Friday, 31 December 2010

[419] Christmas Fridge Magnet

I came back from Manchester yesterday, and immediately slapped a magnet on my fridge. Well, first I had to break it apart. Or, more accurately, amputate it.

Remarkably, I didn't receive a CD, DVD or video game for Christmas or birthday this year. Is this a sign of the times, or am I just getting old? That my most coveted presents were new shoes, a new bag and a feather duster might suggest that the latter is the case.

Monday, 27 December 2010

[418] The Way Back (2010) Review

Here we go, my final film review of the year.

It's a 2 star one, sadly - part of the run that had me questioning my sanity back in November. Thankfully, the other day I caught Easy A at the Prince Charles, and you know what? It was rather good! Phew. And there's still a handful of days left, so I might catch something even better before the year's out. Here's to some brilliant movies in 2011.

Award-winning Australian filmmaker - and multiple Oscar nominee - Peter Weir should need no introduction, but he’s made a good go of avoiding the limelight, despite an impressive career. His prolific run of thrillers and dramas in the 1980s and 1990s gave the world the likes of Witness, Green Card and Dead Poet’s Society, but he’s become quite selective in the last 17 years, only releasing two films between the 1993 Jeff Bridges vehicle, Fearless, and his latest film, The Way Back.

Those two flicks, by the way, were The Truman Show and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a pair that displayed the man’s diverse talents, and his wide appeal, not to mention his knack of drawing superb performances out of his leading men. As a follow-up, The Way Back has a lot to prove, and despite ticking many stylistic boxes - being a period-set exploration of the human condition on an epic scale - it isn’t quite the masterpiece you’d hope for from a seasoned cinematic veteran.

Read the full review here.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

[417] For All Mankind, in Film International 8.5

I'm currently in Manchester for a few festive days, but as I was getting ready to leave London, the following fell through my letterbox.

A real surprise! It's the new issue of Film International magazine, with my essay-length piece on Al Reinert's 1988 collage film / documentary For All Mankind. As seems to be the deal with FilmInt, I had no idea that the article was going to be in the magazine. I submitted it earlier this year, and was worried it was lost. Looking back, I'm actually quite proud of it, even if it's mostly me hammering the 'space is ace!' angle. But I'm always thankful for their editorial approach, where deadlines for DVD reviews are often 6 months after receipt. It gives you ample time to stretch out, mull it over, and write a piece without the burden of chasing release dates or opening weekends.

For All Mankind, Al Reinert's collage film of footage from NASA's manned space flights in the 1960s and 1970s, does not so much inform as it does evoke. Upon viewing, it breaks all staid preconceptions about the Apollo programme and the space race, peeling away the layers of nostalgia in favour of communicating the first-hand wonder of a select group of men travelling to the moon. Its most immediate revelation is also its primary attribute: when Reinert started to trawl through the NASA archive, it was not common knowledge that the Apollo astronauts were supplied with 16mm cameras for their missions, and he spent years pruning the 6000 hours of footage down to For All Mankind's trim 80 minutes.

The rest of the issue looks good, although I've not yet had the time to read much of it. Of note is a movie review from Joe Ewens, of the re-assembled Metropolis, which means that two Den of Geek writers have contributed to this issue. The take-over starts now.

You can find Film International at a number of specialist stores (The ICA, The BFI shop, The Cornerhouse, maybe), and can order it online here.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

[416] WAW+P Radio #7: Talkin' 2010 With Matthew Sheret

From early on, I'd planned to do something a little different with the final WAW+P radio episode of the year. I set out to conduct a couple of interviews at the MCM Expo, hoping to tie them together into a tapestry, sort of like my cosplay mini-podcast from earlier in the year. However, I came away with only two short interviews (with Joe List and Adam Cadwell), and was worried that I wouldn't have much material.

Luckily, it all worked out in the end. WAW+P co-founder Matthew Sheret stepped in to co-host, Anne Holiday sent over some recordings from Thought Bubble (which I turned into a cheeky little intro theme for the show), and the fantastic Kayla Marie Hillier sent in an interview over email. Phew. Even though it has been quite a solo show so far, I really appreciated all of the help.

I have started to like the show's format a lot. When I first started it, I was heavily interested in This American Life and BBC World Service documentaries. However, in the month's since, my interest has become divided between those pre-recorded, heavily structured programmes (often featuring plenty of chapters, field recordings, etc.), and shows that are recorded in more casual, live settings . I'm thinking of All Songs Considered or Pop Culture Happy Hour. Or even Saturday Live, Thinking Allowed or In Our Time, if you're being staunchly British about it. Shows where discussion is much more free-flowing, yet no less authoritative or professional.

This episode ups the banter (and the factual errors, of which there are 2, by my count), but tries to maintain the meaningful discussion, and also brings in pre-recorded audio. I think it works well, and could hint at more ambitious episodes in the future.

Show notes, playlist and details below.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful! So We Are Words + Pictures host Michael Leader thought it best to curl up with a coffee at Wilton's with guest (and WAW+P co-founder) Matthew Sheret, to reminisce about what they both enjoyed in 2010. Expect gratuitous comics-based chatter and some of the year's best tunes. And what good is Christmas without friends? In this special episode, we also hear from comics artists Adam Cadwell, Kayla Marie Hillier and Joe List, recounting their favourite tracks, flicks and comics from the last twelve months.


Level 7 - Nigel Godrich
Groove Me - Maximum Balloon
Not in Love - Crystal Castles (feat. Robert Smith)
Tightrope - Janelle Monae (feat. Big Boi)
Silver Jenny Dollar - The New Pornographers
Hang With Me - Robyn
Revival - Deerhunter
Love Fade - Tamaryn
Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na) - My Chemical Romance
Mind Games - Devo
Threshold - Sex Bob-Omb

You can download the episode here, or listen in the embedded Mixcloud player.

I like to think WAW+P radio is getting somewhere, tone-wise. I have a large list of primed guests for the new year. Let's see what happens. Thanks, as always, for listening, and special thanks to Matt, Adam, Kayla, Joe and Anne for their help with this episode. And the gang at London Fields Radio, of course, without whom...

Monday, 20 December 2010

[415] Edgar Wright Interview

Capping off my year of Scott Pilgrim coverage quite well, here's an interview with director Edgar Wright, a man I thought did a stellar job on the film. Don't tell anyone - because I like people thinking I hob-nob with all sorts of stars - but this was an email interview. So I moulded my questions with greater care than usual, even providing a little crossover with my previous interview with Eli Roth.

Back in August, we were so excited for the release of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that we were utterly baffled by the lukewarm response that greeted the film at the box office. Now, four months later, our collective love hasn't dimmed - if our end of year poll is anything to go by, where it was placed second overall - and we're hoping it finds a new lease of life on DVD and Blu-ray.

To celebrate the home release, we had the chance to pick the brains of the director himself, Edgar Wright. This is a treat and a half, because, no matter what your misgivings with the film were (if you had any at all),
Scott Pilgrim was the high-budgeted coming out party for one of the UK's most promising technical filmmakers, and Wright delivered what was, for better or worse, a true stylistic feast.

We were dying to ask him about working on such a lavish scale, breaking into the Hollywood mainstream after the independent British projects like
Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, and what it's like hanging out with other self-proclaimed geeky filmmakers, such as Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth and John Landis. And that's just what we did.

