Saturday, 30 July 2011

[490] A Better Life (2011) Review

All joking and snobbery aside, why do we watch films from other countries? They so often tell stories which are, by their nature, foreign to our experience, and represent lifestyles that exist far outside the context of our day-to-day doings. The assumption is that the broadening of horizons leads to greater cultural awareness, and also a greater global appreciation of cinema as an artform.

Sadly, illegal immigrant drama, A Better Life, doesn't tick either of those artistic boxes, and it's rather curious that it has been internationally distributed at all. It tells the two-pronged story of Carlos (Demián Bichir), a hard working gardener, and Luis (José Julián), his teenage son, as they live the uneasy existence which the American Dream has become for Mexican residents in California.

Without citizenship, Carlos toils away at laborious cash-in-hand jobs, dreaming of one day being able to afford the expensive legal procedure that would grant him a visa. A glimmer of hope appears when a workmate decides to up sticks, and puts his van up for sale, offering Carlos the chance to run his own business. At great personal risk, he takes the opportunity.

But this wouldn't be an ‘issues film' if things came easily, as on the first day of this new venture, the van is stolen, leaving Carlos penniless and hopeless. To make matters worse, his son is developing a bad case of ‘teenage prat' syndrome, spurning his father's diligent attempts at single parent life in favour of cracking wise and eyeing up tattoo-heavy drug dealers.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

[489] Artificial Intelligence, Episode Zero

Here's something that I've not really talked about much. It's another podcast! Den of Geek (and Nerdgasm quiz team) colleague Joe Ewens recently got in touch and asked if I'd like to collaborate on a gaming podcast, alongside theatre/arts champion Matthew Burt. I, of course, said yes, and we recorded a pilot episode a month ago, in an amazing recording space in a basement flat in Hackney.

And here it is! We start by talking about sequels, series and remakes in gaming, tying it in with wider cultural concerns. Have a listen! Check out the website! Give us some feedback!

Welcome to the Artificial Intelligence podcast, a new fortnightly conversation about the growing relationship between the developing world of videogames, media, and culture.

In this first episode, Michael Leader, Joseph Ewens, and Matthew Burt discuss sequels and remakes. Are video game sequels as abhorrent as the latest Hollywood cash in? Will remakes continue to be relevant as the medium evolves? Does Joe like Pokemon? You’ll never know, unless you listen.

Read, listen, and enlighten yourself here.

Friday, 22 July 2011

[488] Mike Mills Interview

I enjoy interviewing people. I think I do it quite well. This interview with Mike Mills was one of the easiest in recent memory. I did not particularly like his new film, Beginners, but the conversation flowed easily enough.

I didn't even have to bring out my back-up question about his music video for the Air song 'All I Need', which, as a 13 year old, completely blew my mind. Not only for the downbeat sun-kissed tune itself, but for how it breaks out of the conventions of music video-making, crossing over with elements of documentary. Watch it here.

And, oh, read the interview, while you're here.

Beginners, the new film from Mike Mills, has been promoted oddly. The posters currently adorning the country are bright, white affairs, complete with a grinning Ewan McGregor, a pouting Mélanie Laurent, and a dashing, neckerchief-clad Christopher Plummer. There’s also a cute dog, for good measure.

When coupled with the most basic of plot synopses - that 70-odd year old Hal (Plummer) comes out as gay to his son, Oliver (McGregor) - it looks like we’d be in for a pleasant, buoyant indie comedy.

However, the roots of Beginners go deeper. This is actually a very personal story, unapologetic in its tone, and marked by grief. Mills’ own father came out in his old age, and died only a few years later. The resulting film is born out of that emotion, and is influenced by the writer-director’s wide array of creative interests, from his music videos, to his work in graphic design. We recently had the chance to talk with Mills, ahead of the release of Beginners on Friday.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

[487] Beginners (2011) Review

Another review for Little White Lies! And, again, another film I didn't particularly like, which nonetheless is getting big, fat, rave reviews from people around the web. Am I going through a grouch-y period again? I guess I am.

Case in point: I saw 4 films last week, three of them will be getting 2 star reviews. If anyone finds my joie de vivre, please mail it to the address in the sidebar.

Despite hitting the age of 81, it seems that nothing is slowing down Christopher Plummer. He still manages to find bold, distinctive roles that dodge the stereotypical casting for old film folk, from voicing heartbroken grouch Charles Muntz in Pixar’s Up, to appearing in the title role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

However, while Beginners seems to be yet another showcase for the octogenarian – here starring as Hal, a widower who, in his final years, admits to his family that he’s gay – it is in fact surprisingly slippery, and somewhat disappointing.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

[486] Adventures In Comics: Ink+Paper & New Cross Turn Left

I've been so busy of late that I've neglected to mention some of the huge things that are happening in the near future. Luckily, I've managed to tear myself away from my imposing, terrifying four-tiered to-do list, with a view to enlightening you lovely people to some SUPER comics-related wonders.

