Thursday, 27 January 2011

[434] McSweeney's 36

My new friend from McSweeneyville, USA, arrived this morning. I welcomed him in the Hawaiian style.

This dashing, Clark Gable-like chap is McSweeney's 36, the latest volume in that wildly inspiring quarterly anthology. It's a box! With stuff in! Including... Short fiction! A screenplay! An unfinished novel by Michael Chabon! Journalism on the student political prisoners in Burma! A two-act play! Postcards! So much to pick through. Just watch the video below.

I can't wait to sink into this. McSweeney's - besides displaying amazing flair with their presentation - have a real dedication to all forms of the written word, so there's always something fresh and inspiring to look at. You can read more about it here. Amazon has a pretty good deal on it (in fact, it arrived only a day after despatch, despite me going for Super Saver Delivery), and, Londoners, I believe that Gosh still have some in stock.

Or, if you want to, you can criticise my untidy desk, or disorganised bookshelves. Please yourselves!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

[433] Melting Walkman: Prime Smiths Primer

A friend recently told me that he didn't know much about The Smiths, but liked what he'd heard - 'This Charming Man', 'How Soon Is Now', and so on. So, within the hour, I'd made him a playlist. I called it 'Melting Walkman: Prime Smiths Primer'.

It was the first time I've listened to The Smiths in any depth for quite a while, and approaching them from a guitar perspective (said friend is a real shred-head, and we're currently swapping speed metal recommendations on Spotify) was quite enlightening.

Any moments of traditional guitar dickery - like the guitar solo in 'Paint A Vulgar Picture', or the harmonised guitar work out towards the end of 'Shoplifters of the World...' - are brief. Instead we're cursed with the riches of Johnny Marr's tasteful, melodic and versatile rhythm playing. I suppose the greatest surprise from the whole endeavour is remembering how 'rock' The Smiths songs are, despite their strange double-edged reputation as literate, fey 'indie' popsters.

It also reminded me that I've not made any straight-up mixes for a long time. But, hell, I used to make loads. They're quite fascinating time capsules. Not in a general sense, because it's not like I've had any great drifts in my music taste - but in the little details, the odd unique tracks that I was obviously main-lining at the time, despite not developing a further interest in the artist in question.

Take Raymonde's 'No One Can Hold A Candle To You', a track I discovered on an NME covermount CD from 2004, called Songs To Save Your Life, with tracks chosen by Morrissey himself. In fact, the tune was such a Smiths rip-off, that he covered it live on the tour that year. I prefer the original, though.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

[432] Vincent Cassel Interview

Here is the last of the Black Swan interviews, capping off quite a busy week. I was hoping to do a couple of proper blog posts, but a lot of extra work came up at the last minute. So I'll get round to talking about comics and whatnot in the next week.

In the meantime - here is the most charming Frenchman I've ever met.

Vincent Cassel is one smooth operator. Back in October, at the London Film Festival, all the journalists gathered at the roundtable interview we attended were thoroughly charmed by his suave manner and gently frank sense of humour. It's these positive qualities that resound even in Cassel's darkest, most complex roles, from the volatile Parisian street punk Vinz in La Haine, to the international criminal Jacques Mesrine.

Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's psycho-thriller of obsession, madness and ballet, Cassel stars as the manipulative, yet still dashing, director who pushes Natalie Portman's dancer towards perfection. With this in mind, we asked Cassel about his relationship with directors, his background in dancing and the experience of working in both French and American film industries.

Read the full interview here.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

[431] Get Low (2010) Review

Despite all the activity, this is only my second review of the year so far. Get Low isn't bad at all, and it's helped me discover the hat I've always wanted - the homburg. So for that I am deeply grateful.

Get Low's concept is simple, rich, and immediately intriguing. In 1930s Tennessee, a small town is surprised when an old hermit (Robert Duvall) breaks his 40 year self-imposed exile to announce, quite oddly, that he is planning to hold his own funeral party while still alive. Everyone from the surrounding area is invited, and they are encouraged to share their various stories of this near-mythical local figure.