Read the full interview here.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

[414] Den of Geek Film of the Year 2010

So we're winding down towards the end of the year, the time where it is customary to look back and make lists of things you enjoyed over the last twelve months. So, in that spirit, here's the Den of Geek Film of the Year poll. All the writers pitched in, which is why the article is so bloody huge. I've pasted my contribution below, but make sure to go through to the full article. Like last year, few of my picks made it through to the final tally, but that's all part of the fun, right?

1. The Social Network (review)
2. Micmacs (review)
3. The Kids Are All Right
4. World’s Greatest Dad
5. I Am Love

Stinker of the year: The Last Airbender (review)

Now, this is a tough one. Even excluding the ace films I saw at the London Film Festival that won’t see general release until 2011 (Black Swan, Blue Valentine, Never Let Me Go), I still have over 15 end of year list-worthy films, which just goes to show that, if you thought 2010 was an underwhelming year for cinema, you simply weren’t trying hard enough.

Therefore, I’ve had to demote the likes of
Scott Pilgrim, Down Terrace, Bad Lieutenant, Dogtooth, Shutter Island, Up In The Air, Kick-Ass, Rare Exports, Still Walking and A Prophet, and it was such a closely-run race, that I can’t pinpoint any flaws that differentiate those from the five I’ve chosen.

That said,
The Social Network is the obvious one for me. It moulded genre to its whim, effectively playing out as a character drama, a procedural, an origin story and a dissection of our relationship with the Internet. And it was packed with delightful production polish: Fincher’s direction, Sorkin’s nimble script, nuanced performances across the board, and a score from Reznor and Ross that’s as unconventional as it is perfect.

From there, four uniquely surprising films:
Micmacs showed Jeunet reconnecting with his love of oddball design ideas in the context of a charmingly comic caper, The Kids Are All Right avoided all LGBT Hollywood cliché, and offered a deeply involving family drama, World’s Greatest Dad gave Robin Williams his best role in years and revolved around the darkest, most unexpected of comic twists, yet still delivered more than just surprise, and I Am Love tantalised with visual poetry, a feast of cinematography that gelled with the hyper-kinetic passion of its John Adams score, as Tilda Swinton’s upper-class Italian housewife blossomed into radiant sexuality.

For the duffer, I would love to have the gall to say
Inception, but even that messy, unimaginative misfire of a film is sublime when laid alongside The Last Airbender.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

[413] Revolutionary Film Criticism

A close friend of mine recently went on a tour around East Asia (with short stops in New York and Toronto, naturally). As he was updating us with his progress through Korea, China and Japan, I felt immensely jealous stuck here in anxiety-ridden London. But some of those negative feelings were alleviated when he handed me this.

Wowzer. Kim Jong Il's On The Art Of The Cinema! I'd read about Kim's film writing, and his general love of film, before. But none of that can prepare you for holding this weighty, pea-green tome in your hands.

I think I will be picking this apart for months to come, but a brief scan has already revealed its central conceit, which can be related as: basic film theory/practice + heavy ideological statement + insane contradictions + endless repetition. Buzzwords pop up: life, realism, truth, and other terms related to veracity, naturalism, and so on. All of these are warped through the lens of Juche. And at the heart of each statement is the doublethink that while seeking to socially condition the masses through propagandistic fantasy, you are still representing 'real life'.

For now, three quotes to illustrate this logical chaos at the book's core. The first is from his mini-treatise on Life and Literature, in the chapter 'LIFE IS STRUGGLE AND STRUGGLE IS LIFE':

'The intrinsic nature of art and literature requires that they should describe life fully and accurately. Only by presenting a true and full picture of life can art and literature give people a correct understanding of the law of historical progress and show them the way to a sincere life of work and struggle. And only by describing life accurately and from various angles, can art and literature solve important and urgent problems and express great ideas in a moving and artistic fashion (...) Our art and literature must create rich and detailed pictures of the fine life of our people who are battling heroically for socialism and communism.'

Second is from his section on directing, specifically the chapter 'IN CREATIVE WORK ONE MUST AIM HIGH' (each chapter starts with an aphoristic statement, laid out as a commandment, each section is graced by a suitably Biblical quotation from Kim Il Sung). It relates to the director's role in crafting an original film:

'A bold new creative idea can only come to fruition if it is based on real life. However talented a director may be, he cannot conceive a new and audacious cinematic work if he lacks a thorough knowledge of the Party's policies and a rich experience of life.'

And after a relatively wordy, simplified (and dare I say deeply ignorant) section on cinematography ('FILMING SHOULD BE REALISTIC'), which repeats the order that cameramen must be consistent, natural and 'concise' in their representation of life, the following conclusion hits with not an insignificant amount of discomfort:

'In depicting people and their lives the cameraman should be strong in his determination to safeguard the interests of the masses, from the ideological viewpoint of the working class. The cameraman who speaks for the ideas and feelings of the people should film with passion; when the hero is celebrating victory over the enemy in battle, the cameraman should share his elation, hugging his camera in his joy, and when the hero is struggling in a difficult situation, he should help him through his ordeal.'

Astonishing. For the time being, I can do little more than let the words speak for themselves - this strange conflicted style which preaches progress, originality, freedom and both emotional and historical truth, while never daring to hide the ideological impetus behind every thought process.

I'll report back with more findings, if I can stomach analysing it any further.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

[412] Wes Orshoski + Greg Olliver Interview

At the London Film Festival, they hold these informal, hectic interview engagements called 'Filmmaker Afternoon Teas', where journalists (both video and print) are crammed into the back section of the May Fair hotel's restaurant-bar. In theory, various directors should turn up and chat with the assembled journos, but that's not always the case. Sadly, my attempts to bag interviews didn't always work out well. Below, however, is the one that really paid off - an interview with Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski, the two dudes behind the bio-doc Lemmy.

Of all the films at the London Film Festival, we particularly warmed to Lemmy, the rock documentary from directors Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver. And, luckily for us, they were on hand for a chat. So, we grabbed a few minutes of their time, just before they scarpered off for a drink with two members of New Wave of British Heavy Metal group, Girlschool.

Two charming and energetic dudes, they regaled us with a few priceless production anecdotes, including how they got on Lemmy’s good side, what the man himself thought of the film, and how, when they wanted to storm a stage at a Metallica gig, they ignored the band’s managers and asked James Hetfield directly.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

[411] Lemmy (2010) Review

Not one of my better reviews, but here's an enthusiastic piece on Lemmy, one of my favourite films from the LFF. Go see it!

For music fans attending the London Film Festival, there was a bountiful selection of documentaries, whether you liked your ageing rockers (the modest, charming Ballad Of Mott The Hoople), britpop nostalgics (the selective, reverential Upside Down: The Creation Records Story) or indie aesthetes (the chaotic, downright odd Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt And The Magnetic Fields).

However, head and shoulders above these stood
Lemmy, the compelling character study from co-directors Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski, which came across as fiercely distinctive, keenly insightful and wildly entertaining.

Compiled from footage shot over a number of years, Orshoski and Olliver piece together the Motorhead frontman’s life from the ground up. One of the images that resounds throughout the whole picture is also one of its earliest: that of Lemmy Kilmister, the larger-than-life rock and roll survivor, sitting on his arse in his outrageously cluttered Los Angeles apartment playing videogames.

