Thursday, 30 September 2010

[390] Made In Dagenham (2010) Review

Made In Dagenham is the sort of mollified, feel-good movie that makes me despair about the British film industry. Maybe I was a little harsh on it, but sometimes you need to face political hedging with something more determined.

The British film industry really does like charming, nostalgic period pieces, doesn't it? In the last year we've had The Boat That Rocked, Cemetery Junction and An Education, all which, to a certain extent, package up comedy and drama with a knowing representation of the 1960s and 1970s, an era where, if you believe the hype, everything changed. Made In Dagenham, the latest from Calendar Girls director Nigel Cole, is no different.

Here's the hook. It's 1968, and the female machinists at the Dagenham Ford motor car plant aren't happy. A recent pay restructure has classed them as unskilled, guaranteeing them wages well below the rates of their male colleagues. This is clearly unsuitable. So they strike.

Initially uncertain, the women are led by young worker Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins), whose resilience in the face of resistance from the employers, fellow workers, and even husbands, help them to eventually make their mark on British culture, and pave the way for the Equal Pay Act two years later.

There's a hint of a fairy tale in how
Made In Dagenham condenses history, compositing characters and situations, and wrapping it up in a pleasant package. It uses iconography and nostalgia to paint with broad strokes, while squirreling away any real ambiguity, conflict or complications behind picturesque cinematography and charming performances.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

[389] Kevin Feige Web-Conference

I don't like press conferences at the best of times. And, in fact, the ones I enjoy most are usually those where things get completely derailed. I sat in on a relatively long (90 minute) conference with Marvel Studios Producer Kevin Feige this week... on the internet. I'm no stranger to web conferences, but they're odd beasts. Distanced, clinical, like a chat room with one person talking. The last conference I covered, for Prince of Persia, had a chat window where the journalists submitted their questions, and a video feed where Jordan Mechner would mumble at a camera.

We didn't get to see Kevin Feige's mug, instead it was purely text. And we only got to see our own questions, which we submitted, and the pixies on the other end vetted them. I asked about replacing James Rhodes with Don Cheadle, how Marvel Studios are splitting their attentions between managing this Avengers cross-over franchise and smaller flicks like Runaways and Ant-Man, and some of the financial risk in bringing lesser-known characters to the screen. None of my questions (about 6-7 in total) were deemed acceptable. Instead, we had questions about DVD extras, and a very tepid scoop about a potential, maybe-possible, not-confirmed-or-even-fully-conceived-yet Black Widow film. It spread around the net the day after. It's NEWS.

(And it's another opportunity for that crazy commenter to let loose with the conspiracy theory of Scarlett Johansson being 'stolen biological material, taken against will and formed to clones line 200 pieces total'. Amazing.)

Last night, we were able to join a virtual roundtable interview with Marvel Studios head honcho, Kevin Feige. The interview was promoting the upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release of Iron Man 2, and, from what Feige was saying, there's going to be plenty to look forward to there.

However, inevitably he was pushed on some other Marvel projects, and here, we bring you a collection of things that he was asked about. Questions were coming in from across the globe, from what we could tell, and here were the best of them....

On making
Iron Man 2...

Can you talk about the balance between real effects and CGI ... how critical is that to the success of a superhero film?

The combination of practical and visual effects is very important. Jon [Favreau] is very sensitive to shots in which the camera work is done at impossible speeds and impossible angles. Our CGI vendors became very astute at what we call 'favreauvean' shots, which contain those imperfections that make even a full CGI shot seem practical.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 24 September 2010

[388] Goldeneye 007 Wii Preview-Interview

Sometimes, interviews just don't go well. I think I'm lucky in that, recently, I've had a streak of comfortable interview experiences. Some have actually been brilliant, interesting, and fun. I knew the one for the new Goldeneye Wii remake wasn't going to go so well as soon as I sat down - and banged the back of my head on the corner of the May Fair Hotel Penthouse suite's mantelpiece. Ouch.

My recording of the interview begins with a dull thud, followed by a kind 'oh, are you okay?' from both interviewee - Dawn Pinkney, producer of the game - and PR representative. I was fine, I thought. Halfway through our allotted time, I forgot where I was, and lost my train of thought.

