Monday, 28 May 2012

[557] Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Review

For all his distinctive aesthetic touches and familiar thematic concerns, Wes Anderson isn’t a particularly predictable filmmaker, and no film came as more of a surprise than 2009’s stop-motion trifle Fantastic Mr Fox, which melded Roald Dahl’s world with Anderson’s own melancholic pre-occupations. However, while Moonrise Kingdom, the director’s new film, may not be tied to a much-loved children’s story, it is nonetheless a continuation of his exploration of childlike whimsy.

When 12 year old boy Sam Shakusky (newcomer Jared Gilman) hightails it from his Scout camp, he teams up with his tween sweetheart, Suzy Bishop (the equally fresh-faced Kara Hayward) for a pre-pubescent elopement through an isolated island community in remote New England. Armed with a BB Gun, a small yacht and a Davy Crockett hat, Sam is a fastidious mini-adventurer, who uses his Scout skills with expert efficiency. Suzy, a pair of prized binoculars slung around her neck, has a penchant for French pop and escapist fantasy fiction, reading seemingly made-up novels with evocative titles such as The Girl From Jupiter. Together, they’re on the run. From what? The Scout troop bullies who tormented Sam? Or Suzy’s idiosyncratic family, headed by matriarch Frances McDormand and patriarch Bill Murray?

Whatever it is, they’re on an Arthur Ransome-like adventure, indulging in flights of the imagination while immersing themselves in the natural surroundings of New Penzance. They’re a diminutive Bonnie & Clyde, on the lam from the local authorities - a police-force-of-one consisting only of Bruce Willis’ bumbling sheriff - and the deputised Scouts-in-pursuit, who spread a dragnet across the region, searching with spiked clubs and bows in hand.

Read the full article here.

[556] 2 Days In New York (2012) Review

Back in 2007, French actress Julie Delpy stepped behind the camera, and quietly put out 2 Days In Paris, a modest comedy-drama that mixed together the neurotic quirks and cutaways of Annie Hall, and the walk-and-talk navel gazing of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

But Delpy proved to be much more than the sum of her influences, as the film cut straight to the heart of its central relationship - that of Delpy's nervous thirtysomething Marion and her nebbish American beau Jack, played by Adam Goldberg - while delivering both a searing portrait of its Parisian surroundings, and a consistently well-observed meet-the-parents farce.

In that latter regard, the ace up Delpy's sleeve came in the form of Albert Delpy, the director's real-life father, who played her fictional dad Jeannot with an overweight, lascivious abandon. Flash forward five years, and Jeannot is back (although sadly without Marie Pillet, his on- and off-screen wife, and Delpy's mother, who passed away in the interim) jetting across the Atlantic to visit his daughter in the Big Apple, as she mounts an ambitious photography exhibition.

Jack is long gone, and Marion now lives with Mingus (Chris Rock), a radio DJ, with his daughter, and her son. Their life together is one of comfort, routine and, whisper it, maturity - and it is ripe for disruption of a distinctly Gallic variety. Accompanying Jeannot is Marion's sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and ex-lover Manu (Alexandre Nahon, both credited as co-writers), and the trio waste no time causing all sorts of fuss for their hosts.

Read the full article here.

[555] How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2012) Review

Let’s face it. If you were Mel Gibson, you would want a holiday. But he’s not jetting off into the sunset just yet. No, with his public reputation in tatters, and his movie career in freefall, the actor-filmmaker has drafted his own action-packed comeback, the sweat-soaked, bullet-ridden lark How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Gibson stars as a grizzled career criminal - a Man-With-No-Name listed in the production notes as Driver - who within minutes literally jumps the USA-Mexico border with a car full of cash. Apprehended by the corrupt Mexican police force, the crook is banged up in an open-plan prison-cum-slum, while the coppers make off with the dough. Left to fend for himself in this minimum-security favela, Driver must deal with his fellow inmates before finding a way to reclaim his money.

Despite his rather one-dimensional name, though, Driver quickly reveals himself to be more of a suits-any-purpose tough guy. His impressive CV includes petty street crime, the US Army and various gangs, giving him a unique skill-set that covers pickpocketing, sniping and cool observation - all of which serve him well when navigating the prison’s dangerous microcosm. But wait, he’s not just a brash brute. He’s also a kind-hearted fellow, and upon discovering that the prison isn’t only populated by macho gents, he soon takes under his wing a young scamp (Kevin Hernandez) and his victimised, yet strong-willed mother (Dolores Heredia).