Later, he walks around the corner to his local boozer, which just happens to be fabled nightspot the Rainbow Bar & Grill, second home to many West Coast rockers over the years, and takes up his regular spot, right next to the quiz machine.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

[410] Easier With Practice (2009) Review

Here's the first of my two-star film review marathon. Actually, in terms of publication, they'll be out of sync. So let's call it a curtailed sequence. I seriously wanted to enjoy Easier With Practice, and even though there were moments that did impress me, I found myself repulsed by its 'indie' sensibilities.

Maybe, as an aesthetic, it's just too hackneyed now. Is that line of storytelling, of kooky individuals in humdrum situations, exploring maturity and responsibilty, love and the human condition - with cool tunes, dysfunctional families and awkward pauses - already too well mined?

At the London Film Festival, both It's Kind of a Funny Story and Everything Must Go left me thoroughly unimpressed (there's a half-written article on them somewhere on my Google Docs account), as they were packed with the sort of twisted sentimentality and quirky cliche that has happened as the fresh, oddball style of independent cinema collided with mainstream filmmaking. In comparison, the flaws of Kaboom and Mars were unimportant, because they were in turns bonkers and inspired in their stylistic mash-ups. You couldn't nail them down.

Easier With Practice, however, is just too predictable. And, I wonder, how much of that is to do with its adaptation process, taken as it is from a piece of long-form creative journalism? There are two deleted paragraphs on that very topic somewhere in the ether - but it's a discussion for another day. In the meantime, here's my review.

Readers, I present to you this season's most archetypal indie drama-comedy character, in the form of Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty). He's a twenty-something aspiring writer, clad in a casual suit with loosened tie, squinting through glasses and hiding behind patchy stubble.

He's an underachiever, lugging around his collection of short stories (titled, with oh-so-profound laziness,
Things People Do To Each Other) on a road trip reading tour, progressing through the southern States from university cafe to cosy book nook in a beat up old car. His companion on this adventure is his brother, Sean (Kel O'Neill), who, fittingly, is his exact opposite. He's brash, crude, wildly charismatic and, integrally, a hit with the ladies.

For that seems to be Davy's problem, he's beset with that common affliction for characters of his type. He's awkward around women. All that's about to change, however, as he receives an odd phone call one night in a New Mexican motel. On the other end is a girl's voice, and the conversation (which starts innocently, considering the situation), soon develops into full-blown phone sex.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 3 December 2010

[409] The Be All And End All (2009) Review

And already, December is turning out quite nicely. Here is my first review for glossy, sexy hipster film mag Little White Lies, of British indie drama/comedy The Be All And End All.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

[408] WAW+P Radio #6: Antony Johnston

So November, despite an energetic start, was a bit of a washout. I'm dusting off the blog and getting ready for a packed December, starting with the new episode of the We Are Words + Pictures radio show, which I host over at London Fields Radio. Episode 6! Where does the time go...

Photo courtesy of Sean Azzopardi.

My guest for this episode is Antony Johnston. I first became aware of Antony's work in the Phonogram vs. the Fans zine, where he wrote a short piece about Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' ('I was six years old, for fuck's sake. How was I supposed to deal with that? I didn't understand a bloody word of it...'). More recently, I've read the first hardcover volume of his creator-owned series Wasteland - which is mysterious and fantastic - and I've gradually become more aware of his movements as a writer, commentator and critic. For example, his talk at this year's GDC Online symposium - on the merits of comics storytelling and how they can inform writing for video games - is essential viewing. As to be expected, therefore, the conversation is quite varied.

And his playlist is particularly good. After a few episodes of gentle folk, introspective indie and nice, twee music, here we have harsh industrial noises, pounding metal and some lush synth-pop. Lovely. Show notes and details below.

For this episode of the We Are Word And Pictures comics radio show, host Michael Leader is joined by writer Antony Johnston, whose list of published works is varied and rather overwhelming - ranging from co-writing Daredevil for Marvel and co-creating his own series Wasteland, to scripting the EA video game Dead Space.

Antony picks the tunes, a mix of heavy metal and synth-pop, while talking to Michael about the role of writers in comics, how video games can expand their storytelling horizons with transmedia tie-ins, and why, despite success in other forms, he's drawn back to the medium of comics.

Links: ('From Comics To Consoles' talk, at GDC)

1) Akira Yamaoka - Until Death (Silent Hill Soundtrack)
2) Black Sabbath - Paranoid (Paranoid)
3) Paradise Lost - As Horizons End (Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us, 2009)
4) Little Boots - Symmetry, featuring Philip Oakey (Hands, 2009)
5) Sisters of Mercy - Alice (single, 1982)
6) A-ha - Minor Earth Major Sky (Minor Earth Major Sky, 2000)
7) The XX - Shelter (XX, 2009)
8) My Dying Bride - Thy Raven Wings (A Line of Deathless Kings, 2006)
9) Motorhead - Killed By Death (single, 1984)

You can download the episode here. Or listen in the embedded Mixcloud player below.

I'm thinking of recording one more show in December: a year in review episode. We'll see how that goes, but in the meantime, have a listen, and leave some feedback if you like what you hear. Enjoy!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

[407] MCM Expo, October 2010 Mega-Haul

I’m running a little late with this, but there’s no time like the present. The MCM Expo was as overwhelming and exhausting as ever, especially as I'd decided to cram in radio preparation, essay research and good, old-fashioned journalism into my usual rounds. This time, also, I made a point to save up the pennies beforehand, so I could actually buy some books from people.

Here’s my haul.

Dull Ache, a beautiful collection of odds and ends by Luke Pearson.

Man, this guy has discovered some ancient spell for magicking up consistently eye-pleasing artwork. His work for Solipsistic Pop, and the pieces on his blog (especially Jus’ Checkin’ and A Sound Agreement) are brilliant, and I’m eagerly anticipating his upcoming book from Nobrow Press, Hildafolk, which you can read about here.

The Bulletproof Coffin, by David Hine and Shaky Kane.

I plugged the gaps in my collection of this cheeky little series by Hine and Kane, which sees a repo man / comics collector get sucked into a primary colour world of Golden Age pulp adventure. Each issue brings with it a renewed sense of unfettered wonder, as the homages get broader and the plot gets even more twisted. Pure comics. The book-within-a-book playfulness reaches a laugh-out-loud peak in the latest issue, where the main character visits a nearby yard sale, and finds a ratty old copy of Strange Embrace, a book by... David Hine! Followed by a preview of the recently-released hardcover. Bonkers. You can read the first issue at Bleeding Cool.

Dragon Heir: Reborn, by Emma Vieceli.

I’m not one for high fantasy manga, to be honest, but I’ve heard such good things about erstwhile Comics Village organiser Vieceli’s work that I thought I’d give this collection of her webcomic a go. It’s certainly good-looking, and from what I’ve read so far, it manages to balance the character drama, comic relief, and EPIC MYTHOLOGY quite well. You can check out Dragon Heir on her site here.

Particle Fiction, by David Wynne.

Oh, David Wynne. I’ve talked about him enough on this blog, in one form or another, but he is improving all the time. This is the first collection of his monthly ‘eclecti-comic’ Particle Fiction, which tackles a different genre each month. It’s a real pleasure to see his work rendered as a tight, bright little volume, and the stories are jolly good fun, especially the energetic, witty adventures of Ideasman (an agent for the Interstitial Department of Eternal Affairs, whose motto is 'keeping the multiverse safe'), which are essentially excuses for Wynne to mould crazy concepts into action-packed micro-romps.