You wouldn't know that from the finished article, though! It's not bad at all. Now let's never speak of it again.

When I spoke to Bruce Feirstein back in August, I was a little confused as to exactly why Activision were rebooting the N64 shooter GoldenEye 007 on the Wii. It seemed like a cash-in, translating console-based FPS nostalgia into mountains of profit for all concerned. Like 2010’s cinema remakes of The A-Team, The Karate Kid and Nightmare On Elm Street, there seemed to be little impetus behind the game other than brand recognition.

Indeed, it wouldn’t even be
GoldenEye, as Feirstein explained that they were ‘refreshing’ the story for 15 years on, changing plot points to better reflect the 21st Century as opposed to the back end of the 20th. And besides, the shift from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig as Bond has made it all the more necessary.

However, I was surprised, as I went along to the preview event in London recently, and was treated to a short presentation session by the developers from Eurocom and hands-on with both the single and multi-player aspects of the game. This new
GoldenEye isn’t half-arsed.

The presentation stressed that it had assembled a 125-person team - reportedly a large number for a Wii title - and set its sights firm on the console’s under-nourished shooter genre. In the process, it's updating the title to include gameplay innovations and stylistic quirks from the last 13 years, creating something contemporary despite the retro appeal. On offer for preview was the opening level, the dam at Arkhangelsk, and it was chock-full of the sort of cinematic flourishes that flesh out an entry in the
Call Of Duty franchise.

While the level design tickles the distant memory of the N64 iteration, it has been expanded to include new set-pieces. You start, guided by the Alec Trevelyan (not Sean Bean in this version, and appearing earlier than in the film), poised behind cover, waiting for your mark to grab and punch the lights out of a passing guard. No slappers here.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

[387] Blood Stone 007 Preview-Interview

To be totally honest, I'm still not convinced about Bizarre Creations' new James Bond game, Blood Stone. I even got to play a little of it, and I don't know what to expect. However, I love chatting with developers, and Peter Collier was great to talk to. So that's something! Read on, Macduff.

As you probably already know, this autumn Activision is readying two new James Bond games, which should effectively fill the gap left by the still-unconfirmed follow-up to Quantum Of Solace. On Wii, they’re rebooting the classic N64 shooter GoldenEye, while the other home consoles and PC are getting Blood Stone 007, an adventure-shooter-driving mash-up developed by Merseyside’s own Bizarre Creations.

In the posh penthouse of a Mayfair hotel, a legion of journos were treated to a short presentation and hands-on with both games. Regarding
Blood Stone, the broad strokes are still the same, as Ryan reported back in July.

The game is an original production, featuring a strong cast of voice talent (Daniel Craig, Judi Dench), a story penned by Bruce Feirstein (who we interviewed not too long ago), and other Bond touchstones such as a bombastic theme tune written by Dave Stewart and Joss Stone (who also stars as the game’s own Bond girl, Nicole Hunter).

The game harnesses action on a global scale, mixing up both over-the-shoulder and driving segments to best place the player in the shoes of Craig’s incarnation of the suave super-spy. The key terms at play in the creation of
Blood Stone, popping up throughout the mini-presentation and overheard during idle conversation, included ‘visceral’, ‘brutal’ and ‘physical’.

The developers took great delight in highlighting the game’s take-down system, with a plethora or grisly animations modelled by stuntman Ben Cooke. Players are rewarded for these stealthy take-downs with quick-fire Focus Aim shots. There’s plenty of cover and, despite in this case being mostly bereft of gadgets, Bond is equipped with a super-versatile smart phone, which reads the environment, and calls up information on what weapons guards are carrying and how aware they are that there’s a half-monk, half-hitman in their midst.

This all sounded a little bit like
Splinter Cell: Conviction, but then we were privy to an intense showdown between Bond and the big baddie on the side of a dam set deep in the Burmese jungle. Typically, the fight’s not very fair - Bond’s got his silenced pistol, and his nemesis is in an attack helicopter. That’s until you spot a crane...

Read the full article here.

