Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Acknowledging Hypocrisy

Whilst having a rather intellectual bath reading A Very Short Introduction to Nietzsche (a simultaneously pretentious and not actually pretentious act - surely the really pretentious would scoff at the idea of a ‘very short introduction’, but oh, how I would love to be that scoffer), the book spoke of how fierce a scribbler Freddie was. Any idea or concept that entered his mind would be jotted down in an instant, so convinced he was of always being on the cusp of brilliance. Most of it was brilliance (apparently, I’m only reading a short introduction), but were ideas he became heavily critical of upon later reflection. This is why they remained simply jottings, excluded from his published work. These half-thoughts provided inspiration/proof for the extremists, fundamentalists and any other wide ranging fanatical group who took him as their cause’s forefather.

A rather tenuous link, then, that the notion of the unpublished, the unfiltered, entered my consciousness only earlier. The Internet has appealed to this side of one’s mindset - the process of a thought, and that that thought can often be the most ingenious thought that ever was thunk. Often proved wrong upon reflection, and always criticised heavily or politely nodded at (which is infinitely worse) by those one explains them to. It is a painful acknowledgement to make, that one’s ideas are so often waffle. In my experience, being shot down (which I have considerable experience of) provokes two reactions; a tenacious denial of the shooter’s credentials, a stuttering defence of the idea and bitching about the whole fiasco to anyone who will listen (or again, politely nod, which is rather helpful here), or a downward spiral pondering my own inadequacies. The blogger has no-one to be shot down by until their post is within the digital sphere. I’m sure many are severely embarrassed once posting, as I am, and maybe that comes from a sense of unrefinement, of putting something as personal as fleeting thoughts somewhere where anyone can see.

For blogs aren’t surely as researched as other forms of writing. And why would they have to be? Are they not just diary entries (see, I am doubting my own words already)? But that does mean there is an intrinsic haste to their form. Blogging, as I see it, is a mass of individuals all shouting and not listening. There will be dialogue to an extent, but not in a traditional, sustained, productive or progressive form.

Tenuously again, I will relate this to spectatorship and the steady whittling down of shared experience. If one takes the cinematic apparatus as the beginning of spectatorship, shared experience there is at its highest. Say there are ten films released every week, the possibility of others having seen what you have seen increases. Indeed, the very act of watching in a cinema is shared due to the people that surround you (although it may not feel like it at the time - the wonderful trick of film). To continue, television thus widens the choice of what to view, and decreases the amount of people one shares this experience with. This concludes with the Internet, the most whorish of distribution systems, with its inherent rape, et all. The spectator is often reduced to a crowd of one, as I am now, and the increased choice decreases the chance of someone else sharing your experience. The Internet breeds individuality and destroys the need for space. I am not going to be absolutist enough to cry that community is under threat, but surely this need to have an existence of defined individuality within a new space is a subject worth a ponder.

But everything I have just typed is equally (if not more so) applicable to it. These thoughts have only been bouncing through my head in only the last few days, even then they had not been linked together as above. None of it has been run by another. The diarrhoea of the unfiltered mind is present here in all its abhorrence. Likewise, the act of typing this blog commits me to the same self-projectors I lament. It is an odd thing to acknowledge one’s own hypocrisy and then continue as if simple awareness of it is enough.

Unfortunately, I have no answers. And even if you do, I won’t listen.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Overlooked Hotel: Face (1997)

The Overlooked Hotel is a new series from Elliptical Edits, where we take a second look at a film we feel deserves a wider audience than it got on its original release. And yes, the title is a nod to King and Kubrick.

In my first post on Elliptical Edits, I made a reference to Face, and thought it would be worth a post of its own. Released in the autumn of 1997 it seems, at first glance to be a fairly run of the mill generic heist gone wrong film, but a closer look reveals a little more.

Starring Robert Carlyle as Ray, a former socialist activist turned armed robber, the film takes place over two days showing the build up and aftermath of a raid on a security depot in west London.

The film was directed by Antonia Bird, and marked her return to British cinema after making Mad Love in the US (and though that film was not a success in critical or commercial terms, when she appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, Drew Barrymore said her character in that film was the closest she has ever come to playing herself in a film). I would argue Face failed at the box office because, released just a month after The Full Monty, audiences didn't want to see Robert Carlyle as a criminal at that point. If it had been released a year later, in the wake of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels it may have faired better, though it is very different in tone to that film. It could be described as a less stylised, British Reservoir Dogs; both films share a similar storyline and feature a fictional radio show on the soundtrack, though in Face it's Billy Bragg rather than K-Billy's Super Sounds of the 70s that gets the characters talking.

