Tuesday, 31 May 2011

[470] That's What I Am (2011) Review

In this film, a kid is bullied for being tall and ginger. Unsurprisingly, I didn't like it.

Newsflash: bullying is wrong, and the 1960s were a time of rosy-tinted wonder. If either of these seem revelatory, then That's What I Am may be for you. If not, don't bother.

Written and directed by Michael Pavone and produced by the WWE Studios production company,
That's What I Am isn't a wrestling spectacle. Instead, it's a dumb, blithely simple drama that is all moral and no content.

Andy (Chase Ellison) is a kid on the verge of teenhood who is assigned a collaborative piece of schoolwork with Big G (Alexander Walters), a loner who happens to be tall, supposedly ugly, and, horror of horrors, ginger. At first, Andy is anxious, as every social capital-conscious boy in an American school movie is, to be paired with such an unpopular classmate, but he soon develops a friendship with the guy. Heck, he even learns a couple of things along the way, in particular, that, while Big G and others may look different, act differently, and have different perspectives on the world, picking on them for such difference is bad. And there endeth the lesson.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

[469] Looking Back At Apocalypse Now

Quite an ambitious one, this. Apocalypse Now has recently been given a limited re-release in the UK, so I decided to write an essay detailing its troubled production, its many flaws, and how, despite these matters, it is still a masterpiece. Somehow, Coppola went against his reputation, failing as a writer, director and producer, yet emerged with another great film. Unreal.

When reading the extensive, semi-mythological stories that detail the production of Francis Ford Coppola's surreal Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now, it's baffling that it was made at all.

By the mid-1970s, Coppola was one of the stars of New Hollywood, holding unprecedented power and critical respect, dominating the 1974 Oscars with a total of fourteen nominations shared by his second
Godfather rhapsody and the arty Antonioni riff, The Conversation, including a double nomination for Best Picture, and the rare honour of being nominated for both Best Original and Adapted Screenplays. This was alongside producing George Lucas' pre-Star Wars hit, American Graffiti, and contributing the screenplay to the lavish big-screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which helped place Coppola in the powerful position of being a successful director, producer and writer.

Coppola had developed a reputation of being both ambitious and reliable. Writing in 1975, the year before
Apocalypse Now started shooting, David Thomson described Coppola as shrewd, composed, and almost clinical in his transformation of Mario Puzo's sprawling mafia epic into mainstream entertainment, saying, "For a thirty-year-old without a hit to his name, with Paramount, Mario Puzo and [Marlon] Brando breathing down his neck... it was an achievement to coax that vulnerable dinosaur of a property to lower its guard and then, in delicious slow motion, let the killer punch glide in. Any film student will take heart in the knowledge that the allegedly inaccessible industry will sometimes stick out its chin and ask you to hit it. He should note, however, that with the glass jaw in his sights Coppola stayed every bit at cool as Michael Corleone."

Of all the many things you could call Coppola's approach to
Apocalypse Now, ‘cool' is not one. Originally drafted by John Milius (later the director of Conan The Barbarian) in the late 60s as a resetting of Joseph Conrad's colonial novella, Heart Of Darkness, it was later developed by Lucas as a cheap and quick Vietnam flick shot with a documentary-like immediacy. But Coppola had different plans for his Apocalypse.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

[468] Matthew Vaughn Interview

What did you do last weekend? I interviewed Matthew Vaughn! Then spent the majority of this week transcribing all 5000 words of it.

What a wonderful turnaround. After the hectic production and alarmingly terrible promotional campaign, it turns out that X-Men: First Class is actually rather good. It seems that handing the X-franchise over to Kick-Ass writer-director, Matthew Vaughn, was a good idea, as his revitalised, 60s-flavoured spin on the superhero series is a real treat.

We were lucky, along with a handful of the finest film sites in the UK, to have a chat with a generous, if slightly flu-ridden Vaughn, ahead of the film's release next week. Like his films, Vaughn takes no prisoners, but his experience as writer, director and producer has given him great authority when talking about industry trends and the creative process.

Over the course of forty-five minutes, we covered
X-Men: First Class from seemingly every angle, from the Cold War setting to the James Bond allusions, from the casting to the film's classic sense of style. And Vaughn was happy to go into detail about his aborted stint on X-Men: The Last Stand, his views on 3D, and his plans for potential X-Men and Kick-Ass sequels.

Read on, but beware, for there are spoilers, swearing and sledgehammer-strong opinions contained herein...

Read the full interview here.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

[467] X-Men: First Class 'spoiler-free verdict'

I'm currently neck-deep in the pre-release of X-Men: First Class. Later today, I'm interviewing writer-director Matthew Vaughn, and I saw the film on Friday. Yesterday afternoon, I found out that I - along with a couple of other 'bloggers' - could write-up my 'initial reactions' over at Den Of Geek.

