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!