Directed by first-time director Adrian Grunberg, How I Spent My Summer Vacation (known as Get The Gringo in the US, where it isn’t even receiving a theatrical release) is co-written and co-produced by Gibson himself, under his Icon Productions banner. While the actor may not be in the director’s chair this time around - and Summer Vacation has little in common with Gibson’s cinematic epics - a glance at Grunberg’s filmography reveals First Assistant Director gigs on both Apocalypto and Edge of Darkness, Gibson’s last stab at action-tinged mainstream cinema. Conspiracy theorists, determined to feed the controversy machine, will no doubt attempt to out Grunberg as a Gibson stooge. Of course, this is preposterous, but the star’s hand is nevertheless present throughout the film.

After all, whichever way you cut it, this is a vanity project. At its worst, you have the sort of flattering writing that only delights the star in question. In playing Driver - who, it must be stressed, is supposed to be a wheelman for a botched robbery - Gibson gets to play the lovable rogue, the surrogate father, and the morally-ambiguous anti-hero. He spouts witty one-liners like a reincarnated Raymond Chandler character, before engaging in expert moves that range from slow-motion gunfights to elaborate, explosive con artistry. He even gets the last laugh.

But what a laugh. Gibson’s charm and charisma - the effortless way that he waltzes through the plot’s messy mix of dark comedy, cloying drama and over-the-top action - have been barely dimmed by age. Indeed, there are few actors who can crack wise with bent border officials in one scene, only to chuck grenades in goons’ faces in the next.

For those yearning for the uncomplicated, iconic Mel of old - the smirking hero that many used to know and love - there are fun, escapist moments aplenty in this crackerjack crime caper. Although, it must be asked, whose escapism is How I Spent My Summer Vacation serving - that of the audience, or of Gibson himself?

Thursday, 17 May 2012

[554] Dark Shadows (2012) Review

If we were in the business of giving out ‘tl;dr’ versions of our reviews, we’d have this to say about Dark Shadows: yep, all the doubts and fears inspired by the film’s trailer are dead on target.

For the last ten or so years, since the sentimental Big Fish, Tim Burton has been honing his previously odd, gothic-meets-kitsch aesthetic into a rich, pristine gloss, all the while trampling on familiar properties from Sweeney Todd to Willy Wonka. 2010’s Alice In Wonderland was not only Burton’s most expensive, but his most successful film to date, but it found the director, who was once feted as the most distinctive of modern Hollywood visionaries, slipping towards humdrum mundanity.

Here, Burton is once more playing with other people’s creations, but after the family entertainment of Alice and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Dark Shadows, based on the 60s television show, is a shift towards supernatural comedy. Hopeful fans would point to the unhinged Beetlejuice or the madcap mess of Mars Attacks as positive precedents, but Burton, as is becoming sadly apparent with the passing of time, never fails to disappoint.

Read the full article here.

[553] Mark Ruffalo Interview

When you look at the line-up of heroes that Marvel have corralled into The Avengers, this week’s super-powered blockbuster offering, you can spot an odd-one-out among the ensemble. While, indeed, Bruce Banner and his green, ultra-peeved manifestation The Hulk have appeared in multiple films beforehand, this marks our introduction to Mark Ruffalo in the role.

Ruffalo, a seasoned veteran of quite fantastic films of all shapes and sizes (The Kids Are All Right, Zodiac, Shutter Island), proves to be a perfect choice, and brings a wounded, nervous vulnerability to Banner’s simmering, submerged superpower. However, as revealed at last week’s Avengers press conference in London, he was initially moved by the ‘brutal’ fan reactions to his casting.

Afterwards, we had the chance to sit down with Ruffalo at the Avengers press junket, and this curiosity-killed-the-cast-member story was an unavoidable talking point. His answers, candid and free of press-managed polish, were extremely enlightening, as Ruffalo covered not only his relationship with Marvel Studios moving forward, but how he has come to terms with being a player in the often intimidating Hollywood machine.

Read the full interview here.

Monday, 14 May 2012

[552] Tom Hiddleston Interview #2

Seriously, this man... Don't get me started. Last time, The Odyssey; this time, Henry V. Mancrush achieved.