Opening with Ray and his colleague Dave (Ray Winstone) turning up on a London council estate, the sound of a police radio and the fact that Ray has a warrant card leads us to believe they are police officers. Turning over a drug dealer, he tells them he's "experienced the old bill, and they don't usually come on this strong", even on a bad day. The words are given an extra piquancy when you realise the character is played by Gerry Conlon. (The writer of the film, Ronan Bennett, also spent time in prison for a crime he didn't commit.)

The politics of the film perhaps also give a clue to why the film didn't succeed. Wearing its leftist principles on its sleeve (though Bird, in the DVD commentary to the film says the “Vote Labour” billboard was only included because it happened to be at the location they were shooting), it may have seemed a tad dated in the autumn of 1997, with an as yet undiscredited Labour government in power, it looked like some characters were fighting battles that had already been won. A character's speech about there being no public servants and no public service at the end of the film may have seemed out of place when it first appeared, now it just seems like Peter Mandelson's claim that “We are all Thatcherite now” almost five years before he actually said it. Ray has to be the only armed robber in history to have posters for Ken Loach films on his walls.

Ray and Dave's gang are completed by reliable character actor Phil Davis as the unhinged Julian (don't call him Julie), Steven Waddington as the slow but loyal Stevie, and making his screen acting debut as Jason, the youngest of the team, a certain Damon Albarn (his best line? On dance music, he says “It's just noise, isn't it? Stops you thinking.”).

Though there is a moment – a brief montage – that borders on glamourising the crime the gang are committing, more often than not it makes armed robbery look a bit pathetic as a career, and the gang a bit amateur (Jason crunches the gears on the van as they drive to the security depot they are robbing, and it takes two attempts to break through the wall). In the pub after the raid, when the arguments have already started about how the money will be split up, Ray tells Jason the downside of his chosen career – he's spent five years in prison and could have earned double driving a van or a minicab.

When Dave turns up bloodied and having his share of the loot stolen, the gang implode into accusations and in-fighting, with the police hot on their tail. A shoot out in the street is based on the one in Michael Mann's Heat, with the action transposed from Los Angeles to suburban Haringey.

Knowing the game is up, Ray goes to his activist mother, Sue Johnston, for money and a car. After telling her “They won.” She dresses him down and asks “Who do you think you are, Robin Hood?” He replies with “Well, we don't always give to the poor, but we do rob the rich”, a version of which would appear, two years later, as the tag line to the Carlyle starring Plunkett & Macleane.

The end, following a shoot out in a Police Station, is downbeat but, ultimately, hopeful. One could speculate what would happen to the characters, and what sort of life they cold lead after the events of the film, but you imagine those that survive will somehow make a fresh start.

Bird reunited with Carlyle for the cannibal thriller Ravenous (for which Albarn, teaming up with Michael Nyman, produced the soundtrack). She and Bennett (who worked on the script for Public Enemies, uniting him with Michael Mann, the director of Heat that he paid homage to in Face) would reunite for television's The Hamburg Cell, telling the story of the 9/11 hijackers. Lena Headey, here appearing as Ray's youth worker girlfriend, would eventually find success in 300 and on television in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Carlyle has also moved into TV, starring in the latest Stargate series. In fact with the exception of Winstone, most the cast and crew seem to have forged a career in television. Though it works as a feature film, one wonders if Face would not have been better served as a the sort of one off TV drama they sadly don't seem to make anymore. It was part financed by the BBC, and to have it remembered as a great television play would surely be a better fate than to be forgotten as a film. Still, check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

On the Narrative Failures of Twilight Using Wrestling Terminology

On the Narrative Failures of Twilight Using Wrestling Terminology

There is something inanely seedy and perverted about watching films on a laptop screen. I find the charges of its illegality dubious; I refer to the picture quality it evokes. Just as one sees surveillance footage with a condemning eye (unless one were a security guard, why would one be watching such footage unless to condemn?), anything I see on a laptop screen - with an occasional pixelated face/frozen visual/poor sound - must activate a register in the subconscious instinctively recognising it as pornography (unfortunately through habit). However, TWILIGHT turned out to create a similar effect: I was left at the laptop screen feeling slightly cheated and depressed and angry that everything I'd just witnessed was far more multicultural and prettier than I am.