Monday, 20 September 2010

[386] WAW+P Radio #3: BFF-FM With Philippa Rice

My second episode - the third overall - of We Are Words + Pictures Radio is now up for your listening pleasure. This week, I'm thrilled to have Philippa Rice as the show's guest/co-host. Her comic My Cardboard Life is lovely, and I'm starting feel that the show is taking shape.

You can stream the show either from our esteemed patrons at London Fields Radio, or from the We Are Words and Pictures site. Or you can download it here.

I thought we packed a lot in. Cheeky little interview segments, some chat about webcomics, Team Fortress 2 and the Birmingham Zine Festival. Comics news talking about Kieron Gillen, Orbital Comics' Becky Cloonan Exhibition and the Left 4 Dead comic. And some discussion about recent comics films (Tamara Drewe and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, follow those links to my reviews), and two recommendations.

I'd like to have the recommendations as a recurring segment, with a little back-and-forth with the guest about them. This episode, we recommend Joe List's Freak Leap, and we pick apart the new issue of the anthology Whores of Mensa.

Also, Philippa provided over half the playlist, which turned out to be both a bit varied and a little idiosyncratic. If you want to check the tracks out, I've created a Spotify playlist here.

1. Initials B.B – Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra
2. Plastic Man – The Kinks
3. Brainiac’s Daughter – Dukes of Stratosphear
4. A Real Woman – Squarepusher
5. Make Your Own Kind of Music – Mama Cass
6. Sweet Blindness – Laura Nyro
7. Green Light – Beyonce
8. Paper Doll – Mills Brothers
9. Scott Pilgrim – Plumtree
10. Hoedown At Alice’s – Steve Martin

I discuss this in the show, but I still haven't settled on an alternative title for the series. Maybe it's best not to, and to give each episode a unique subtitle, corresponding to the special guest. Therefore, as Philippa was a most ardent supporter of the 'BFF-FM' moniker, I thought it best that her episode bear that name. (The above cap is from Oxford Dictionaries.)

As always, comments and feedback of either positive or negative variety would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to Philippa for appearing on the show, and thanks to super-producer Sarah Bates for making us sound good.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

[385] Adam McKay Interview

I prefer talking to writers and directors than to actors. They seem to talk more openly, and have a little more to say about the film. Such is the case with Adam McKay. Even though at the junket I saw Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg scoot down the corridor of the Soho Hotel, I wasn't jealous. Besides, I didn't think The Other Guys was that good, and instead I wanted to talk to McKay about some of the implications of the movie, such as the spoofy approach to action, and the political undercurrent to the narrative (the latter of which very few reviewers have touched on). He was honest about the film's flaws, and generally very easy to talk to. I think this is one of my favourite interviews.

The Other Guys, the action comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as second-string detectives in the NYPD, starts off as a pleasant, gag-laden farce, spoofing the genre with over-the-top stunts and a cheeky undermining of old-school heroics. The two leads, as we meet them, are desk-bound losers who handle the mountains of paperwork generated by the city’s law enforcement superstars, portrayed in stand-out cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson with eye-brows fully cocked.

That’s at first. For once the protagonists stumble on their big case - a multi-billion dollar financial coup - the references to the Federal Reserve, Goldman Sachs and Wall Street start flying, and it's obvious that there is something else at play.

The end credits blow open this subtext, unfurling the film’s themes with bold animated infographics of corporate greed.

There’s certainly a lot to unpack, so when we sat down with director/co-writer Adam McKay (a friendly, fast-talking gentleman who, after being head writer on
Saturday Night Live, also collaborated with Will Ferrell on Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers), we were sure to ask not only about the film’s genesis and his approach to action film direction, but to get his insight on these two issues central to The Other Guys.

Has irony destroyed action entertainment? And, likewise, what place does economic discourse have in a Will Ferrell movie? Let's find out...

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

[384] David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema

The Sense charity shop on Walworth Road is usually home to yellowing copies of Aquaman and dusty old vacuum cleaners, but the other week I spotted this in the window.

