Thursday, 26 August 2010

[379] Good Advice

...from Monsieur Sheret. Maybe I'm vain. Maybe I'm a sensitive soul. Maybe I believe in the web's potential for dialogue and feedback. Whatever it is, I can't help but look. Comments rarely crop up on my articles - and if they do they just go off on their own tangents. But sometimes they attempt to engage in their own unique way.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

[378] Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010) Review

I take a lot of notes when I see films. For Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I wrote that it was 'the dying gasps of a decadent, hopeless civilisation'. I was totally offended by how vapid, cheap, and patronising it was - and the depiction of gingers, foreigners, gap-toothers and non-normative children is horrendous. Thankfully I was a little less doom-and-gloom in the review.

Sadly, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid isn't a modest, Alan Bennett-style slice of ho-hum life, centered around a shy teenager's weekend job at a Wimpy Bar in Lewisham. No, this is a big, brassy, colourful, and American, kids' flick, adapted from the popular series of books by Jeff Kinney.

Zachary Gordon stars as Greg Heffley, a twelve-year-old who is thrown into the chaos of middle school. Being a little short in stature, and late to the puberty train, Greg is overwhelmed by his new surroundings, but comes up with various schemes to shoot to the top of the popularity ladder. Such an ambition, he finds, is a tricky one, as he comes up against a cast of quirky colleagues, and must contend with the unfathomable politics of school life.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

[377] Lymelife (2008) Review

We've all been there; courting a potential lover, only for the veneer of cool to be disrupted by a dreaded outside influence. Feel for 15-year old Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin), therefore, as he finds himself in his bedroom with coquettish neighbour Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts), sitting on his bed, only for the mood to be broken by a stray toy - a Millenium Falcon from Star Wars - to be lying in between the pseudo-lovers: a Maginot Line between childlike innocence and inevitable adulthood.

Lymelife, like plenty of similarly themed American 'indie' comedy-dramas, capitalises on a shared sense of nostalgia, either through evoking the pop culture of specific time period (here a very anachronistic early 1980s, where the Falklands War coincides with the Tehran hostage crisis), or through establishing supposedly universal concepts, such as coming of age or family tension.

The action primarily focuses on Scott, the awkward teen who must overcome personal inadequacy in the face of dissolving parental relationships, schoolyard bullies and a whole host of experiences - from smoking weed, to casting off his virginity. Culkin is a pleasant presence on screen, but the necessary weakness of the character makes him unassuming, except for precious few scenes of youthful embarrassment (at one point, he is offered select cuts of deer meat by Adrianna's father: "You turnin' down a piece of ass? That's the best part!").

To combat this, director Derick Martini (with co-writer, producer and brother Steven) paints the supporting roles with broader strokes. However, unlike other films containing slightly boring young male protagonists - The Virgin Suicides, Almost Famous, or even A Serious Man - Lymelife's ensemble approach feels both claustrophobic and scattershot, only concerning itself with two families, both nearing collapse. The Bartletts are rich and unhappy, with ambitious father Mickey's (Alec Baldwin) determination to turn Long Island into a trendy suburban outpost seeming completely at odds with the wants of his wife, Brenda (Jill Hennessy). Her ambitions are unclear, but they certainly do not involve Mickey having an affair with colleague and neighbour Melissa Bragg (Cynthia Nixon), whose burdonsome husband Charlie is suffering from Lyme disease, which he likens to a perpetual acid trip.

The film gathers some momentum once Scott's older brother Jim (Kieran Culkin) comes home from the military. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Martinis' work shines best in sequences of brotherly interaction, as the elder is idolised by the younger, but the wise move of casting real life siblings provides an easy, believeable chemistry. Jim's presence also brings a bit of blood to the film, not to mention Oedipal resonance, as a drunken Mickey lashes out at his firstborn.