Bad Dog, by Gary Northfield.

A big newspaper chock-full of tittersome strips, starring a very naughty canine. Some of them make me blush.

Necessary Monsters, by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and Sean Azzopardi.

I’ve been pestering Sean about the Necessary Monsters book for what seems like years, and it’s great to finally see it in the flesh. Speaking of flesh, plenty of it gets torn apart over the course of this gory story, where the end of the world is averted by a team of horror archetypes, consisting of a huge brute who wears a bondage mask and carries a machete, a kaidan-like ghost who haunts mirrors, and a vengeful newcomer who stalks her prey in their dreams. A deliciously depraved sort of spectacle.

One Hundred Moments From My Past, Present and Future, by Edward Ross.

Edward appeared on the WAW+P Radio show the day after MCM, and we talked about this book, his collection of daily strips for the 100 Days To Make Me A Better Person project, so I won’t repeat myself here. Although, really, you should check it out. Even though it is an autobiographical book, it really explores the form, relating everyday events and small occurrences in Ross’ life, but also widening the horizons to include personal problems, and hopes, anxieties and worries of the future.

I also picked up two DVDs - for research purposes, honestly - namely Hansel & Gretel and Death Tube. The latter seems to be a Japanese spin on the torture porn genre, and the distributor was selling his stock for £5 - and unsurprisingly sold all the discs by the end of the weekend. Hansel & Gretel was recommended as a Korean counterpoint to the likes of The Orphanage or Pan’s Labyrinth, so I’m expecting more from that one. However, I’ve not had the time to watch either of these DVDs yet - but I’ll make sure to keep you all informed.

And with that, my comics fund is damn near exhausted. Unsurprising, really. Maybe it’s a good job I’m not going to Thought Bubble, after all.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

[406] Can You Recall...?

The day after the MCM Expo last week, I was waiting for the bus to the London Fields Radio station. I found this in my pocket.

You know, I don't think I even remember what I did last summer. And looking at this blog isn't the greatest of help. ('Oh, I saw Inglourious Basterds, and interviewed Lawrence Bender!') It's just a long line of reviews, blogs and articles. Films upon films. It's getting hard to differentiate the days and pinpoint months in the backlog of memory.

That said, I'm pretty sure I didn't hit an old man while drunk driving, and dump his body in the sea. Who can be sure, though?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

[405] Black Ops Launch @ Battersea Power Station

Chalk this one up as a bit of whimsical bloggery. Last night, I attended the launch party for the new Call Of Duty video game, Black Ops.

As befits such a grand media event, the entertainment was large and overblown: cocktails and food reflecting the various locales of the game; a large 'war-room' style round table, fitted with consoles hooked up in a looped deathmatch game; footballers competing with European pseudo-celebs in an international free for all.

George Lamb was master of ceremonies - you know, that guy who makes you turn off the radio. He had one ongoing joke, that only guys play video games, and the venue was made up of mostly males. Well, he was half right. And, apparently, two chart-bothering musical artists capped off the night with a live performance. Sounds very much like last year's launch for Modern Warfare 2, in a way.

But there was one detail which made this stand out, and that was the location. Whereas last year was a mash-up of a Leicester Square 'film' premiere and a students' union dressed up as an underground bunker, last night's festivities took place at one of London's most beguiling, imposing and distinctive landmarks: Battersea Power Station.

This made my night. Even though it's not far from Westminster, Battersea Power Station is positioned awkwardly around a bend of the Thames, so you rarely get to see it, unless you're in the area. To get up close and personal, then, was a treat.

Inside, it is completely gutted, lacking a roof and in terrible condition. I don't envy those people planning for its future use. The event took place in what seemed to be a semi-permanent structure, but most of my time was spent gawping at the dizzying height of the brick walls, and those amazing chimneys. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, I salute you.

Unfortunately, I deleted Pink Floyd's Animals (which featured Battersea Power Station on its cover) from my phone a couple of months ago, and lost my ripped copy of the albums with the recent laptop death. So I'm making up for that today, while people the world over are no doubt getting acquainted with Black Ops.

Here's a video for 'Pigs on the Wing', with footage from the flying pig stunt at Battersea.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is released today, but you probably already knew that.

Monday, 8 November 2010

[404] Let Me In Interviews: Matt Reeves and Kodi Smit-McPhee

So I didn't like the film that much, but I did get to chat a little with Let Me In director Matt Reeves, and lead actor Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Let Me In, the British-American remake of the Swedish vampire drama Let The Right One In, finally receives its UK general release this week. We loved the earlier take on John Ajvide Lindqvist's tale of two children bonding in less than conventional circumstances, so we must admit we approached this new adaptation, directed by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves and produced by a revamped (ugh) Hammer Film Productions, with a little bit of caution.

Luckily, we had the chance to sit in on a roundtable interview with Reeves, and lead actor Kodi Smit-McPhee, who stars as Owen, the lonely boy who befriends the mysterious night walker Abby (Chloe Moretz). We talked about the production, Kodi's approach to the material and the process of adapting the property for an English-speaking audience, as well as the gruesome deleted scene that has appeared on the Internet, and what it is like carrying the torch for the resurrected (ugh) Hammer studio.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

[403] Let Me In (2010) Review

Here's another essay-ish review, this time for the Matt Reeves-helmed remake Let Me In. As Den of Geek had already sent their American reviewer Ron Hogan - who wasn't familiar with Let The Right One In - to see the film, I saw this as my chance to relax and take a close look at its approach to adaptation. Unsurprisingly, therefore, this isn't the best review for those who haven't seen the Swedish progenitor.

Before we start, let's get acquainted. Let Me In is the British-American remake of 2008's Swedish horror-drama film Let The Right One In. I reviewed it on this site, and it topped my Best of 2009 list. Ron Hogan, Den Of Geek's US correspondent, checked the film out on its Stateside release, coming to it completely cold, without seeing the original. (There are links to all of these at the bottom of this article.)

So here's an alternative take. Let's take a look at
Let Me In in context, and relate it to the film it is remaking for a new audience.

In the last decade, Hollywood backed remakes have been consistently eyed with much suspicion. They're often used as a yardstick for the declining imagination of mainstream American product, and of the callousness of producers sucking up the best ideas from abroad. So, it was no surprise that
Let The Right One In, the Swedish vampire horror-drama, was greenlit for the English language makeover.

Cue the consternation. Den Of Geek's resident World Cinema expert, Nick Horton, recently had the following to say about
Let The Right One In: " is the isolation of the Swedish backwaters which sets the oppressive tone from which the film takes its cues. The audience feel as abandoned on the edge of the world as the characters, and it is exactly the sort of place where the fantastical and creepy could coexist with the ordinary. To set it elsewhere is to rob the film of its hidden power."

For me, though, the change in setting is the least of this remake's problems. Exoticist assumptions about the undertones of Swedish society aside,
Let Me In's murky small town New Mexico, coated with snow and populated by dreary architecture, is just as effective a backwater as suburban Stockholm. It is suitably mundane, quiet and eerie, and a fine context for the set-up, as lonely kid Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who spends his time hanging out in his apartment building's empty playground, develops a friendship with a mysterious girl, Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), who only comes out at night and seems undaunted by the cold weather.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

[402] MCM Expo: Eagle Awards Report

I still need to write a general post (with a swag shot) about the MCM Expo. It was, as usual, pretty fun. Likewise, it was hectic and tiring. In the meantime, here's my report on the Eagle Awards for Den of Geek - which was quite a mixed-up affair.