This setup alone speaks volumes, and hints at a narrative of some resonance, picking up on the transition between old and new America, the quirky, homespun folklore that made up its oral history, and the founding legends which define its identity. After all, that 40 year time period brought with it the popular rise of electricity, motor cars, telephones and radio, tools which would supplant the old traditions, and serve the United States well on its ascent to world power.

It's, sadly, an anticipation that
Get Low, directed by debut feature filmmaker, Aaron Schneider, does not satisfy. Instead of playing on the stage of folk epic, like There Will Be Blood, we get a tale of tragedy and mystery.

Robert Duvall imbues the reclusive Felix Bush with a wonderful idiosyncrasy, as he at first revels in the hearsay that permeates the town. Yet, his manner belies deep-set emotional scars. The initial interest in the various stories and tall tales that have sprung up around his life (some say he killed a whole family, young children included. Some know no details, but are certain it was a horrible crime he committed), is soon replaced by the film pursuing the truth behind his mournful stare, giving the film a sort of gentle inevitability, replacing a larger sense of poetry with a more literal approach.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

[430] Roger Michell Interview

No fireworks today, but I like this interview a lot. I didn't love Morning Glory, so decided to just ask director Roger Michell about his craft. What ensued was, I think, a rather casual, interesting conversation. Sometimes it's just nice to hear about the proper process of filmmaking, and Michell certainly gave us an insight into that. What do you think?

For the last 20 years, Roger Michell has been directing for both television and cinema, working on both sides of the Atlantic on projects such as Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, The Mother, Enduring Love and Venus.

Out this week is his new film,
Morning Glory, the ‘rom-job-com' which stars Rachel McAdams as an ambitious young television producer who is tasked with turning around the performance of morning news show, Daybreak, and features strong support from the likes of Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton and Jeff Goldblum.

We had the chance to chat with Michell about the art of directing, the trouble with genres, and the best way to treat Hollywood movie stars...

Read the full interview here.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

[429] Mila Kunis Interview

As expected, Mila Kunis was both utterly charming and pretty damn cool. However, after yesterday's controversial, scooperiffic interview with Darren Aronofsky, it's a bit of a step down. Thankfully, I edited out the bit where she referred to Max Payne as a 'first-person shooter'. I'd like to think she owes me one - those geeks would have eaten her alive.

Best known for her long-term roles in Family Guy and That 70s Show, and turning heads in films such as Max Payne and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Mila Kunis' appearance in Black Swan has opened her up to a new kind of attention.

Her performance as Lily, the extroverted, ambiguously-drawn rival to Natalie Portman's ballerina, bagged her the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice Film Festival, as well as a Supporting Actress nomination at the Golden Globes.

Back at the London Film Festival, we sat in on a roundtable interview with Kunis, chatting about the odd circumstances which led her to
Black Swan, the enduring appeal of Family Guy, and where she sees her career going in the future.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

[428] Darren Aronofsky Interview

It wasn't until way after this interview had finished, that it hit me - I'd just interviewed one of my favourite directors. Requiem For A Dream was a huge influence on my teenage film consumption, and Pi is an all-time favourite. Black Swan was a highlight of the London Film Festival for me, so I'm glad it's finally out, so others can see it.

I kept my cool, though, and this roundtable interview is pretty good. Easily the best I've been a part of so far, probably because, beforehand, we were open about our various angles and questions, and what we wanted, so we didn't trip over each other too much. So I got to ask my questions about Method acting and directing, and others asked theirs. It gelled well.

I also like it, because it's a very specific kind of museum piece. We knew Aronofsky was set to direct The Wolverine, but even though we'd gently moved towards the topic, he wasn't telling us anything. That the official statement came a couple of weeks later, gives this a fascinating dimension, in my mind.