First up, Ink + Paper.

David O' Connell is a top chap. His Tozo comic was one of the first books I picked up when I started trundling along to London comics fairs, and his 100 Days project, the Francophilic romance A Corner Of Paradise, really perked me up when I read it earlier this year. Now he's making an anthology-magazine, which launches in November with a fantastic array of talent, including Lizz Lunney, Philippa Rice, Timothy Winchester, Dan Berry, Ellen Lindner, Hugh Raine, Joe Decie, and Jess Bradley (who I only discovered recently, at May's MCM Expo, but gosh her stuff is great).

The twist this time is that I'm contributing, too. I'll be writing up a précis on my Dr. F. Parkes Weber project, exploring how purchasing a dusty little hardback from Mr Wycherley's dusty little bookshop in Selly Oak connected me with a long-dead physician, and revealed to me a bygone London. This has been brewing for some time, so I'm excited to finally get the words out - and to have it enshrined in print, alongside such a list of cohorts? I'm thrilled.

To whet the old appetite, here are two photographs Lillian Wilkie took a year ago of the book in question.

acest book


Secondly, and much more pressingly, this Sunday will see an eruption of comics, art, comedy and music in the borderlands between New Cross and Deptford in South London. It's New Cross Turn Left, an event masterminded by locals Ellen Lindner, Julia Scheele, Howard Hardiman and Nevs Coleman.

It should be immense fun. It's being held at the Old Police Station, which has been taken over by various art-y types and turned into a haven for creativity. I'll be there in a WAW+P capacity, interviewing people for the podcast in an old interrogation cell. Come along! Details are over at the NCTL blog.

Now, back to work - whatever that means. I have a huge pile of comics to blog about, and two podcasts to edit, so expect more adventures sometime soon.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

[485] Behind The Bytes #3: Chris Redfield & Leon Kennedy

Hey, it's another episode of Behind The Bytes! This time, we offer...

...a chilling exposé of the men behind the evil. Chris Redfield, humble country boy turned man-monster vs. Leon Kennedy, blue-blood poster boy for the American Dream.

It's all about Resident Evil. Watch it.

Another episode, another t-shirt. Also a wildly unflattering preview picture. Well, it's not a patch on what Moran made me do for the gag reel. And by 'gag', I mean the reflex. There's a video somewhere, I'm sure it will eventually see the light of day.

Anyway... We're over the hump! Two episodes left, and then the thrilling expanse of pure potential. What next? Who knows.

Please watch, rate, venerate. Spread the word and the love, and you will receive my gratitude in return.

Monday, 18 July 2011

[484] Treacle Jr (2010) Review

One of the upsides of living near Elephant & Castle is that so many films are shot right nearby. Name a London-set inner city drama, and it's likely to have been filmed in the now-empty Heygate Estate (I live in the shadow of the neighbouring Aylesbury Estate).

Recognising a filming location in a personal, not iconic, way is something that never gets old, and it didn't take me long to realise that Treacle Jr. was shot in a similar South London locale. There are the obvious scenes, such as one where the protagonist squats in the entryway of Spurgeon's Tabernacle, but the characters also wander around parks and estates in Southwark, Dulwich and, apparently, Wandsworth.

Take that, Hackney.

Treacle Jr, the new film from writer-director Jamie Thraves (The Low Down), opens wordlessly, and ends with little to say. Made on the cheap, but not without great personal investment, the film uses its budgetary weaknesses to its advantage, shooting straight and immediate, giving its gently unfolding premise considerable nuance, as Tom (Tom Fisher), decides to leave his family home in Birmingham to sleep rough in the capital. He boards a train to London, chops up his credit cards, and loiters in public parks, before meeting Aidan (Aidan Gillen), an Irish oddjobber who takes a shine to him, and, to our protagonist's all-too-polite discomfort, just won't leave him alone.

Shot on location, the film follows the unlikely duo as they wander around South London. Gillen drives these scenes, skipping through cemeteries and excitedly declaring custard creams ‘the King of Biscuits'. His energetic, motormouth schtick is endlessly engaging, especially in seemingly improvised moments with unknowing members of the public, who had the misfortune to walk their dog near, or open their front door to, this little bundle of manchildish madness.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

[483] Cell 211 (2009) Review

Well, that was quick. Here's my review of Spanish prison thriller Cell 211 (Celda 211) from Little White Lies.

The prison is one of the more potent backdrops of onscreen drama, and the list of iconic jailhouse films is longer than most attention spans. The melting-pot mixture of enforced containment, community and introspection offers a fertile context for stories that run from the personal to the political, the poetic to the gut-punch visceral.