The MCM Expo seems to get bigger every time, somehow finding more cosplay-obsessed teens to stuff into the Excel Centre in London's Docklands (now approaching 47,000 attendees). This time around, the Expo certainly beefed up its videogame representation, in partnership with the London Games Festival, and a number of tantalising gameplay demos of the likes of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

However, the comics village, always our favourite area of the Expo, also landed a symbolic coup in becoming the new home of the Eagles,an annual, fan selected series of awards that, despite being quite a big deal in its heyday, had fallen by the wayside in recent years.

And although the new surroundings, and new logo, suggested that the Eagles would be stepping up to fulfill its position as the British answer to the Eisner and Harvey Awards, this first ceremony was not without its awkward mishaps.

The most immediate problem? The event was almost empty. Apart from the guests, there was barely more than a dozen punters in the audience. The MCM main stage area becomes mightily cavernous without bodies in the room and the sound of 50-odd people applauding starts to undercut the importance of it all after a while.

Considering the attendance numbers the Expo attracts over the weekend, this is a little discouraging, even if the manga, anime and cosplay types won't know their 2000AD from their BPRD. The scheduling of the ceremony for the Friday night could be a problem. It was slotted at the end of this first day of play, which was only open to weekend pass holders.

Another big issue presented itself as the evening unfolded, powered by plates of Pringles, Doritos and Pocky (and, if you could get your hands on them, bottles of beer). Many of the award winners weren't there. By our count, only two or three were present to pick up their stylish little glass trophies. Sure, many of those nominated were American, but a fair proportion are UK-based.

If the Eagles is trying to position itself as an ongoing concern, it isn't much of a vote of confidence that those nominated won't make the trip down. Some, it seems, were unable to attend due to illness, so hopefully this will be less of a problem in the future.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

[401] WAW+P Radio #5: DIY With Edward Ross

It's a new month, so here's a new episode of We Are Words + Pictures radio! This time, my guest is the lovely Edward Ross, creator of Filmish, who was down in London for the biannual MCM Expo. Unlike all other episodes thus-far, we recorded this on Monday afternoon, in a slightly sleepy haze after the convention-shaped madness of the weekend. Nevertheless, we still managed to cover a lot, and listened to some endearingly folky Scottish music as well.

Photograph taken by comics paparazzo Sean Azzopardi

You can listen to the show below, or over at the London Fields Radio Mixcloud profile. Shownotes are also published there, but here's an extract:

Edinburgh-based comics writer/artist Edward Ross was recently in town for the biannual MCM Expo, so We Are Words + Pictures host Michael Leader dragged him into the LFR studio to talk about film theory, autobiography, and doing-it-yourself. They also reflect on the MCM, a massive convention, visited by just shy of 50,000 fans of manga, anime and video games, which also happened to be Ross' first public appearance as a stall-holder - as well as picking through a number of recommendations, news items, and upcoming events from the world of comics.

Our highlighted books this week are Everything Dies by Box Brown, and The Lengths by Howard Hardiman. The latter in particular is one of my favourite recent reads, so I was glad we took some time to pick that apart.

And here's the playlist:

Jimmy Squirrel & Co. - Alexandre Desplat
My Descent Into Madness - Eels
Missionary - King Creosote
Sex Is Boring (Acoustic) - Ballboy
Drive Too Fast - Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern
The Derby Ram - Benjamin Wetherill
The Modern Leper - Frightened Rabbit
Blade Runner (End Titles) - Vangelis

As always, comments, criticism and advice are more than welcome. I'm hoping to fit in 2 or 3 more episodes before the year is out, ending with something a little different. In the meantime, have a listen; I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, 29 October 2010

[400] LFF 2010, and beyond.

So that was my first, fully-accredited London Film Festival.

I still have a handful of articles to write and post over at Den of Geek, but the screenings are over, at least. I caught 35 films in the end, which I feel is plenty. Here's my top 10:

Black Swan
Blue Valentine
The Kids Are All Right
Never Let Me Go
William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
Heartbeats / Les Amours Imaginaires
Robinson In Ruins
Living On Love Alone / D'amour et d'eau fraiche
The American

There are quite a few bubbling underneath that, but I'll keep it simple. I feel a little ashamed that almost all of my choices are mainstream English language films, but I guess I backed the wrong foreign/art-house/independent horses. Plus I didn't make too much of the award-winning doc The Arbor, although I did enjoy Archipelago, which received a 'special commendation' from the jury.

No time for rest, though, as today I'm off to the MCM Expo. It's a three-day event this time around, and I've managed to convince myself that my next MA essay (for 'Transnational Japanese Cinema') should be about UK anime fan-culture and cosplay. So there's a lot to look forward to. And another episode of WAW+P Radio. Gosh. See you on the other side.

[399] Magic and Masters: Children's Fantasy at the LFF

The London Film Festival isn’t generally known for its championing of genre films. In fact, the festival circuit in general has started to splinter off into niches and competencies, with whole programmes becoming dedicated not only to national cinemas, but areas of the film world such as animation and children’s movies. However, even though most critical attention is looking elsewhere, there are still examples of such fanciful entertainment at the LFF. Two films of this ilk jumped out of the line-up, both from Eastern Europe, and therefore damned from conception where English-speaking audiences are concerned. If the general populace can’t be bothered with subtitles, then what about their little sprogs?

The Book of Masters (Книга мастеров) is the first production by the Russian wing of Walt Disney Productions - an initiative that looks to give filmmakers of a distinctly different tradition the worthy budget to realise their ideas. Although, in this case, the extra money is more of a hindrance than a help. In concept, this is a cheeky send-up of various tales from Russian folklore, streamlined into a peppy caper that brings with it few surprises.

The daughter of Slavic mythological witch Baba Yaga is fated to become the fearsome Stone Countess, who raises an army of terrible inhuman golems to one day take over the world. However, she needs to harness the power of Alatyr, a special mineral that, when sculpted by a master stone carver, grants its bearer dominion over life and death.

Of course, there’s a young protagonist, in this case Ivan (Maxim Loktionov), a humble stone carver in a little village, who must learn from the Book of Masters, fulfill his destiny and win the heart of Katya (Mariya Andreeva), a beautiful, feisty princess kept captive by the Stone Countess.

The twist is that this is a slightly post-modern take, playing with tradition while remaining firmly within its conventional structure. Unfortunately, this mainly manifests in a series of contemporary pop-culture references, which are sometimes equally inventive and cheeky (a ball of twine, guiding our hero through the Endless Forest, has the voice and mentality of a Sat Nav unit), but become increasingly tired as the film progresses, mostly consisting of awkward sound effect gags - such as a sword being brandished to the fizz of a lightsaber, or a scene being punctuated by an appearance of the sad trombone melody.