For others, though, the fascination comes from a minor comment about a project he might be making into a comic, or the potential for his Batman script to become a comic miniseries. Thanks to the dull nature of the written word, some geek sites have interpreted his statement in various ways - including JoBlo going so far as to take it as Aronofsky announcing his involvement in the fourth new-Batman movie. Bizarre.

Read it yourself, see what you think.

After months of waiting, Black Swan is finally here. And, in an odd quirk of interview scheduling and embargoing, we have this roundtable chat with director Darren Aronofsky, from back in October, when the dark, ballet-themed psychological horror screened at the London Film Festival. Back then, anticipation for the film was still building after its well-received premiere at Venice, and the film's American release, and the score of accolades that came at the end of 2010, was still some time off.

However, most curiously, it was Aronofsky's career that provided the most mystery for our assembled journos. See, a couple of days earlier, Hugh Jackman had confirmed Aronofsky's involvement in what is now titled
The Wolverine, although the project, which would see the director tackling both a major franchise and a Hollywood-sized budget for the first time, was still left unannounced by studio sources.

We were still a month away from Fox's official statement on the matter, but things seemed certain. Which left us puzzled when, after Aronofsky talked us through his career in financially-risky 'tough sell' movies, and his potential plans for making a 'safe bet' film in the future, he stopped conversation dead in its tracks when Wolverine was mentioned.

Thankfully, this derailing was only a minor issue, and before long we were in full flight, talking about the troubles marketing
Black Swan, the world of ballet on film, and the importance of Clint Mansell's score to the finished work.

That one upcoming project aside, Aronofsky proved an eloquent, opinionated, and wholly chatty interviewee, also letting us in on his future plans for the medium of comics, as well as giving us a pragmatic take on the 'Method' school of acting.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

[427] Den of Glory

Is Morning Glory a 'geek' film? I interviewed director Roger Michell last week, and the question didn't come up once. Then we heard about this...

Shot at my local tube station, Elephant & Castle, but I also saw it all across the Piccadilly line in central London. Well done, Geekers, and Ron, too.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

[426] Ryan Gosling Interview

I liked Blue Valentine a lot, and I am now a fully-converted fan of Ryan Gosling, so it was fun to sit in on a roundtable interview with the man. After being surprised at how chatty and effusive Colin Firth turned out to be, Gosling was exactly as I'd expected: intense and quiet, choosing his words carefully.

Press junkets often involve a lot of waiting, and the roundtable interview for Blue Valentine we attended in December was no different. However, our interviewee, Ryan Gosling, had what we deemed a valid excuse. You see, that morning he'd received a call from the States. His performance in the film, as Dean, one half of a doomed romance, had landed him a Golden Globe nomination.

So, you can guess what the first question was about. But things soon opened up, as Gosling, every bit as intense and thoughtful as his on-screen personae, chatted with us about the curse of an NC-17 rating in the States, the unconventional shooting process with co-star Michelle Williams and writer/director Derek Cianfrance, and how he needs to take a break from heart-rending independent drama.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 14 January 2011

[425] The 10 Most Under-Appreciated Movies of 2010

In the midst of essay horrors, I was asked to contribute to Den of Geek's feature regarding films from 2010 that didn't find their audience, or were unduly under-appreciated. It's a good list, and I'm looking forward to checking out the five on the list that I didn't get to see last year. 2010 was definitely a year of 'must-see' films, even if many seem to be touting it as an underwhelming year. The fact is, there are plenty of gems outside of the obvious top 5s or 10s.

I wrote little sections on Tamara Drewe and Down Terrace, in a post-essay haze at about 2am. I'll excerpt them below, but make sure you read the full article as well.

2010 wasn't too kind on comic book movies, with only Kick-Ass managing to unite find both box office success and critical acclaim. However, Tamara Drewe showed us an alternative world that lay beyond superheroics.