Self-conscious anxiety aside, disappointment towards the product solely derived from poor narrative structure and a failure to represent characters properly. Feedback from other sources, and noting the film’s targeted demographic (emo girls), I had preconceptions for the film being awful. Experience dictates this should make the film enjoyable. It worked, to an extent, but there seemed something terribly askew with the whole fiasco. To explore the reasons behind this I will be utilising wrestling terminology (please note the following are subjective opinions disguised as absolutes):

The major narrative flaw with the storyline is that the heels [1] are hardly represented or built up throughout the film. As the main event is a bout between the leader of the heel faction (James, bad vampire) and the leading baby face [2] (Edward), one would assume the build [3] would be far greater. Instead the feud [4] between the two is only allowed time to develop in the final half hour, generating hardly any heat [5] for James. More frustrating is the constantly teased heel turn [6] of Edward’s ‘sister’, Rosaline, and the sudden, informal face turn of Laurent when he warns the family of James’ vicious streak. Laurent’s is an intriguing turn and would benefit greatly from more screen time, hopefully bringing with it exposition on the (completely underdeveloped) character of James, whilst offering more of a back story on inter-vampire feuds . Rosaline, however, proves an obstacle to Edward and Bella at every opportunity. These are not even subtle disagreements (ones which would lend to a more complex, developed complete heel turn over the ‘saga’ of films), but huge, blaring ones which usually dictate a full heel turn at the end of a film. Instead, this storyline is completely abandoned and we are offered nothing more of her after refusing to put on a coat (to hide Bella’s smell from the tracking James). Although her complete heel turn is inevitable (unless she turns fully face through a love of Edward – the only other plausible storyline I can see for her), it should have been carried out far more discreetly in this instalment.

[1] Heels – wrestling terminology for the bad guy in a feud. For a ‘heel’ to fully work the spectator must feel the urge to boo him/her, thus creating ‘heat’. See: Chris Jericho during his Shawn Michaels feud

[2] Baby Face or Face – wrestling terminology for the good guy in a feud. For a ‘face’ to fully work the spectator must be overcome to stand on their feet and, in a sense of elation, cheer him/her, thus creating ‘heat. See: early 2000 The Rock

[3] Build – the effort and time given to developing a feud between two characters. This should eventually end in a match

[4] Feud – wrestling terminology for the tension between two battling characters. See: any build to a wrestling match, ever.

[5] Heat – wrestling terminology for an audience’s verbal reaction towards a character. For instance, if a baby face receives cheers they are said to have good ‘heat’. If a heel receives boos, they are also said to have good heat. The worst outcome for a wrestler is that they have no ‘heat’ – the arena would be silent– as this implies nobody buys or believes their character or feud. See: Mark Henry at any stage of his career

[6] Turn – wrestling terminology for when a character switches to an opposite role. For a baby face turn, see: Kurt Angle at Bound for Glory 2009. For a heel turn, see: Batista at Bragging Rights against Rey Mysterio, Jr.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

"Shoot straight you bastards! Don't make a mess of it!"

I'm a bit late on this, but following his death at the age of 79 I wanted to post something about Edward Woodward.

Edgar Wright (who directed him in Hot Fuzz) has a very warm tribute to him here (with a follow up featuring contributions from Joe Dante and Peter Jackson here) and Simon Pegg's memories of working with him on the same film can be seen here.

Most obituaries seem to have focussed on his TV career - fair enough; he was in two huge TV series across three decades, and most people will recognise him from one of those, but his film career should not be overlooked.

Those obituaries that do mention his film career have concentrated on his role as Sgt. Howie in the classic (I'll omit the ubiquitous "cult" from its description - when a film has been remade it surely enters the mainstream) The Wicker Man. A wonderfully crazy British film, no doubt, but if I had to pick my favourite film of his, I'd plump for the 1980 Australian film Breaker Morant. I'm glad to see Simon Pegg mentioned it in his tribute.

A military courtroom drama, based on a true story and set during the Boer War, Woodward plays the title character, a poet and one of three Australian soldiers on trial for shooting prisoners. You get the feeling Aaron Sorkin, writer of A Few Good Men saw it a few times before he wrote the play that film is based on.

It was a film I'd read about (it gets a mention in Andy McNab's Bravo Two Zero, for example), and wanted to see it but hadn't seen until, in a happy coincidence, it popped up on TV on my birthday in 2002.

Scapegoats in a war the British Empire want to end, the men are hamstrung in their defence from the start, and the way the men take their inevitable fate is choking in its stoicism. If you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it, but I recall an interview with Woodward a few years ago where he said that he and Bryan Brown, playing his colleague Lt. Peter Handcock, had improvised a moment right before the end, only to find out that is what the real Morant and Handcock had done at the same point.