But most perilous for this production are the opportunities afforded by its budget. Director-writer Vadim Sokolowsky seems to have been tempted to indulge every whim, over-stuffing the film with slow-motion sequences, crash-zooms and gratuitous CGI shots. These add up to a hollow mimicry of Hollywood blockbuster convention, and the production design apes Terry Gilliam at its colourful best, or, frustratingly, lifts locations and character concepts from Lord of The Rings at its worst. When the Stone Countess stands atop her craggy tower, surveying her land of scorched earth, lava and mist, you wonder if a small team of hackers had broken into the WETA Digital servers, and downloaded their Tolkien-specific asset library.

Lacking in the imagination and playfulness to craft something truly unique, The Book of Masters seems willing to simply mirror American style. A disappointing opening gambit for Disney’s investment in the region.

What a delightful treat The Magic Tree (Magiczne drzewo) is, in comparison. No doubt made for a fraction of the cost, it is full of wonder and has a number of bold ideas all of its own.

Initially developed as a Polish television series by creator-writer-director Andrzej Maleszka, The Magic Tree imagines that an enchanted, ancient oak is one day felled in a lightning storm. The resulting timber is used to create assorted knick-knacks, accessories and pieces of furniture, each exhibiting mysterious powers. In a cheeky opening titles sequence, a series of Youtube-style handheld videos reveal clogs that dance to their own rhythm, and wardrobes that lurch around the room.

But this film focuses on a little red chair, which grants wishes to anyone who sits on it. Bounding from its delivery van, and high-tailing it over inner-city traffic, the chair soon finds its way under the bums of officially The Cutest Family In All Of Poland. Seriously, mum and dad are classical musicians who sing their way through Mozart on car journeys, as their three cheeky kids beam from the backseat. Their first wish, when they find the chair squirrelled away at the back of a bustling urban festival, is for pizza, naturally. However, their ambitious businesswoman aunt soon sits on the chair, and wishes for the humble parents to take a lucrative job on a round the world cruise, landing the children - Tosia (Maja Tomawska), Filip (Filip Fabis) and Kuki (Adam Szczególa) - in her far-from-motherly care.

The rest of the film follows a simple plot: the children want to be reunited with their parents, and traverse the countryside in order to reach the next port on the cruise’s itinerary. Maleszka has a lot of fun with the concept, playing with the limits of the chair’s power, while shaping all plot developments and solutions in accordance to the imaginations of hyper-active children. For example, the aunt (who employs a deaf-mute maid, she says, so they can’t either make noise or eavesdrop) starts to give them trouble, so they turn her into a kid as well, and take her along for the adventure.

It’s remarkably twee, and infectiously fun. While not sporting the epic scope of The Book of Masters, this more modest effort is something quite special and distinctive. It’s a shame we won’t be seeing it at the multiplex any time soon - but let’s hope one day Maleszka finds a more international platform for his vision.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

[398] Werewolves of Montpellier by Jason Review

I mentioned this review on the radio show a couple of weeks ago - and it's finally up! I'm starting to really like Jason; hopefully I'll be able to track down more of his books in the future.

By now, I've read three comic books by Jason, the relatively mysterious, mononymous cartoonist, and I still find it hard to properly describe his style. He is playful in tone, delicate in themes, yet distinct in approach and design. Not to simplify his work, but he often takes high concept genre narratives - time travel (I Killed Adolf Hitler), wrong man thrillers (Why Are You Doing This?) - and buries them in very human, ho-hum contexts, gently undercutting convention with dry humour.

He is without immediate peer, and perhaps the closest I can get to him is Jim Jarmusch, the indie film director who, in a more overtly arty sense, takes American film genres like the western (Dead Man), prison (Down By Law), and gangster movie (Ghost Dog), and refracts them through his deadpan stoner wit.

Werewolves Of Montpellier is Jason's (a Norwegian, who now lives in France) latest work. It comes emblazoned with a back cover quote from filmmaker John Landis, excitedly proclaiming it to be "another werewolf story to warm the cockles of your heart!" This is, no doubt, delivered with cocked eyebrow, or tongue placed in cheek, or voluminous beard split by a great big Landis grin, because Werewolves of Montpellier is anything but ‘another' lycanthropic story.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

[397] Black Swan (2010) Review

Covering the London Film Festival is a bigger deal than I'd anticipated. I'm far behind on my write-ups, with 5 columns left to bash out, and there are still other films to see. Black Swan's a biggie, though. So here's a review of that. I also got the chance to interview Aronofsky himself - but you won't see that until the film's UK release in February, sadly.

More to come.

There's something a little bittersweet about watching Black Swan, one of the highlights of the London Film Festival's programme and, importantly, the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky. It now seems set in stone that he will finally graduate from his stellar line of small budget, against-the-grain outsider works, leaping into the comic book adaptation big league, reportedly taking the helm of the new Wolverine movie (although, while at the festival, the director himself seemed unwilling to confirm this development).

This news is particularly saddening, since Black Swan is one of his best works to date, the product of a confident, skilled artist who is in total control of his talents.

You probably already know the setup. This is a film about ballet, specifically, a production of Tchaikovsky's
Swan Lake, which is shot through with the emotional intensity of psychological horror. Like Aronofsky's previous film, the gritty character piece The Wrestler, Black Swan looks at the demanding behind-the-scenes aspects, physically and mentally, of its chosen artform.

Here, young dancer Nina (Natalie Portman), is cast in the production's lead role, and is tasked with performing as both the virginal White Swan, and the antagonistic, seductive Black Swan. Although, while she is perfectly capable of executing the poise and grace of the former character, she is lacking a certain something when it comes to the darker side of the performance, something beyond technique, which director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) pushes her to attain.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

[396] Love, Work and Youth at the London Film Festival

Blogging from a festival is a daunting task.The London Film Festival is a massive deal, at least from a raw numbers point of view. With the late additions to the bill, it comes to over 200 films, in just over 2 weeks of screenings.

Making sense of it all is made easier by spotting threads - be it thematic, national or topical - and these columns are spinning out of that thinking. I was surprised by how immediately the connections presented themselves - it’s silly really, as this is a pretty well-curated amalgam of cinema.

Within the first week of previews, I was blindsided by a selection of films that, you could say, strayed a little close to home. They featured young adults, that key demographic that sits in between maturity and middle age - the twentysomethings that are fending for themselves in a modern world that, thanks to economic recession, doesn’t look all that promising. In such a context, is it possible to retain a sense of idealism when it comes to love and work?

Take festival opener Never Let Me Go (****), Mark Romanek’s sumptuous adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel. In an alternate Britain, major diseases were rendered obsolete in the 1950s, thanks to revolutionary research into human cloning. This creates an underclass of ‘donors’, a population of children who attend special schools, like the film’s central location, a picturesque boarding school called Hailsham. When they mature, these young adults are taken through a rigorous programme of donation, where their vital organs are removed and given over to members of the general populace. The inevitable conclusion of these operations is for the donor in question to ‘complete’, or, in less euphemistic terms, die.

Ishiguro’s gentle science fiction concept is rendered with melancholy subtlety by Romanek, and despite Alex Garland’s sometimes too-literal screenplay, it retains a sense of mystery and profound ambiguity, channelling Orwell in its British sense of arch social structures in conflict with personal ideals. Its three protagonists, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield, all awards-worthy), live life in miniature, experiencing ageing in acceleration. They form a tender love triangle, which develops a mournful sense of regret as they move towards their inevitable fate. On one level, it is hard not to see this as a society eating its young, digesting their mortality while eroding their youthful innocence. Rumours abound, that they could dodge destiny by proving themselves through artistic or romantic expression. But even this is a distraction, and Romanek never dares give the audience false hope, consistently (and almost, in terms of mainstream enjoyment, to a fault) pursuing the droll march towards decay.