A copy of David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema. The first edition, in fact, from 1975. It's a mighty 600-page tome, structured like an objective, alphabetical resource - but phrased with wit and critical specificity. When I was at Sight & Sound, it was voted one of the top five most influential film books. Author Geoff Dyer dedicated his five slots to the Dictionary and its subsequent, re-jigged editions (from 1981, 1994, 2002, and another this year), saying :

I’m sure some future scholar will produce an admirable thesis comparing the changes in – and evolution of – what has come to be, along with everything else, a vicarious and incremental autobiography. In that context, even Thomson’s diminishing interest in cinema – or current cinema at any rate – becomes a source of fascination. The Dictionary is not only an indispensable book about cinema, but one of the most absurdly ambitious literary achievements of our time. It deserves a shelf to itself.

Well, as I only have this one edition, I'm stuck with merely an 'indispensable book about cinema'. It set me back £1.85. Madness. I thought I'd root through it and pick out a relevant entry to post here - and of course my first choice was Woody Allen. By 1975, he'd released a handful of his 'earlier, funnier' movies (Bananas, Sleeper, Love and Death), and was only 2 years away from Annie Hall. Thomson's not interested in him at this point.

Tomorrow I'm going to a press screening of From Here to Eternity, released in reprinted form by Park Circus. I haven't seen the film before, but it stars one of my favourite actresses, Deborah Kerr. I looked her up in the Dictionary, and was a little disappointed to see Thomson gloss over her roles in Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus - two classic films of British cinema. He takes a keen interest in Eternity, though, opening the entry with this knotted, cheeky paragraph:

The story goes that the turning point of Deborah Kerr's career came when she was cast, against all expectation, as the lusting wife in From Here To Eternity. This meant an energetic roll on the beach with Burt Lancaster, but it still left a rather more restrained woman than James Jones [the source novel's author] had intended. She also suggested that the American army in Honolulu was incongruously comforted by memsahibs. Deborah Kerr was then, has always been and still is true blue.

Memsahib isn't even in the spell-check dictionary for Blogger. This is going to be fun.

More on From Here To Eternity later.

Friday, 10 September 2010

[383] Tamara Drewe (2010) Review

In a way, the Tamara Drewe film was welcomed with more apprehension than the comparatively more-loved Scott Pilgrim adaptation. Maybe it's the fault of the trailer, which looks a little frothy and twee. The film is good, impeccably cast and well adapted, flipping many of the stylistic traits of the book - which worked in the more contemplative form - and making it a more compelling moving image. In the process it creates its own problems, of course, but it has its own genius.

Gemma Arteton and I were born in the same year. This makes me feel strange.

It's been a prime year for left of centre comic adaptations, and Tamara Drewe continues the trend. Adapted from the serial by Posy Simmonds which initially appeared in The Guardian, the film stars Gemma Arterton as a bombshell journalist, who, returning to her rural Dorset hometown after success in London, kicks up a bit of an amorous storm.

Set in the fictional Dorsetshire village of Ewedon, the film opens with sun-drenched landscapes of rural exotica: shots of rolling fields, clumps of trees, and masses of livestock. Before long, a striking yellow Mini pulls up, pelted by eggs thrown by youngsters. Out steps Tamara, spitting at no-one in particular, "What a dump."

After her mother's death, she is back to sort out the house she left behind and soon becomes entangled in the local writer's retreat, owned by esteemed thriller writer/serial philanderer Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam, with a Hitchens-like swagger) and his wife Beth (Tamsin Greig).

"Far from the madding crowd", the retreat's newspaper ad reads, cheekily hinting at the book's Hardian inspiration, and its promise of solace has attracted a varied brood of authors, including American academic Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp). But with Drewe's intrusion, and her blazing love affair with wildchild rock star Ben (a grungy Dominic Cooper), the village's humble equilibrium is completely obliterated.

Read the full article here.

[382] 10 films to look out for at Raindance

This week has been a heavy one for launches. Yesterday was the launch of the London Film Festival, and the day before was the press event for the Raindance Film Festival - the LFF's hipper, rougher cousin. I covered both for Den of Geek, and decided to approach it in suitably bloggy style, picking out ten or so films to check out. I will be doing a similar piece for the LFF, probably next week, but I bet it will be longer.