The award-winning Spanish thriller Cell 211 is more of the latter. Hoping to make a good impression before taking up a job as a prison officer, youthful Juan (Alberto Ammann) asks for a tour of his new workplace – which, as luck would have it, occurs during a full-blown prison riot. Abandoned by his employers in the eponymous cell, Juan is soon brought before the ringleader of the uprising, the towering Malamadre (Luis Tosar), with only his wits for protection.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

[482] Three Reviews in Little White Lies #36

The gorgeous new issue of Little White Lies is out now, and it contains three reviews by me! Spanish prison flick Cell 211, and indie dramas Meet Monica Velour and Beginners, are all put under the microscope. Sadly, the scores make up a sea of 2s and 3s. But look, sexy print!


Little White Lies should be available at any hip newsagents or cinephile hangout. I recommend you buy it; the cover film this issue is Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, and there are a handful of rather fascinating articles in there.

I'll post links to the full reviews as they appear on the LWL site. I'm a little proud of them. And by 'them', I mean the puns in the Meet Monica Velour review. The actual reviews are okay, I suppose.

[481] Holy Rollers (2010)

After interviewing Jesse Eisenberg, here's the review of Holy Rollers - which sounds a little like it should be a comedy. Although, weirdly, this week I'm seeing 30 Minutes Or Less, another Eisenberg vehicle which, this time, is actually a crime-based comedy. Bizarre.

Holy Rollers never successfully shakes off one crucial pre-viewing assumption, inspired by the puntastic title, but sustained by the set-up. This is a low budget indie flick starring Jesse Eisenberg as an awkward New Yorker, who gets embroiled in a massive drug smuggling operation, maintained by Hasidic Jews. In other hands, this could be a fish out of water, coming of age comedy, maybe with some gross-out and stoner overtones. But actually, Kevin Asch's debut feature is the polar opposite. It's a tragic crime drama, with ambitions of being a modern religious fable.

Holy Rollers' roots are in reality, being based on the true story of the ecstasy smuggling ring, which fooled airport security in the late 90s by hiding pills in the traditional dress of Hasidic Jewish travellers. Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is an unlikely gangster. He keeps his head down, working at his father's fabric store while aspiring to be a rabbi and marry a nice local girl. However, a run-in with rebellious neighbour, Yosef (Justin Bartha), introduces Sam to the secular world of booze, E's and women, causing him to turn his back on his family, in favour of ill-gotten fortune.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

[480] Jesse Eisenberg Interview

Let the film journalism drought end! Here's an interview I conducted back in February, with Jesse Eisenberg. I promise, if I ever get another chance to talk with him, I will dedicate the whole interview to discussing his theatre work, satirical writing, and contributions to McSweeney's. Deal?

Back in February, on the day before the BAFTAs, we had the chance to speak with Best Actor nominee, Jesse Eisenberg. He'd been nominated for his stunning performance as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, but the interview was in anticipation of Eisenberg's starring role in another, much smaller film, which is out this week. Produced on a shoestring budget, Holy Rollers retells the real-life story of a group of Hassidic Jews, who operate a drug smuggling operation in late-90s New York.

We spoke with Eisenberg (who's every bit as hyperactive, nervously energetic, and smart as his on-screen turns would have you believe) about Holy Rollers, working with directors from Wes Craven to Fred Durst, and whether we should expect Zombieland 2 anytime soon...

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

[479] WAW+P Radio 9: Howard Hardiman

Howard Hardiman? Lovely chap. In fact, the first London-based comics person that I ever spoke to, at the Comiket in the ICA a couple of years ago. He was so very friendly, and was selling Badger, which I grew to LOVE, so I knew that the comics scene had something to offer me.

Now I interview him for the WAW+P podcast, and we have a right old laugh. Mostly at me, and my accidental slippages into double entendre. Here's the blurb from the London Fields Radio site.

We Are Words + Pictures host Michael Leader ventures south of the Thames to interview Howard Hardiman in his Deptford studio, talking about The Lengths, Howard's comic about male sex workers in London.

To find out more about the We Are Words + Pictures collective, visit their site at

Howard Hardiman -
New Cross Turn Left -
Birmingham Zine Festival -

Tom Waits - I'm Your Late Night Evening Prostitute
Lou Reed - Walk On The Wild Side
Gloria Jones - Tainted Love
Hedwig & The Angry Inch - Sugar Daddy
Dusty Springfield - Take Another Little Piece of My Heart
Hole - Asking For It
Blondie - Call Me
The Shirelles - Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Silvia Donati - Roxanne

You can download the podcast here, or listen using the LFR Mixcloud player below. I have 3 more episodes planned for the next month, with 2 of the interviews already in the can. So expect a mild WAW+P Radio renaissance in July-August. Thanks, as always, for listening!