, Little Miss Sunshine and Napoleon Dynamite.

Their most recent work was on David Twohy's (Pitch Black) latest movie, the Hawaii-based thriller A Perfect Getaway, and involved, among other things, one major task. Although integrally set in the USA's 50th state, tax incentives and budgetary concerns took the production to Puerto Rico for filming, which resulted in the need for much post-production trickery, such as replacing backgrounds, landscape, and local geography.

We recently had the chance to speak with Josh Comen (VFX Producer) and Tim Carras (VFX Supervisor) about their work on the film, about the ethos behind Comen VFX, and about the opportunities given by contemporary VFX technology to filmmakers working on either independent or low-budget films.


Read the full article here.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

[221] Alternative Press Fair, St. Aloysius Social Club, 020809

Today I went up to Somers Town, to the St. Aloysius Social Club, which was hosting the Alternative Press Fair, an event organised as part of the Alternative Press Festival.





I was there for the comics, to be frank, so made a beeline for many of the artists and creators I'd met, seen or read about before. However, the event was teeming with alternative, independent talent - with zines, music, and small press literature being represented quite widely. I was a bit overwhelmed, really, and was a bit reluctant to dive in, but I've come back - as always - armed with plenty of flyers and teeny business cards. One bunch that stuck out were from the 56a Infoshop, a radical, anarchist social centre / bookshop in Walworth, near Elephant and Castle. They seem to do some very interesting things, so might be worth checking out.

But, I was there for the comics. Again, I love getting the chance to chat with the creators behind these comics, even if my confidence usually crumbles in the face of it all. Hopefully, I'll get the chance to write in a little more detail in the coming days or weeks, but in the meantime - I spent my budget on the following.





- Your Pretty Face is Going Straight to Hell! #5, zine-isms, observations and gratuitous Moomin pictures from Miss Tukru.

- The Robot Zine, by We Are Words And Pictures. A great little compilation of three mini-comics, all about 'bots, by a collective made up of Sarah Gordon, Julia Scheele and Matt Sheret. Had a nice little chat with Julia, mainly about how incestuous everything is, and her collaborative How Fucking Romantic project - where many artists are contributing mini-comic versions of songs from the Magnetic Fields triple album 69 Love Songs.

- How to Date a Girl in Ten Days, by Tom Humberstone. I hadn't really heard of Mr. Humberstone until this week, when I checked out his Art School Scum comic (available for free on his website), and saw his contribution to How Fucking Romantic, 'A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off', so it was great to have a chat with him, and pick up this Eagle Award-winning book.

- A Mistaken Date, by AM. I have written about Alastair Maceachern before, and I love his music-related mini-comics (collected in two issues of A Music Paper). I asked him what to check out next, and he pointed me to A Mistaken Date, the second issue in a series about mis-matched lovers Bleep (a robot) and Tweet (a bird).

- Polaroids from Other Lives: Volume 2, by Howard Hardiman. I suppose by now I'm I am a full-blown Howard fanboy -- and it was the promise of his new comic that ensured that I would be attending the fair. Another installment in his Polaroids from Other Lives series, this is yet more emotionally affecting, beautifully evocative stuff from the fellow who wrote Badger (and is currently working on a Badger webcomic).

Saturday, 1 August 2009

[220] The Proposal (2009) Review

Like Mark Kermode, I have a secret crush on Sandra Bullock. However, unlike him, I've not seen her in any film I would fully endorse. Over the last couple of months, I've also developed quite a liking for Ryan Reynolds - maybe not a full-blown crush, but he has a similarly charming, winsome charisma to Bullock - and is yet to star in something truly great. They both appear in The Proposal, which isn't a great film, but it is worth suffering, on one level, just to see the two actors on screen together. Check out my review, for Screenjabber, below.




The Proposal is a quaint little Rom-Com, starring Sandra Bullock as Margaret Tate, editor-in-chief of a prestigious New York publishing house. Margaret, an icy, take-no-baloney Toronto girl, has her feathers ruffled when her US working visa is rejected by the Immigration Services. With her hard-won career on the line, she ropes in her assistant, the idealistic Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) into a fraudulent marriage. One problem, they hate each others guts - and with city-slicker Margaret whisked off to leafy Alaska to meet Andrew's family, it's a situation ripe with comic potential.


Read the full article here.