However, I was warned only a couple of hours before the embargo, which resulted in frantic scribbling, and this slightly monstrous piece of work. It's not supposed to be a real 'review'; I've kept the spoilers out of it, and actual detail about the film to a minimum. It's just a hype-massaging overview, I guess? I tried to maintain my critical composure, though. Anyway, have a read, and enjoy!

X-Men: First Class has a tough job on its hands. After the surprisingly-positive critical and box office reception that greeted Thor, and its own confused, occasionally terrible marketing campaign, anticipation for the superhero prequel is understandably mixed. Its hopes lie with writer-director Matthew Vaughn, whose Kick-Ass was not only last year’s surprise cult smash, but also 2010’s best costumed-hero flick.

Kick-Ass showed that Vaughn (and co-writer Jane Goldman) knows how to deliver superhero thrills while still maintaining style, wit and a strong emotional core. And it is this mixture of strengths that he brings to X-Men: First Class, which consistently works on a number of narrative levels - be they origin story, period epic, super-powered action, thematic subtext or character drama.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 16 May 2011

[466] New Model

Here is your odd video of the day.

Something that Bytes-cohorts Nick Moran, Edward Szekely and Samantha Baines (along with special guest Emily Bakes) got up to one day when I wasn't looking. Absurd, darkly comic, absolutely terrifying. Damn, I wish I'd been involved in this one. Perfect execution all round.

Bytes-fans should be able to spot a consistency in location here. Yes, that's Chad Makepeace's bookcase. I'd like to think that he's just out of shot, chatting about Kirby's short-lived line of vacuum cleaners.

Watch this video in HD, and make sure you crank up the volume. Let the harmonised voices slice through your sanity. Do it.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

[465] Viva Riva (2010) Review, in Little White Lies

How exciting, I have two pieces in print in the same week! You can read my review of Congolese crime thriller Viva Riva! in the latest issue of the always-beautiful (and ever-fragrant) film magazine Little White Lies.

The issue is out now, and is worth reading. My review will go online when the film is released at the end of the month.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

[464] Long-Form Journalism On The Kindle, in Micro Mart 1157

I love my Kindle. However, I've only read two novels on it so far (Room and One Day, in case you're curious), and instead I pull oodles of great long-form journalism off the web, and read them on the go. It's a dream, I tell you.

That's the basis for the feature that I wrote for this week's issue of Micro Mart: a short how-to piece talking about the sites Longform.org and Longreads.com, plugins like dotEPUB, and Ebook managing software Calibre.

The issue is on sale now.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

[463] Joe Cornish Interview

Joe Cornish, with what could be the final word on the whole 'geek' discussion.

I think the whole ‘geek’ thing is an interesting thing, isn’t it. Film enthusiasts used to be called ‘buffs’ and it used to be quite a respectable pursuit, but for some reason we’re called ‘geeks’ now. And that’s not bad, I don’t mind it, but it’s not like sites like yours or Ain’t It Cool are not interested in anything other than genre movies.

You guys will advocate any movie that you love, so for me, you guys, and I include myself, we’re film enthusiasts, we’re film lovers, we’re not necessarily ‘geeks’ or ‘nerds’.

I think if the word ‘geek’ does have a meaning, it means that you’re so obsessed with it that you do it yourself.

What a guy. In retrospect, I could have nailed him down a little and made this a slightly better interview - and, as always, we could have had more time - but I'm happy with what we covered.

Even though Attack The Block is his directorial debut, Joe Cornish is far from a newcomer. As the taller half of the Adam & Joe comedy team, whose eponymous television show was an integral pillar of Channel 4’s late-night output in the back end of the 1990s, Cornish would lampoon films of the day, creating elaborate movie parodies and deconstructing genre tropes with a cast of toys.

More recently, he has made cameo appearances in
Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, before collaborating with Edgar Wright on two projects, the elusive Ant-Man feature, and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Tintin film.

All this has led to
Attack The Block, the supremely confident sci-fi action film which sees an alien invasion land in inner-city London. With the bobbies otherwise occupied by the assorted explosions and hijinks of Bonfire Night, it is up to the council estate’s local gang of hoodies to take down the extraterrestrial interlopers.

We had the chance to talk with Cornish ahead of the film’s release this week, chatting about crafting genre flicks on a budget, being a geek, and designing iconic monsters.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 6 May 2011

[462] Hanna (2011) Review

So the past few months have seen a number of key electronic acts of the late-90s/early 2000s branching out into scoring films. Robotic French party-housers Daft Punk bleeped along for Tron Legacy, while Basement Jaxx contained their maximalist madness for the synth-crawling, Carpenter-cribbing Attack The Block soundtrack.

In Hanna, Joe Wright's tween-killer thriller, the score is provided by Chemical Brothers, where they seem to split themselves completely, to the point of being bipolar - with twinkly Boards of Canada-isms sharing space with more typical slamming beats and bass throbs. Their score works better in the latter, action-packed mould, as does the film itself. However, while such immediacy raises goosepimples in the cinema, I found myself struggling to recreate that punch out of context.

Let's put it this way, then.