Fans of his character in The Wicker Man, the pious Police Sargeant Howie, will be interested to note that in this film Woodward exclaims (in a sly dig at the outcome of the trial) "I'm a pagan." The best line, however, is (save for Woodward reading one of Morant's poems in voiceover) the final one of the film, which you can find in the title to this post.

The DVD is available on Amazon for less than a fiver. I can think of worse ways to spend an evening as the nights draw in.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

An Attempt At A Summary Of The Week's Film News, Kind Of...It May Not Be Very Good...

...but nothing has been posted here for a while (due to tyrannical essays). The best measure to counteract this? Copy and paste from pre-existing news items and pass it off as one's own...

(all text in bold is quoted directly from source)


Darren Aronofsky’s next film, THE BLACK SWAN now has the announced cast of Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey and Vincent Cassel.

“Portman and Kunis are rival ballerinas vying for the same spot, a vacancy left by Ryder's character as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. What moves this into the crazy Aronofsky category is that Kunis may or may not be a figment of Portman's imagination. Hershey would play Portman's mother and Cassel would be the "sinister" director of the ballet.”

Source: Ain’t It Cool News


Summit will be producing Duncan Jones’ next film, called SOURCE CODE. Apparently this script has been doing the rounds for a while and a lot of people are impressed with it. Jones’ previous film, Moon, was his own script so this would be a departure in that respect (I don’t know if a one film trend an auteur make). Personally I didn’t like Moon. I thought it was predictable and obvious (in that sort of way where it pretends it isn’t predictable and obvious). In its defence, however, the film looked beautifully retro and I did watch it immediately after Antichrist.
Jake Gyllenhaal is in talks to star. The one-liner is “a soldier wakes up in the body of a commuter who must solve the mystery of a train explosion”

Source: Ain’t It Cool News


I Am Legend and Constantine director, Francis Lawrence, and screenwriter, Chad St. John, have been brought on to finally make real Joel Silver’s long standing obsession to make a Sgt. Rock film. Guy Ritchie had a stab at it a while back but he is now working on LOBO (another Silver produced, comic book adaptation).

The new found life in the project is due to Warner Brothers seeing the success of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and the forthcoming Captain America film (both WWII set).

Source: Empire


“In the biggest executive departure since the arrival of Rich Ross as chairman, Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group president Mark Zoradi has exited his post.

Zoradi, a 29-year Disney veteran, oversaw global marketing for the entire theatrical slate and was one of the most powerful studio executives in the field. His tenure delivered numerous $1bn-plus domestic and overseas years including an extraordinary run of 12 consecutive $1bn years at the box office during his time as president of Buena Vista International (BVI).

He was a close friend of ousted chairman Dick Cook. Ross now gets to appoint his own choice to the role after recently announcing the departure of Miramax Films president Daniel Battsek

Zoradi assumed the post of president of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group in July 2006 after having led the studio’s international distribution and marketing arm formerly known as BVI for 14 years.

He joined the Disney fold in 1980 as marketing manager for Walt Disney Home Video during the beginning of the home entertainment boom, eventually moving into television as marketing director for the Disney Channel.

In 1985 he entered the feature business as director of sales for Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. He was named vice-president and general manager of Buena Vista Television and from 1987 to 1992 led the rapid growth of this business unit and was responsible for ad sales, finance, administration and operations.

In 1992 Zoradi set up the stand-alone BVI, generating $16.8bn from 1995-2006.

Source: Direct quote from Screen Online


To the dismay of many of my peers, I had never seen OLDBOY until a month ago. My reluctance was foolishly because it was so recommended. It did, however, astound me. So as I am usually for remakes, sequels, etc, the prospect of Will Smith and Steven Spielberg adapting OLDBOY for an American audience excited me dearly – especially as they were to adapt it from the source text (Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya's manga) as opposed to Park Chan-wook's 2003 film.

Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately purely on the fucking fanboy backlash that it would provoke) the project has fallen through. Although some will see this as a success – “Hooray, now we can keep OLDBOY to a niche instead of it being Americanised and thus never find as larger audience as it could (an audience that would hopefully then be encouraged to look into the Korean cinema that birthed it)”, more alarmingly is that a studio, Mandate and Dreamworks, could not reach an agreement with Will Smith and Steven Spielberg. The recession climate renders even those two names unbankable.