Adapted from the serialised strip in the Guardian, created by Posy Simmonds, Tamara Drewe was directed by Stephen Frears, and starred Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam and Tamsin Greig, making it a real surprise that it didn't ensnare the literate, middle class audience it so effectively captured in its tragicomic tale of racing pulses in a rural writer's retreat.

Sure, its tone is a little muddled at times, especially in the broad caricaturing of Dominic Cooper's boisterous rock star boyfriend, but we dare you to resist the film's secret weapons, the bitchy teens played to high-pitched perfection by Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie, who look on Drewe's escapades with a mixture of extreme jealousy and hopeless, wide-eyed aspiration.


So, Monsters was the low-budget, Brit-indie smash of the year. A deserved well done to Gareth Edwards and all involved, but we were seriously gunning for Down Terrace to experience a similar sort of breakthrough.

From veteran TV director Ben Wheatley, this feature debut mixed up gangster cliches with a wonderfully dour Brighton setting, playing out the disintegration of a family alongside the decline of their nefarious business, which, all too fittingly, involved running a local boozer with a profitable sideline in selling junk on eBay.

It was a joy to see familiar faces in disarming roles, such as Michael Smiley's unlikely hitman, or Julia Deakin's unnervingly callous matriarch.

But it's the film's central pair, a father-son duo that is as odd as they come, that stood out, as 30-something Karl attempts to wiggle out from under his dad's thumb. Which would be tough going in any typical mafioso epic, but with Bill, whose drug-frazzled youth has given way to wildly erratic behaviour, from impromptu blues jams to the out-of-the-blue pronouncement "Hey, I'm God!", things are, understandably, a little trickier.

Down Terrace deserved better.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

[424] Colin Firth + Tom Hooper Interview

Here you go, here's the blighter. The article that spawned a whole discussion about what makes a geek. It seems immaterial now, as everyone seems to love The King's Speech, irrespective of their membership of the geek community. Read on, I like this interview - first of the year, and plenty more to come. Have at you, 2011!

Anticipation for The King's Speech has been steadily building since its premiere back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. There, it won the coveted Audience Award and later in the year it swept the British Independent Film Awards, and now, at the start of the new year, it is tipped for Golden Globe, Oscar and BAFTA success.

We're not surprised, what with the film filling many awards fodder prerequisites, being a period-set character drama that brings together themes of monarchy, disability and even a hint of World War 2 under the yoke of a brilliant cast, as Colin Firth's Prince Albert (and soon-to-be King George VI) consults unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) for help with his stammer.

Thankfully, the film is also terrific, and the roundtable interview we attended last month, with star Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper, provided much food for thought. Both spoke eloquently about the film's representation of stammering, the Royal family and history itself, while Hooper highlighted the differences (or lack of difference) between feature-length and television drama. And Firth, would you believe it, that elegant gent, dropped a
Rocky IV reference. Priceless.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 7 January 2011

[423] Big Essay Zombie

I'm over the hump with this essay, which has morphed into looking at how specialist film distribution companies use a mixture of new media and old-school 'IRL' events to build audiences, engage with various subcultures and create a brand identity. I'm focusing mainly on Terracotta Distribution and Third Window, two labels who handle the distribution of some fantastic East Asian films in the UK.

I'd heard of the Terracotta Film Festival, which is held at the Prince Charles Cinema (which is probably my favourite cinema at the moment), but first came across the two companies in the flesh at the MCM Expo. Both of them, headed by Adam Torel (Third Window) and Joey Leung (Terracotta), make a good go at breaking down the distance between distributor, audience, and critic, and they've found quite an interesting alternative to mainstream promotion in the process. Check their use of Twitch as an announcement platform, or their strong links with the Coventry University East Asian Film Society and Zipangufest, or how they appear on podcasts or Youtube video interviews.

There's plenty to talk about, especially in relation to Henry Jenkins' studies of participatory and convergence culture, where the rise of the web, and decline in old media, now dictates that media producers must collaborate and co-operate with the wider community, and that, equally, the opportunities of the Internet allow fans to take control themselves, to create their own platforms for discussion and dissemination.