However, the Martinis let this conflict hang loose, like other narrative threads across the film, such as a strong under-current of Catholic symbolism (Mickey is shown bearing a 'for sale' sign like a cross, and Scott becomes a man sexually only after his Confirmation). Likewise, the disease that gives the film its title is an empty reference, used to define one character's quirky behaviour as opposed to adding resonance. The creative duo seem content with squeezing irony out of Jim's early quip "welcome to our wonderful little family and our perfect surburban life". This reaches a particularly ridiculous point in a scene that evokes an upstairs-downstairs farce, where the kids get high on the porch while the adulterous adults get fresh in the basement - and the cuckolded husband looks on. It is this reluctance that leaves Lymelife without the edges of an American Beauty, or a Squid and the Whale, despite the Martinis' assertion that the film is based on their own experience. Perhaps you just had to be there.

Lymelife enjoys staring at its own cultural navel, yet there's little to take from this nostalgic therapy session.

Lymelife is out on DVD now.

Monday, 23 August 2010

[376] Scott Pilgrim vs The World Press Conference (and soundtrack)

I will stop talking about Scott Pilgrim eventually. Maybe after a second viewing. The soundtrack CD arrived this morning, you know. It is very good. T.Rex and the Rolling Stones rub shoulders with Metric, Frank Black, and the specially-composed tunes from Beck and Broken Social Scene. They even throw in classics like the aching, melancholy BSS stand-out 'Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl', and the peppy Plumtree cut 'Scott Pilgrim', from which Bryan Lee O'Malley took inspiration for his comic's hero, and the book in general.

It straddles the comic/movie divide so very well, showing a tenderness for the property that very few 'music from and inspired by' compilations even consider. Almost like they decided to adapt the book as an album, as much as they were tying in some audio merchandise. It is beautiful, brazen, roughshod, excitable - at once contemporary (Metric's 'Black Sheep' is crystalline stadium electropop) and scruffily, blissfully outmoded (check out the flannel-fuzz on all the Sex Bob-Omb tracks). Throughout, its concert-grin is ever-present; it is very much pleased to see you, and happy to be rocking your ears.

It could only be improved by including a couple of Replacements songs (Ramona's favourite band, be still my heart), and maybe Tom Petty's 'American Girl' - but let's not nitpick. I'll make you a mixtape/CD/Spotify playlist.

In the meantime, I wrote a report from the Scott Pilgrim press conferences, held last week on the afternoon of the film's European premiere, and a mere hour before Bryan Lee O'Malley started a signing at Gosh. I did both, making it a suitably Pilgrim-to-the-max day.

We here at Den Of Geek aren't too perturbed by the lukewarm welcome Scott Pilgrim Vs the World received over in North America. We know the film's good, and suspect that UK and European audiences might be a little more in tune with its mixture of kick-ass style and down-to-earth drama.

We shall soon see, as writer-director Edgar Wright and the cast were recently in London for the flick's continental premiere.

While he was here, we had the chance to sit with the assembled talent in two mini-press conferences, held in Soho. In an overwhelming turnout, we were treated to the precious time of Wright, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Cera, Satya Bhabha and Brandon Routh.

To make things more manageable, the group was split into two, but we've been kind and stapled both together in this handy transcript.

All concerned were clearly knackered from the relentless promotional schedule, but the disarmingly young cast (Wright's a veritable old-timer at 36) were full of pep, and displayed a surprising amount of modesty when faced with rooms full of journos and banks of microphones.

We heard of the intense shoot, the complicated stunts, and just how far they would go for love, as well as finding out why Jason Schwartzman had lipstick smudged on his cheek, and what Michael Cera's favourite YouTube videos are.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

[375] Eli Roth's Top 8 Cult Directors

It is good every now and then to be reminded that you're nowhere near the bottom of the film pile. There's always a niche or a corner you've not explored. So chatting with Eli Roth - a film geek if ever there was one - about his favourite cult directors was an eye-opener. I've only seen films directed by two, and the rest are completely new to me. Now, the challenge is just to find these films on DVD...