Such inevitability also permeates Blue Valentine (****), a powerful two-hander drama from Derek Cianfrance, centering on the disintegrating marriage of leads Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. The film hinges on two musical cues (‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’, performed by Gosling and Penny & The Quarters’ ‘You and Me’), and tonally feels like a glum working class ballad from Tom Waits, or Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen, with young love doomed almost from the start.

Cutting between present complications, where nurse Cindy (Williams) and interior decorator Dean (Gosling) are attempting to fix things, and the oh-so-simple past, of blossoming romance, Blue Valentine gently invites the viewer into their lives. The film meticulously builds the pair’s relationship, and lays the roots of the emotional trauma and incompatible values that will eventually overwhelm them. The hope of yesterday gives way to the broken dreams of today, as Dean’s care-free approach to life seems irresponsible when he’s a young father, and Cindy’s shift from bright-eyed student to a hard-working, exhausted woman brings little patience for his alcoholism and flippancy.

Both leads are outstanding, hopping the boundary between youth and jaded adulthood with ease, and neither cheapen their characters with overt melodrama. Cianfrance’s script manages to mould this elegy for romance while never languishing in cynicism, achieving a sincerity that chimes with the wistful soundtrack, provided by Brooklyn group Grizzly Bear. Blue Valentine’s flashbacks paint an endearing love that knows no bounds, and challenges the encroachment of tragedy, but it is fleeting - another victim to an American tradition.

Cross the border to French Canada, and love is no more permanent in Heartbeats (****), although the French title Les amours imaginaires more accurately describes this wry look at obsession and short-lived affairs. Two oddball hipsters, Marie (Monia Chokri) and Francis (writer and director Xavier Dolan), joined at the hip and united by an aloof sort of misanthropy, fall for the boyish Nicolas (Niels Schneider), and engage in passive-aggressive power games for his love.

Dolan mines much humour and high aesthetics from this ménage à trois, cheekily playing off the two friends against each other, with the gaze lingering on frustrated glances and aghast expressions of unfulfilled lust. He cuts between rather mundane, sometimes awkwardly comic scenes of the lovers together, and emphatically artistic sequences of gorgeously photographed slow-motion shots, often featuring one of the stunning members of the central cast, backed by high romantic music such as Italian singer Dalida’s melodramatic take on ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’, or excerpts from Bach’s stately-yet-passionate cello suites. Yet even these moments are undercut, knowingly distancing the audience from this use of music as a psychological device, as their interior daydreams are punctured at one point by the harsh hip-pop of House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’, blurting from a stereo at a house party.

They’re kooks, anachronistic outsiders: one a literature snob clothed in immaculate retro-chic dresses and pearls, the other a lusty chap given to James Dean haircuts and thick-rimmed glasses. Of course, Nicolas isn’t at all interested, and soon leaves them hanging. But that doesn’t matter, as while Dolan’s film posits that emotional anguish is endemic to romance (as a number of documentary-like interview sequences, with characters relating their traumatic relationship experiences, suggest), it also gives the viewer a powerful image of its central pair, twisted and hopelessly attached to each other, finishing the film ready to embark on another self-destructive, obsessive fling.

Similarly warped, but much more depraved, is Leap Year (Año bisiesto, **), the debut from Australian director Michael Rowe, which features a freelance journalist (Monica del Carmen), living in the big city alone. Initially about the monotony of working and living in the same space - with the camera barely leaving the dingy, cockroach-ridden flat - the film becomes more about the alienating effects of modern urban life. She sleeps, she types, she has sex with random men. She picks her nose and watches daytime television. It’s morbidly mundane, until the halfway point kicks in, and one sexual partner slaps her during the act. She doesn’t stop him. In fact, she moves his hand over her throat, and invites him to squeeze.

From there, Leap Year becomes something of an exercise, reveling in the squirmy nature of explicit sex and violence, attempting to capture the simultaneous anarchy and audience-baiting of Haneke’s Funny Games. It doesn’t reach such giddy heights, as the veil of naturalism remains, drawing dark, absurd humour out of straightforwardly grim situations, reaching a particular NSFW peak as the protagonist is forced to lie, face up, on the living room floor, masturbating, as her partner urinates on her face. Afterwards, she mops up as he catches up on his soaps.

Isabelle Czajka’s Living On Love Alone (D’amour et d’eau fraîche, ****), is less abrasive, and wholly more impressive. It is a romantic, cheeky sort of novella drama focusing on Natalie (Anaïs Demoustier), a young worker trying to make a go at employment in Paris. She starts the film attempting to cope with a high-stress job at a pretentious PR company, working for an ‘eclectic’ sort of genius, and fulfilling suitably diverse duties, including cabbing it across town for dozens of boxed lunches for a big meeting, and taking her boss’ children to Disneyland. She plugs the gaps with nights on the town, and sex with older, richer men, who seem to be overflowing with gratitude and financial handouts.

This isn’t the life she expected to lead; ‘all these efforts, for something I’m not interested in,’ she laments. Soon, she’s fired, and is left applying for a job as a door-to-door sales representative for a publisher. At the interview, she meets bearded fraudster Ben (Pio Marmaï), a charming gent who eventually offers her a way out of the city, to a cottage in the balmy south. There they live a spartan dream, away from the grime of the capital. And when Natalie finds a gun in the kitchen drawer, it’s no worry, as Ben lets her in on his plan to earn thousands of Euros for a morning’s work.

There’s an endearing conflict at the heart of Living On Love Alone, between heart-led idealism and brain-led pragmatism, and Czajka does not condemn the two leads for striving for the former, abandoning the responsibility and reality of adulthood for sunshine, sex and escapism. It revels in their relationship - inviting the viewer to fall in love with their beauty, vibrancy and jeunesse over a series of intimate close-ups. Both Demoustier and Marmaï are compelling, and help to nudge the film away from the complications of middle-class rebellion, and towards something subversively genuine. That it is straightforward, naturalistic, in its representation of this, is quite audacious - it’s really a downbeat, slightly poetic spin on the careening youth-gone-wild violence of True Romance, Natural Born Killers and Wild At Heart, or a hopeless homage to the new wave cool of À Bout de Souffle.

A final frame stand-off crystallises this underlying anger, as the battered, arrested protagonist stares straight into the camera as she answers the interrogation officer’s questions: ‘Julie Bataille, 23, unemployed.’ This stark conclusion fades out to the lust-bump blues of The Kills’ anthem ‘Fuck The People’, suggesting that, in the face of unlikely love, maturity, and a society that preaches conformity, there are some willing to fight.

Monday, 18 October 2010

[395] RED (2010) Review

I'm a modest Warren Ellis fan. While I'm happy to see him get his moment in the film-adaptation spotlight - and for him to get the cheque that comes along with it, the sentimental bastard - I'm a bit disappointed that he's been put through the Hollywood mincer. Let's hope this is just the beginning, and the promising opening of RED brings more attention to his work.

Friends, the time has come. Hollywood movie moguls have been fumbling around in the comic book intellectual property swag bag for some time, but it hasn't been until now that they have hit upon a thorny, nasty work from super-fungal mega-writer Warren Ellis. However, instead of adapting one his demented masterworks that perform anarchic castration on genre conventions, such as Transmetropolitan, The Authority or Planetary, the powers that be have smiled kindly on RED, his collaboration with Cully Hamner, which is an action caper with a twist.