Interestingly, it seems I am the first Den of Geek writer to bring to our readers' attentions A Serbian Film. I'm not sure I like having that honour, but it inspired some healthy discussion in the article's comments. As with any controversy-attracting film, it's a shame that the other films in the list didn't garner as much attention.

Coming up at the end of the month is the Raindance Film Festival, London's showcase for the world's most promising independent and low-budget cinema. Now in its 18th year, Raindance is boasting a line-up of 77 would-be breakout flicks, most of which are receiving their UK premieres.

With strands dedicated to documentaries, Japanese cinema, and homegrown British films, as well as awards given for the best debut, microbudget, UK and international features (to be judged by, amongst others, Charles Saatchi, Julian Barratt, Dave McKean and Lemmy), there's certainly a lot on offer for the discerning cinephile. Luckily for you, we've combed the programme and come up with 10 films that have impressed us with bold concepts, or baffled us with their barminess.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

[381] 5-ish 'uncommon' films

I received a message from an acquaintance the other day. A friend-of-a-friend from my university days - a film buff (Hi Tim!). He asked me, after some mild pleasantries, if I could recommend to him '5 movies that are a bit more uncommon that you've seen, as I'd like to watch some different movies.' Gosh. That's tough. 5 different movies? I scribbled down a list - coming close to twenty potentials, and eventually chopped it down a little. Here's part of my reply:

I'm not sure I could narrow it down to 5, so here are 9 (well, a little more than that) 'different' films. I've left out films that I have reviewed on my blog or any of the places for which I write, but you can always have a look through the archive if none of the below are to your tastes. Oh, they're all either from this year, or I saw them for the first time in the last 8 months.

I've pasted the selections below, with my casual little blurbs. I'd like to think there are one or two odd, different, interesting films in there. No real mainstream flicks, only one American film, lots of European/art-house/documentary choices. The kind of stuff I get criticised for praising over at Den of Geek.

Radio On

There is a great BFI DVD of this film, which is the debut feature film from British director Chris Petit. He's gone on to make some very essayistic work in the 30-odd years since, but this one is a bit of a UK resetting of the road movie genre, but with a gloomy late-70s melancholy around it. The opening sequence, which is just one long take – shot using one of the first steadicam rigs used in the country – is quite brilliant, with David Bowie's 'Heroes/Helden' blaring out in the background. The rest of the film is built around a trip from London to Bristol, soundtracked by Kraftwerk tapes, and characterised by a Kraut-Brit culture clash. It is arty, intelligent and quite fresh, showing a different kind of British film – without any of the kitchen sink or urban gangster trappings.

Io sono l'amore (I Am Love)

This is such a cinematic feast. Tilda Swinton is devastating in any role, but here she is so impressive, playing a Russian-born housewife in an upper-class Italian family. What initially starts as a family drama soon spirals out as she is given emotional, sensual emancipation by her son's business partner, a chef. It's shot wonderfully, with a real verve, and the music (all hyper-kinetic John Adams pieces) fits it wonderfully – very passionate and driving. This is out on DVD in September, I believe.

Still Walking / After Life

Kore-eda Hirokazu is my discovery of the year. I went to see Still Walking when it was out at the cinemas in January, and I liked it so much that I wrote a big, fat MA piece on his work. Still Walking is a great family piece, with a very tender, naturalistic approach to the setting, but After Life is his masterpiece. It's a mixture of documentary-like film style, and a high concept approach – where a bunch of people arrive at a dusty old building, and are informed that they are dead, and they must choose one cherished memory to take with them to the great beyond. It's so powerful, and immensely thought-provoking.

sleep furiously / Etre et Avoir

Two great documentaries I saw very close to each other, that have some similarities. sleep furiously is set in rural Wales, and looks at this small community that is on the decline. The local school is about to be closed, and other local services like buses and shops have already disappeared. One of the only things left is a traveling library, which is our point of view on this old community which lives among some of the UK's most striking landscape. Etre et Avoir was released a couple of years earlier, and it's sort of a French counterpart. It's much more heartwarming, though, as it focuses on a rural French primary school – where one teacher handles pupils of all ages in one big classroom. It's very meditative, but it's another good film that manages to capture a small community, and communicate a lot of its charm and character.