With Film4 FrightFest 2010 just around the corner, what better way to get into the mood than to dig through the DVD racks and pull out some niche genre classics? To help us in our search for neglected gems, Eli Roth, director of Hostel, Cabin Fever and producer of FrightFest's closing night film The Last Exorcism, told us about his favourite, under-appreciated genre directors. Click onwards for gore, thrills and silliness as Roth guides us through the cultish underbelly of his pick of world cinema...

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

[374] Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Hands-on and Sam Witwer Interview

I have said before that I'm not very interested in game previews. They're quite hard to sell, creatively. Not a full review and not just a piece of news. Also, the hands-on process itself is odd, especially with narrative-driven games. You play levels out of context, so you experience the game in a very different way from the final product. It didn't work well for Force Unleashed II. But I think the piece is saved by a pretty stellar interview with Sam Witwer.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was a surprise breakout hit back in 2008, bringing to the gaming world a powerful story set in between Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope. Its mixture of God Of War-style action and the devastating force powers of Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice, made the game stand out among the collection of lacklustre titles and sequels that has plagued the franchise over the last five years.

So, it's no surprise that LucasArts has wasted no time in concocting a sequel. Due out in October, Force Unleashed II continues the story of Starkiller and promises to deliver more story and even larger explosions than its predecessor. At a recent preview event in downtown London, we were treated to a polished PowerPoint presentation from producer Cameron Suey, leading us through the main points of the game.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

[373] Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) Review

I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't excited about the Scott Pilgrim movie. I'm a big Edgar Wright fan, and I'm also a passionate devotee of Bryan Lee O'Malley's original comic series. So it would be insincere of me to cover that up.

It didn't disappoint - and I don't mean that in the sense of measuring the film up against my idealised version of the books. I think it is an outstanding film - full of daring, heart and imagination and coupled with the kind of filmmaking clout that this year has been lacking (although, dearie, have the critics and audience tried to place that sort of 'classic' status on other films). It's a dead-cert for my best of year, and a heck of a double bill with Kick Ass - another film that takes comics, genre film and youth culture and does something both fresh and touching. Funny how they're both comic adaptations, and both headed up by British creatives in Hollywood.

I don't give films five-star reviews, especially on the first watch. Scott Pilgrim is the kind of film that is racking up perfect scores from the kind of critics who breathlessly venerate anything that gets their pulse racing. Maybe they're also bristling at the hostile notices from older, stuffier voices. Either way, I'm hesitant - but wouldn't it have been cool to give a one- and a five- star review in the same week?

I wrote this right after the screening, up against a tight deadline. It is also the first time I've written about Scott Pilgrim at all, so I attempt to unpack some of the series' themes, and make a grander statement about what it succeeds in exploring, as a character piece. Apologies if it is at all incoherent.

To say that the comic-to-film adaptation Scott Pilgrim Vs The World has been well marketed would be a modest statement. Thanks to all the trailers, sneak peeks, cheeky cast reveals and secret screenings, not to mention the tweets, tie-in videogame and perfectly-timed release of the series' final volume, the anticipation level among its target audience is off the chart. And it's no surprise, since it's effectively the Twilight or Harry Potter for hip geeks and geeky hipsters.

But where the big screen adaptations of the boy-wizard and girl-who-dates-supernatural-hunks franchises have the luxury of sequel-ready storytelling, Scott Pilgrim takes its six-volume arc and crams it into just under two hours. However, director Edgar Wright is perfect for the job. After all, this tale of twenty-something Torontonians fits right in with the work he has made in the past with collaborator Simon Pegg.

For Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) isn't a million miles away from a Spaced character. He's bumbling through life, using cultural touchstones (games and music, mostly) to shape and define his world. However, whereas the line between reality and fantasy was flexed in Spaced, here, it is broken, as the protagonist starts to date the literal girl of his dreams, a hyper-cool, roller-skating courier called Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). There's just one caveat: Scott has to fight her seven evil exes in spectacular combat before winning her heart.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 13 August 2010

[372] The Last Airbender (2010) Review

I really don't enjoy reviewing bad films. Some people take a perverse pleasure in venting spleen and letting loose all their bitter, entitled issues on what is - let's not forget - entertainment. I prefer to be positive, full of enthusiastic recommendations and thumbs pointed skywards.