The twist is probably what sold the producers (Mark Vahradian and Lorenzo di Bonaventura, two dudes behind
Transformers) on the idea. It's a pretty concise concept: RED stands for ‘Retired, Extremely Dangerous', and is a tag given to, as can be assumed, those that gather outside local post offices every Monday morning, clutching their pension book with the rest of them. Except these biddies and codgers are highly trained killing machines.

Read the full article here.

[394] The Social Network (2010) Review

Over the last week I wrote nearly 2500 words on The Social Network. I think that's my limit. I've got other things to write, anyway. Here is my review, which is more of an essay, as Ron Hogan had already written a straightforward review for Den of Geek, and I tried to make mine a little deeper.

Call it a symptom of our Internet existence. I've been sitting on this review of The Social Network for over two weeks, embargoed until days before its UK release. In the time between the screening and now, the film has been released Stateside, with the flurry of attention and discussion that is to be expected of such a development.

Our resident American-based reviewer, Ron Hogan, has had his say (he liked it). Friends have Twittered their reactions to advance, public screenings, unencumbered by embargo. It seems that every possible angle, every opinion, has been expressed.

That's life, today. Sentiments are disseminated along instantaneous, digital highways, becoming solidified about halfway between content management system and browser window. It has been a steady progression over the last two decades, gradually effecting our lives from dot com boom to bust and beyond, culminating in the rise of social media, bolstered by the likes of YouTube, MySpace and, of course, Facebook.

The Social Network is a film about Facebook, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher. That's the writer who created the big liberal bear hug,
The West Wing, collaborating with the most restrained director from Hollywood's pilfered roster of music video visionaries.

With the likes of
Zodiac (a sumptuous crime film with a long, mid-act ellipsis, and an inconclusive conclusion) and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (a flawed, inverted Forrest Gump substituting Baby Boomer nostalgia for textured Americana), Fincher has placed his full attentions on script, place and character, using his keen sense of production polish to lift his work out of its immediate cinematic context. He is one of the few directors working today who helms projects that gaze across broad horizons, from the classical past to the stylistic future. But The Social Network, while exhibiting the touch of a master filmmaker, is unmistakeably a film about the world we live in today.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 15 October 2010

[393] The Social Network (Score) - Trent Reznor + Atticus Ross

So my review of The Social Network for Den of Geek inevitably spun out of control, developing into more of an essayistic musing on the film’s subtextual content, especially as a film for ‘our times’, documenting ‘The Facebook Generation’, and the common adoption of digital lives. Maybe I’ve been losing my mind, but between that and the Let Me In piece (which is a long exploration of adaptation, style and genre), I’m earning my stripes as the oddball Geek reviewer.

In the process, I sacrificed most parts of the review. My notes ran for pages, and my rants at other people - generally inspired by the simple question ‘Was it any good?’ - often drifted into cosmic ravings. Shamanistic prattle. Exultation and pumped-up nonsense. I trimmed that stuff back, mostly, leaving some stuff unformed. I said nothing about the film’s score, for example.

Wow, the score. It’s by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, by the way. One guy you probably know - he’s the man who mashed up meticulous industrial metal production and Depeche Mode pop songwriting for the 90s alternative crowd. The other is his close collaborator, who formed a crucial studio-based cornerstone of the (currently) final phase of Nine Inch Nails’ now-dormant career, and has followed Reznor’s lead in his creative projects since.

Even though I’m a fan, I was surprised. Director David Fincher created the video for Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Only’ single back in 2005, but that was a streamlined bid for MTV airplay - featuring an insistent groove, a shout-along chorus, and clean CGI-aided Pin Art from Digital Domain. It didn’t hint at the textured explorations Reznor and co. would pursue as they drifted back into the musical periphery. Furthermore, it seemed odd.

This is a film about Facebook after all, a saga set in the recent past, and they were choosing to be relatively light on the radio hits and other tunes, and instead to rely heavily on what turns out to be a moving mixture of organic tones and electronic sounds. The links with the EP project Ghosts - which Reznor released back in 2008 in a highly profitable, and innovative, online distribution strategy - are immediately apparent. It is overcast ambience, tender at times, but brittle, brooding and mournful at others. Check out score opener ‘Hand Covers Bruise’.

It recalls Eno, in his dark ambient, On Land guise, and there’s a hint of Vangelis in there, as the score mirrors those composers’ ability to suggest emotional current within their cavernous productions - human blips within musical negative space. These sonic landscapes are punctured by harsh synths, drum machines and distorted noise, adding tension and twisted trauma. In a stroke of genius, the score actually gives the film a moody counterpoint to Sorkin’s zingy dialogue, providing a beat, yet highlighting the darkness to his character drama. Take the second cut, ‘In Motion’, which accompanies an early sequence where Zuckerberg, recently dumped by his girlfriend, swigs beer, bitches on his Livejournal, and hacks the assorted Harvard dorms' ‘facebook’ services, in order to create the Facemash site - where users rate mugshots of female students against each other.

The film cuts back and forth between Zuckerberg’s twisted, unwitting creativity (the popularity and compelling nature of the site both anticipates and spurs on the invention of Facebook), and a sleazy depiction of a drunken sex romp held in another fraternity. The track, a minimal subversion of four-on-the-floor club electronica, builds with swirling sequencers and abrasive dissonance - conjuring up technomages, cyberpunks and hyper-cool computer virtuosos. But instead, it’s just a wounded, pathetic young man, indulging in mild misogyny and dreaming of recognition. As Reznor and Ross lay down this bed of unsettling underscore, it allows Sorkin’s writing to really fly, with Fincher’s sumptuous, nuanced, but relatively neutral direction to bridge the two. It gives the film a superb breadth of tone and feeling.

But when Fincher let’s go, so do the composers. In one stand-out sequence - which, for all narrative-thematic intents and purposes, is effectively digressive - the tilt-shift photographed gaze swoops down over a miniature reproduction of rolling English landscape, depicting the Henley Royal Regatta. Zuckerberg’s twin nemeses, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, future Olympian rowers, are both participating. What ensues is a breathless, pacy sequence that captures the strength required and tension inspired by the sport. It’s a beautiful scene. And the score? Oh, just a little rearrangement of Edvard Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, recorded in the style of Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach album. It is, quite frankly, brilliant: regal, operatic, and powerful - yet utterly playful, and over before you know it.

It’s an astounding work, overall. I’m glad to see Reznor achieve a potential he’s exhibited since he recorded ‘Something I Can Never Have’ back in 1989 (which itself was reappropriated on the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers, which he supervised). While he has always been pigeon-holed (not entirely incorrectly) as a raging angst-monger, it is in his intricately textured production that his more impressive talents lie. Across all his albums, there have been the down moments, the instrumental passages that hinted at compositional ambitions outside of leftfield pop. And after his provisional score for Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo was rejected (and eventually recorded in part on the Still live album), you could have been led to worry that he’d only ever craft such pieces for his own daydreams and concept albums. Thankfully, he’s been given a shot here, and the result is a work of sublime richness.

You can download a 5 track sampler of the Social Network score for free, and purchase the full album in a variety of formats, over at