Which is actually the inverse of how I'd rank those duos based on their album-single work. Maybe it's this pursuit of funky, fast-food electronic acts, who mostly deal in dance- or pop-confection, that's at fault? None of those three are particularly known for their grasp of atmosphere, or subtlety. Basement Jaxx have been a huge revelation in this regard, but the other two are lacking.

I say let's dig beyond the surface: give the mavericks a shot. It worked for Trent Reznor, whose obsession with texture and melody, alongside rhythm and pure noise, made him a perfect fit for The Social Network. So, with that in mind, I patiently await a mainstream flick scored by Squarepusher. Or Venetian Snares. Now that would be something.

Joe Wright is starting to make a name for himself. Not as ‘one to watch'. That happened years ago. No, now he's courting a different creative persona, one of the genre magpie. See, after making his feature directorial debut with Regency period drama, Pride & Prejudice, scoring plaudits with the heavily Oscar-nommed Atonement, and actively (and unsuccessfully) baiting awards attention with The Soloist, Wright's new film, Hanna, moves completely away from the drama, romance and period poise of his previous work, instead aiming for high octane action thrills.

Saoirse Ronan stars as the lead character, a young girl who is brought up in remote Northern Europe by her father, ex-CIA agent, Erik Heller (Eric Bana). Schooled in multiple languages, lectured from various encyclopaedias, and taught to fend for herself as both a keen-eyed hunter and a resourceful fighter, Hanna is raised as the ultimate super-operative. Her skills are put to the test when she is finally set loose, on the hunt for Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a shady figure from her father's past.

It is in its opening scenes that
Hanna really cooks, as Ronan and Bana develop a minimal, yet complex chemistry, made up of minute moments of warmth within Heller's rather brutal training regime. As Hanna, Ronan is beguiling, able to be at once cruelly hard and youthfully naive. The former trait is put to thrilling, violent use in the film's first action sequence, where Hanna adeptly, single-handedly breaks out of a CIA safe house, set to quick-cut montage and the bass-heavy throb of the Chemical Brothers score.

From the title card, which flashes blood-red on screen at the punctuation of a gunshot, Wright delights in going straight for the jugular, whether it's in the compressed sense of pacing or the kid in sweetshop sampling of shots, set-ups and diegetic perspectives. At times it‘s dizzying, as extreme close-ups give way to CCTV mash-ups, zooms, and nonsensical strobing.

It's an interesting, if rather superficial aesthetic, especially when twinned with the film's equally unsubtle approach to characterisation. Wiegler, in a desperate bid for leitmotif, is immediately defined by her choice in footwear, as well as her ginger mop and heavy accent. Other directors could transform this mixture of expressionism and caricature into pop art, but
Hanna comes off as uneven, at times even a little unsophisticated.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

[461] Behind The Bytes #2 - Zelda, Link & Navi: The Triforce of Anguish

Episode 2 of Behind The Bytes! It's all about The Legend of Zelda, one of my favourite gaming series. Watch it now!

Bit delayed, thanks to Easter and some other issues, but here it is. This time, we kept the runtime down, and tightened up the pacing. Also, Nick Moran let himself loose a little when it came to the plot. You can see where his mind slips, to the second. It's like North Korea all over again.

You can also see the new location for Jeff Tozai's talking head. Superb, corporate-level river view. And apparently even I look better this time around, according to the guys. I don't believe them.

I do like that t-shirt, though. Sadly, it's not mine.

I think we're improving. After the unprecedented promotional push of the last episode, we're hoping for lightning to strike twice, so we can keep going.

Until it does, please, pass on the link to fans of video games, Zelda, and completely silly video-lols. Any comments or feedback, too, are encouraged - leave them either on this post, or on the Youtube page. Enjoy!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

[460] Attack The Block (2011) Review

Sci-Fi action with a British accent. Go see this.

Den of Geek's commenters never fail to surprise me. I thought I'd had my complement after the first, vaguely patronising comment about 'exciting' British cinema, but then this one cropped up:

'The Posters looked a bit B movie for my liking. Through the reviews look good. But sub 90 minutes it way to short to justify going to the cinema for really.'

Errors are in the original, but the sense comes through despite typos. Wow. A tight, stylish film of 87 minutes isn't long enough for a cinema trip? I can't say it's an angle I'd considered before, but I guess it's all part of the ongoing conflict between home cinemas and their theatrical forebears.

Let me clarify: Attack The Block is worth seeing in the cinema.

Don’t speak too soon, merely whisper it: British cinema might just be getting a little exciting. Following the release of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, the feature film which took well-worn genre stylistics and confidently embedded them in a British context, we have Attack The Block, which performs a similar conceptual turnaround.

Written and directed by Joe Cornish - half of the Adam & Joe double act -
Attack The Block sees an alien invasion heading straight for London. However, if they were aiming for the seats of power, they must have shot a little short, as the extraterrestrials land in South London, specifically on a council estate, where they are met not by suspicious military types, or idealistic scientists, but the local wildlife: a gang of hooded youths.

Read the full article here.