For All Mankind

Another documentary. It's a great one, especially if you're a fan of space. It is a collage film, made up of footage taken from NASA's Apollo space programme, and backed by audio interviews. You see, the astronauts were given cameras with which to document their journeys, and it's just astounding to see in movement. Little things make it fascinating, like the astronauts messing around with torches and cassette players in the zero gravity, or the candid conversation between them and mission control. Also the soundtrack, by Brian Eno and other collaborators, is pure star-gazing ambience.


This is the oddest film I've seen this year. It's a dark, surreal pseudo-comedy, I suppose, based around a Greek family that are living cut off from mainstream society. The father and mother have raised their kids within the confines of their house and little plot of land – telling them cautionary stories of the outside world and keeping them in line with routine. It's a very effective little mind-bender, which takes a proper look at how parenting can essentially be tyranny.

Double Take

A delightfully arty collage movie that is, mainly, about Alfred Hitchcock. It ties together a pretty Borgesian story, about Hitchcock having a meeting with his future self while shooting The Birds, with various other strands that comment on art and culture. Lots of imagery and subtext about doubles and opposites – with the main one being the Cold War, as Hitchcock's films are set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the rivalries between Nixon/Kennedy and Khrushchev. It quite eloquently, and gently, draws a parallel between the thrilling plots of Hitchcock's movies and the conflict-less war between the two world powers – the Cold War as a MacGuffin in order to stimulate progress and invention such as the Arms Race, the Space Race, and the rise of living standards and consumerism. Plus it's really cheeky, messing with archive footage of Hitchcock from his introductions for his TV show and contemporary adverts for instant coffee, and adding in short segments with a modern-day Hitch impersonator. It's a nice little thought-provoking, enigmatic film.

Le tourneuse de pages (The Page Turner)

A disarming, sublime slow-burn of a revenge thriller. Deborah Francois is beautiful and unnerving as an obsessed girl who decides to ruin the life of a concert pianist. It's so slowly-paced, and built on such minute movements, as she insinuates herself into the family and started to subtly chip away at the foundations. A very tightly plotted 85 minutes.

A Tale of Two Sisters

This isn't a new film at all, in fact it was remade into a less successful American film a couple of years back. But A Tale of Two Sisters is a fabulous Korean horror film – a masterclass in creeping terror. It takes a haunted house story, and mixes it up with psychological elements, as two sisters are brought out of a mental home, and back to the country house where their father lives with his new wife. It's filled with very mundane scares – things hiding under the sink, or in bedroom cupboards – but it's photographed superbly, and directed with an ominous sense of pacing. Plus, it develops quite a dramatic weight as it goes along – resonating with feelings of mourning, angst and loss. So that it's actually quite touching, as well as terrifying.

Monday, 6 September 2010

[380] Certified Copy (2010) Review

I've been a bit quiet recently. University work took over for a couple of weeks, as I worked on a huge, two-part report on Sight & Sound's online strategy and my time at the magazine. I'd love to publish it, to get some eyes on it, but I doubt I'd be allowed.

I'll try to get back to blogging this month. But in the meantime, have a review of the new Abbas Kiarostami film.

Finally gracing British shores after cooking up some sizable buzz at Cannes is this intriguing piece from Iranian arthouse superstar, Abbas Kiarostami. His first feature-length fiction since the Palme d'Or nominated Ten back in 2002, Certified Copy stars Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, in what is a subtly experimental take on erudite romance.

From watching the film's trailer, you would be forgiven for expecting a Mediterranean love story, with Binoche as a French art dealer who whisks away a smarmy British author, James Miller (Shimell), on a tour around balmy, sun-kissed rural Tuscany.

This isn't entirely true, as it soon develops into what, at first, seems to be a middle-aged spin on Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise / Before Sunset. She is giddy and he is distant, but their conversation blooms as they talk about Miller's latest book, a treatise on art and authenticity. He offers a broadside on the objective qualities of great works, and the book's implications trouble her. It asks: is there such thing as inherent value in a culture of mass production? What makes something genuine? Who decides? And besides, is the term 'original', as a marker of quality, irrelevant?

Read the full article here.