But every now and then you have to see The Last Airbender. It is my first one-star review.

While it may not have been his debut feature, M. Night Shyamalan's reputation was made with 1999's twisty chiller The Sixth Sense. And it has been downhill from there. Sure, there may be some debate over the individual qualities of films such as Unbreakable and Signs, but the past decade has seen the director experience a heavily scrutinised creative slump.

So it is baffling that Shyamalan should be given the reins to such a blockbuster-sized epic adventure, but that is exactly what we get with The Last Airbender. Adapted from the similarly-named Nickelodeon cartoon series, this is the story of a boy, Aang (Noah Ringer), gifted with mystical powers and tasked with bringing peace to a chaotic world.

The film's lore is labyrinthine and dull: its society is comprised of four races, each with distinct ties to a certain natural energy, be it fire, water, air or earth. Members of these races can harness the power of each element, 'bending' them to their will. However, the imperialistic Fire nation (who are distinctly Indian-subcontinent in provenance), impose a rule of terror, subjugating the Eskimo-like Water people and the humble Earth folk. In the past, they also exterminated the isolated monks who practised Air-bending. As made clear by the title, Aang is the last one of these, but he is also the fabled Avatar - a reincarnated semi-deity who has power over all elements.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

[371] We Are Words and Pictures Radio

On the sunny Sunday just gone, I took two buses up to North London, and perched at the end of the bar in Wilton's Cafe for just under an hour, speaking into a microphone. I was recording the second episode of the We Are Words + Pictures radio show for London Fields Radio, with kind assistance from producer Sarah Bates.

This is the first episode of my run on WAW+P radio. It is the first time I've been on the air since BurnFM - the Birmingham University radio station - was, fittingly, closed down due to being a fire hazard. Sadly, that had nothing to do with the white-hot jazz, avant-garde classical and experimental music we were playing on our 'Absolutely Free' show.

But I am very excited for this new radio project. It's a cute little station in a cute little cafe, and that dissipates a lot of the tension and pressure that I've experienced in stuffy studios or, worse, recording podcasts in the dead of night.

I'll be incorporating some of my podcast ideas into the show in the future - interviews, reports, maybe some panel discussions and running features. We don't have a regular schedule or anything, but we'll see how it goes.

For the meantime, I did this solo pilot show, talking about what We Are Words + Pictures have done as a collective in the last 4 months. I also make a plug about the upcoming WAW+P picnic, and witter on about a couple of comics and comic-related films that have been holding my interest recently (keywords: Gillen and Ellerby's contribution to CBGB #1, Matt Fraction and Ba/Moon's Casanova, Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim, Joann Sfar's Gainsbourg - vie heroique).

And I play some tunes. Some lovely, lovely tunes.

You can download the show here, you can also read about it and stream from either the We Are Words and Pictures site (with a kind blurb from M.Sheret), or the London Fields Radio site itself. There are also some show notes and related links on their news page.

I should probably say that, yes, I realise I stutter and throw in indistinct vocal fillers all the time (erm). And yes, I seem to credit John Barry with 'The James Bond Theme'. My thirteen year old self resents me for that mistake. I'll improve, I promise.

Any comments and feedback are totally welcome, and encouraged. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

[370] Bruce Feirstein Interview

I'm not convinced about either of the two upcoming James Bond games. A remake of GoldenEye sounds like pure nostalgia, and the original Blood Stone hasn't impressed me yet. But it was nevertheless a pleasure to chat with Bruce Feirstein - a man who has done pretty much everything with words I can think of - about writing for video games.

Even though it looks like there won't be a new James Bond film for some time, 007 fans can find some solace in the two upcoming videogames starring the superspy.

We have already spoken to Bizarre Creations' Neil Thompson, Art Director on Blood Stone (see link at the bottom), but we also had the chance to chat with Bruce Feirstein, an experienced writer who is no stranger to the series, having worked on the screenplays for GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough.