But also, there's good, old-fashioned cult entertainment, like with Terracotta's regular screenings of their 2010 schlock-smash Big Tits Zombie, held at the Prince Charles. Audience members were encouraged to turn up in costume, and enjoy the film in the true spirit of grindhouse kitsch.

Therefore it pains me that this image might not make the final cut.

The essay is due in on Monday, so I will get it in before then, and will probably upload it in full sometime later this month.

[422] The King's Speech (2010) Review

I've barely left the house all week, working on this essay. I did, however, spare some time to write this review of The King's Speech. A good way to start the new year.

Just how relevant are the Royal family, anyway? On the one hand, you have the Prince of Wales' car being smeared with paint, which some deem more important news than the government's policy on higher education. On the other, there are those gleefully looking forward to the glut of bank holidays coming in early May, uninterested in the reason.

And here we have
The King's Speech, a film that, at first glance, seems to be spinning royal themes into awards fodder in a similar way to 2006's hugely successful The Queen, and even though both films share a similar set-up of distant monarchy startled by public matters, then re-aligning their private business before our gaze, it is a rather different beast. One that, even when stripped of its major, monarchic themes, is still a compelling, wholly affecting character drama.

At its heart lies the story of two men of differing social classes forming an enduring friendship. One of the two just happens to be King of the United Kingdom (and the last Emperor of India, to boot).

Prince Albert (Colin Firth), second in line to the throne, yet destined to one day become King George VI, is beset with a stammer, which wouldn't be much of a problem for a member of the Royal family, but the 20th century's rise of radio broadcasts and public speaking renders this more than a private problem. After every avenue seems to have been exhausted, Albert's wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) -we know her as the Queen Mum - pays a visit to the idiosyncratic Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose unorthodox techniques first and foremost consist of a complete rejection of the stuffy formalities of royal convention.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 3 January 2011

[421] Oxford English Geeks

I'm currently suffering from a mild case of essayitis, so the 2010 blog post is taking longer than expected. It might never appear at all.

In the meantime, more on the whole geek-nerd thing. I often find myself talking about this, most recently at a press junkets for two major upcoming releases. I was there representing Den of Geek, and both times I was asked ‘how is this a Den of Geek movie?’, questioning our coverage of two Oscar-contender pictures. One was The King’s Speech, out this week - a terrific film with wide appeal. The question still remained: why would Den of Geek be interested in interviewing Colin Firth and - just as interestingly for me - director Tom Hooper?

Well, I said, it’s been a hit on the festival circuit; it has already won awards and is tipped for Academy Award success; it’s a small-budget, independent British feature directed by a talented filmmaker, starring three of the best actors working today. Plus, I said, in the interview Colin Firth dropped a reference to Rocky IV. The response, from a thoroughly charming journalist, was ‘is Rocky a geek film?’

There’s no convincing some, I suppose. To me, geekism and nerdery in a cinematic context no longer require foundation in science fiction, fantasy or action films. I think, now, you could be a geek for anything, and a film geek could be just as passionate about Spielberg or Scorsese as they are about Griffith, Lang or Deren. What’s wrong with being enthusiastic and evangelistic, anyway? Aren't they transferable skills?

Actually, Den of Geek seems to be going through a little phase of late. Over the last year, there have been many vocal comments from readers expressing their opinions about what DoG should or shouldn’t cover. Earlier in the year, I had a run of reviews that was met with the same repeated comment: ‘I think you have posted this on the wrong site’. They were for Certified Copy and Tamara Drewe - both films by respected directors, and the latter a comic book adaptation to boot.