Will nothing stop Tom Hiddleston’s geek-crush level from rising? After his striking, bright-eyed turns in a variety of films, from a cringe-inducing, well-meaning upper class chap in Archipelago, to F Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, he’s only gone and done it again with his darker, more troubled reprisal of Loki in The Avengers.

And, as if that’s not enough, last week he wrote an article for The Guardian, praising contemporary superhero movies as ‘the pinnacle of cinema’, modern-day equivalents of mythology and morality tales. This actor, it seems, is quite the believer in the power of the comic book movie.

At the Avengers press junket that same morning, we had the chance to quiz Hiddleston about the article, as well as his mould-breaking career so far, and the projects he has lined up in the future.

Do you feel quite lucky to have broken out of the well-spoken, prim British mould by getting the role of Loki? It’s certainly not the Jane Austen-y type of role usually given to well-spoken, classically trained Brits.

It was completely different. I hope that the person you see sitting in front of you... I’m not obvious casting for Loki. I don’t have long, greasy black hair. It was funny, because I think it took a while for Marvel to come around to the idea, too, because I initially auditioned to play Thor. That was what I was being considered for, because I’m tall and blonde and classically trained, and that seemed to be the mould for what Thor was, he was to be a classical character. And it was in my auditions. I owe this entirely to Marvel and their open-mindedness, they saw something that they thought was interesting. They saw some temperament that they liked.

It was one of those things where [Kenneth] really couldn’t have given it to me on a plate, it was just going to cost too much money. So the people who hold the purse strings need to make sure that the money is being spent properly. It’s a big movie, it’s a big blockbuster, that’s a lot of responsibility. So I auditioned and auditioned, just like Chris Hemsworth did, both of us. It took us both four months to get the roles.

But I knew I had an advocate in Kenneth Branagh, because we had worked on television together, we’d worked on stage. And that is really where we got to know each other. When you act with someone on stage, there’s no hiding place. You see who somebody is, you see what makes them tick. You see their process, their professionalism. It is a job that we do and Ken and I just really connected.

So I knew that he trusted me and I trusted him, and we had the same taste. We’re in this business for the same reasons, because we just love it. Love cinema, love acting, love stories and characters. So when push came to shove, and Marvel were thinking, I hope, that I was an interesting prospect, then Ken was probably able to say ‘you can trust him on this’.

Read the full interview here.

[551] Clark Gregg Interview

One way of looking at the recent run of Marvel Studios films, which reaches its apex with the release of The Avengers this week, is to read it as The Rise of Agent Phil Coulson. The suit from SHIELD, played with great poker-face by Clark Gregg, has slowly developed over the years, from cheeky cameos in the Iron Man and Thor movies, to a full-blown supporting role in The Avengers, where he not only steps up alongside the superheroes, but finally gets his fair share of screen time, too.

At the Avengers press junket last week, we had a chance to chat with Gregg about superheroes, the hard slog of being a working actor, and the slow-burning development of fan-favourite Agent Coulson.

What do you think is so fascinating about superheroes?

That’s a really good question. You’d think it would be done by now! There have been so many of them, for many years. I thought it was a specifically American, bizarre pop phenomenon, because we grew up with it... Superman, even Batman, from the 40s! And yet, there’s something about when I saw this film, it felt like all those ideas had been taken and, as I guess always happens, the culture calls out for what it needs, and there’s something about this that feels very self-aware, and the superheroes seemed much more flawed.

Yet you notice their egos and their psychological complexities are very much like hubris. And then you go, well wait a minute, this has actually been around kind of always! And there’s always the idea of a hero, and a super antagonist, and those are the building blocks of story. And I don’t think that this movie would work if it didn’t connect somehow to something deeper, because then it’s just a bunch of people flying around and we wouldn’t care.

Read the full interview here.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

[550] Whit Stillman Interview

Whichever way you look at it, 14 years is a long time in the film business - and that is how long it’s been since writer-director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days Of Disco) last graced us with a slice of dry-humoured, acutely-satirical comedy.

His new film, the East Coast college flick
Damsels In Distress, is both a return to and a break from form. The budget is still low, and the characters still wrestle with toe-curling lapses in self-awareness, but this time around there’s a new generation of pitch-perfect performers (Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody) giving voice to Stillman’s dialogue.