He's penned the script for both Blood Stone and the revamped GoldenEye, so we were dying to ask him how videogames fit into the Bond franchise, how writing a game is different to a film, and how the new GoldenEye has changed in the shift from Brosnan to Craig.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 9 August 2010

[369] Down Terrace (2009) Review

It took me a while to twig, but Down Terrace is co-written and directed by Ben Wheatley, who is a friend of my some-time Internet associate Dom Sutton - and is also a regular commenter on Dom's stellar London Loves Comics blog. Small world.

The film is a corker, by the way. Do yourself a favour: go and see it.

It seems that every couple of months, we're presented with a new, independent, British film, a small-budgeted hopeful that puts a new spin on crime, drugs, and inner-city violence. Be it Harry Brown, Shifty or Shank, these films are getting made, and offer oddly occluded entertainment, halfway between ambition and blandness, edginess and political naivety.

At their best (Shifty), these films are starkly personal. At their worst (the end of Harry Brown, the whole of Shank), it comes off as committee-led Broken Britain bumbling.

And so, into the breach steps Down Terrace, another modestly budgeted crime flick from an up-and-coming filmmaker, namely director/co-writer/editor Ben Wheatley, who graduates from television work with this debut feature.

So far, so similar, but the big difference here is that we get a twisted, bold and fresh film that both impresses and delights. Taking cues from both kitchen sink and gangster genre tropes, Down Terrace focuses on a family living in a pleasant lower middle class house in Brighton.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

[368] Sherlock Interviews: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

So the three-episode run of Sherlock is now finished. Did you like it? I thought it was so-so. No reason why it shouldn't improve with time, though. Anyway, it's a good opportunity to go back and look at the interviews from the set visit a couple of months ago, don't you think? Did it pan out the way they spun it? Here's the roundtable interview with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

We're one day closer to the first episode of Sherlock (Sunday at 9pm on BBC One, if you're lagging behind!), so we're treating you to more material gathered from our set visit back in March.

Today, we have a group interview with the series' stars, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (Holmes and Watson, respectively). The chaps gave us a sizeable chunk of their time between takes on the A Study In Pink shoot, and kindly chatted about their approach to the characters, their appreciation of the Conan Doyle stories, and how Sherlock fits in with a more modern style of policing.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

[367] Goemon (2009) Review

I've been away in Finland, so apologies for the break in service. Also, I came back to find my laptop riddled with a trojan which eventually killed it. So I'm behind, but let's clear out the backlog of recent Den of Geek articles, shall we?

First up, Goemon. A film which, in the end, wasn't released in the cinemas at all. It should be out on DVD soon.

Since when did epic storytelling get so bloody boring? I blame Gladiator, which took heroic set pieces and a grand, historical context, only to force the viewer to wade through overwrought melodrama at the climax. Then take Troy, which sapped the Iliad's godliness in favour of dull humanity, or Robin Hood, Ridley Scott's attempt to retell folklore without a shred of humour or charm.

But it's with a particular sadness that we welcome Goemon, a Japanese film that is nothing but a dull fantasy-historical misfire.

Taking cues from the life of the country's own Robin Hood-like legend, Ishikawa Goemon, writer-director Kiriya Kazuaki paints broad strokes with CG imagery, building up a lavish representation of 16th century Japan.

Against a backdrop of civil war, where various clans tussle for power, Goemon plays the thief, stealing from the rich for the benefit of the poor, both as folk hero entertainment and as a wealth-sharing trickster. In a cheeky opening sequence, Goemon fumbles a job, only to dash across city rooftops during a magnificent fireworks display, with the acrobatic chase eliciting cheers from an enthralled audience.

However, before long, the film's narrative grinds into gear, bringing with it multiple layers of overcomplicated intrigue, conflict and anguish, as Goemon matches pace with grand historical events. Such a shift is to be expected, but it is at the expense of the opening's innocent charm and humour.

Read the full article here.