Most recently, there’s a discussion in the review of genre-bending rom-com Love And Other Drugs. I’ll paste a selection of the comments below:

B_Ramsay: Umm, ok, I don't usually mind when the site strays onto teritory that isn't exactly geek in nature (e.g. the reviews of The Muppets). But seriously, wtf is this review doing on a geek site? One look at the title and the poster shows that this is not the site for this review. What next, reviews of other dire romcoms, or god forbid, trash like Sex and the City!

bytat: what is this review doing on this site?.. i like it when denofgeek reviews ungeeky, but serious stuff, like Mad Men, etc.. but romcoms?.. it also begs the question; why aren't all the other romcoms reviewed?.. god forbid.

MadProphet: Oy oy. Go see Love And Other Drugs before you judge. People can be geeks about anything, and I don't doubt that there are romcom geeks out there. I've seen it, and it's a cut above most romcoms, to be fair. I might not entirely agree with the review, but what's the harm in posting a review?

JunkBondTrader: I'm pretty sure me being a film geek allows me to be interested in film reviews generally.

I find it fascinating that there’s such a divide, between those that feel a rigid definition of what geek culture is (and The Muppets isn’t included in that!), and those that are rather laissez-faire about it all. Does the definition of 'geek' come in-built with an affinity for certain genres, or is it a more general mood, or approach to culture?

Let’s ‘fess up. I have my overlaps with the ‘accepted’ geek canon, but there are some serious gaps. I don’t watch Doctor Who, haven’t seen much of Star Trek, and have seriously lapsed in my Star Wars fandom. I don’t care about the Buffy reboot, have no intention to see Tron Legacy and have yet to get around to striking most of the landmarks of 1980s horror, sci-fi and action genre cinema from my to-watch list. I don’t think that prevents me from being a geek - although the more territorial sort, perhaps traumatised from the tag’s stigmatised roots, might say it does.

As always of late, I defer to the English language geeks at Oxford. Thankfully, they have this thought-provoking little usage note for both ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’:

Is being a geek something to be proud of? A few decades ago the answer would almost certainly have been no : the word was a cruel and critical label attached to clever, but socially awkward, people: train-spotters, computer geeks, and unpopular college students.

Then in the 1990s everything changed. The computer industry helped many geeks to achieve great success, and the wider perception of geeks began to shift. Being a geek was suddenly a positive thing , suggesting an admirable level of knowledge, expertise, and passion: geeks could do ‘cool stuff’. It's now common for people to be self-proclaimed or self-confessed geeks, with geekiness no longer confined to the world of science and technology (a music geek with an awesome vinyl collection; the kind of film that every true movie geek would give five stars).

What do you think? Usage seems to have softened a little, but that hasn’t changed this instinctive definition that both geeks and non-geeks hold in their minds. Has ‘acceptance’ strengthened this? Surely geeks and nerds were only labelled so for a specific historical period, where certain areas of pop culture, science and information technology garnered a negative reputation?

I like to wonder, how are Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg any different from previous generations of driven, innovative entrepreneurs and persons of industry, like Edison, Brunel or Branson? Did readers of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells experience such stereotyping as fans of the Expanded Universe?

How about the members of early cinema clubs, like the London Film Society, which counted among its number George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf - when they were obsessively importing and watching films by Sergei Eisenstein, were they geeks? I’d say so.

I’d say once the stigma around the term geek is broken down, all that is left is a collective passion, one that can - and should - challenge preconceived notions of taste, taboo and quality, yet still inspires an open relationship with the media of choice. We’re all evangelists for our pet subjects, so let’s listen to each other.

But then again, I’m not a certified geek. Although, tonight I watched Hollywood Ending, polishing off my project to see every theatrically-released film directed by Woody Allen. So maybe now I can stake my claim.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

[420] Nerdopoly

Nerds. Taking over your high street. Or, specifically, your East Street. Soon they'll take over the whole world.

It seems well-timed to spot this new store-front on my walk from the bus stop, after Patton Oswalt's recent rehash of the nerd/geek discussion. Is the specific stereotype of the nerd - check the glasses/computer iconography - still relevant? Does it still hold meaning, or is it outdated in the era of iPods in every pocket, Gleeks and Farmville? Seems so, at least to some local Southwark residents.