The night before I was due to chat with the director, I caught one of his three London Q&A appearances, where he answered questions covering the racial make-up of his cast, his obsession with dance crazes, and his fondness for the ‘stupid, innocent comedy’ of Will Ferrell. With such a packed promotional schedule, I worried that all possible questions had already been asked. What could we possibly talk about?

Luckily, as he has proved in his films, Stillman is the master of looking at similar situations with different, fresh perspectives. When I arrived at the PR company’s Soho offices, the director broke ranks, wandered out into the foyer, and suggested we conduct our conversation over coffee. And, amongst the Berwick Street bustle, Stillman proved to be a chatty fellow, full of anecdotes about his unrealised projects, advice about being an economical filmmaker and opinions on the current state of the film industry.

Read the full article here.

[549] Being Elmo Review

Thanks to the success of the recent Muppets revival flick - a sequel to which has just been cheekily announced by Disney - interest in the work of Jim Henson is higher than any other time in recent memory.

With that in mind, has there ever been a riper moment for a documentary that looks into ‘the soul of a puppeteer’? In a stroke of serendipitous movie magic, this week we are treated to the release Being Elmo, a biographical documentary about Sesame Street puppeteer Kevin Clash. The timing couldn’t be better, and, what’s more, the film isn’t half bad either.

Read the full article here.

[548] Damsels In Distress Review

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Damsels In Distress, the first film from writer-director Whit Stillman in well over a decade, is its unassuming lightness. Any expectations of grand statements, mostly fermented in the gap between this and 1998’s The Last Days Of Disco, are dissipated almost immediately by a buoyant pep.

This is in no small part due to the film’s star, indie darling Greta Gerwig. For years the poster child of ‘mumblecore’ flicks by the likes of Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers, Gerwig’s unconventional charm recently propped up No Strings Attached and graced Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg. Here, she is Violet, lead moppet in a clutch of florally-named students, whose altruistic tendencies lead them to run their leafy East Coast college’s Suicide Prevention Centre. Their preferred methods? Doughnuts and dancing.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 4 May 2012

[547] Elfie Hopkins Interviews: Jaime Winstone, Ryan Andrews & Aneurin Barnard

British film! Here's a little bit of press junket coverage I did for Youngsters talking about being young filmmakers in a fresh-faced fashion.

'It's like being a plasterer: the more you do it, the better you get.'

Ryan Andrews has been working hard, but the slog is finally paying off. His feature-length, directorial debut, Elfie Hopkins, is due for release this week, putting an end to five years of hard graft.

The film, in his words a mixture of 'American Grunge and British Twee', is a collision of aesthetic styles and narrative influences, from Tim Burton and fashion photography, to the stories of Raymond Chandler and Roald Dahl. Our young protagonist, the titular Elfie (Jaime Winstone), skulks around her rural Welsh town, playing the wannabe super-sleuth in Doc Martens and John Lennon shades. However, when a mysterious new family move in, this grunge-y gumshoe unearths more than she'd ever bargained for.

Starring bright young things Winstone and Aneurin Barnard (last seen in Marc Evans’ nostalgic Welsh drama Hunky Dory), the film’s mix of genre tropes, meticulous production design and lush cinematography makes it a very unlikely project for a first-time filmmaker, especially considering the supposedly cash-strapped, risk-averse times that currently plague the film industry.

Last week, on the cusp of the film's release, we sat down with Andrews, Winstone and Barnard, and spoke with them about starting out in the film world, building confidence and contacts, and how a film like Elfie Hopkins gets made.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

[546] Ginger Heroes

It's May! How did that happen? Time has been flying, and I've been very busy indeed. Expect a bunch of updates over the coming days, but here's an article I've been, well, destined to write my whole life.

Yes, over at MSN, I count down my favourite, film-y ginger heroes. Immense fun! And the editors even added one in afterwards. Can you guess which?

You know, it's not easy being ginger. Name-calling, freckles, sunburn - these are but three of the problems plaguing young redheads the world over.

But wait, fear no more. This summer, all fair-skinned ginger-nuts can stand side-by-side and herald the coming of Merida, the carrot-topped heroine of Disney-Pixar's upcoming animated adventure Brave, due for release on 17 August.

To celebrate, let's round-up the redheads for a ginger jamboree! Please join us as we look back at the most august of auburn-locked stars, from past to present.

Read the full article here.