Source: Ain’t It Cool News


Will Smith is set to star in a film adaptation of Daniel Keyes' novel Flowers For Algernon. I remember this book fondly from my Year 9 English days. It seems to be standard Seven Pounds and Pursuit of Happyness Oscar fodder that Smith seems to churn out yearly. Indeed, “Cliff Robertson when he took home the Oscar for the 1968 version Charly.”

Produced “at Sony by Smith's own production company Overbrook Entertainment”, I’m sure Smith will have a lot of say in the process. Tracy Nyberg (I Am Legend and Hancock) is to produce.

Source: Empire


“Trainspotting actor urges cinema chains to give 'a wee leg up' to the British film industry
Actor Robert Carlyle has called on cinema chains to "give a leg up" to the British film industry by reserving at least one screen in multiplexes to show UK productions.

Speaking at the Bafta Scotland awards in Glasgow on Sunday, the Trainspotting and Full Monty actor said, "I look at all these multiplex cinemas, 15 and 20 screens. They are basically wall-to-wall American product. You will be lucky if you find any British subject in there at all.
"I don't see why there's anything wrong in giving our industry a wee lift up, a wee leg up, and reserving one of these screens, just one of these screens for a British product.

"We make stuff and we bury it. You don't get to see it and what's the point in that? Reserve something so people will then vote with their feet."

Carlyle, who can currently be seen in SGU: Stargate Universe on Sky1, was in his home town to pick up the Scottish Bafta award for best television actor for his performance in Samantha Morton's The Unloved, beating Doctor Who's David Tennant to the prize.

He added that he was unlikely to shoot a film in Britain in the near future due to problems getting movies made and distributed.

He said: "I'm not going to be hanging about making films in Britain for quite a wee while, to be honest with you.

"The major problem for me is it's getting harder and harder to make these types of films, more and more difficult to get the finance."”

Source: Direct quote from Guardian Film


Orange, the France Telecom-owned mobile operator, has signed a deal with number of French film bodies to invest $120.2m (€80m) over the next three years in French and European cinema.

The deal has been signed with the Bureau de Liaison des Industries Cinematopgraphiques (BLIC), Bureau de Liaison des Organisations du Cinema (BLOC) and ARP, which covers producers, directors, distributors and exhibitors in France.

Orange Cinema Series (OCS) will invest the cash through its pay-TV service Orange Cinema Series and about 60% of that will be committed to pre-buying French films and the rest invested in film co-productions.

It has also committed to spending 25% of the budget to acquiring French-language films with a budget of $8m (€5.35m) or less, and it will also support film distribution and exhibition, specifically promoting digital.

Orange has also committed to compensating rights holders for the use of content on the interactive features of the Cinema Series service, such as catch-up TV.

The mobile operator and content provider has been increasingly investing in film over recent years through its production arm, Studio 37. It works with a series of independent producers and has co-produced films includingm Riad Sattouf’s first film Les Beaux Gosses.

OSC, launched last November, is available on TV, PC and mobile phone. It offers programmes and a large selection of films on a five dedicated channels.”

Source: Direct quote from Screen Online


Following David Fincher’s next film on Facebook, Sir Ridley Scott is to base a film on a similarly ludicrous source, Monopoly. However, both very talented directors. It’s just…Monopoly?

Producer Frank Beddor, has shed some light on the subject to the LA Times.

"I took the approach of thinking of the main character falling down the rabbit hole into a place called Monopoly City," he says. The main character is envisaged as a dorky Manhattan real-estate agent who's also an obsessive Monopoly player. A magic chance card transports him to the city where Monopoly money is currency, and where the evil Parker Brothers (what, not the Waddingtons?) must be defeated.

"It tries to incorporate all the iconic imageries -- a sports car pulls up, there's someone on a horse, someone pushing a wheelbarrow," says Beddor, also mentioning recurring sight-gags with Uncle Pennybags (the guy on the box) showing up in different guises.”

Pamela Pettner (CORPSE BRIDE, MONSTER HOUSE, 9) is to write the screenplay

Source: Empire


“The studio with the famous lion logo and library of James Bond films appears to be headed for the auction block to recoup some $3.7bn in debt

The MGM lion, a star of cinema since the 1920s, may be looking for a new home amid rumours that the studio is to be sold off in the Hollywood equivalent of a fire sale. Reportedly saddled with debts totalling $3.7bn (£2.2bn), the company looks likely to sell its MGM and United Artists libraries to the highest bidder in the next few weeks.

Variety suggests that the studio's film archive, which includes the lucrative James Bond adventures, may be snapped up by a major company such as Time-Warner. The famous logo featuring Leo the lion could well be auctioned off separately. Either way, it appears that the heyday of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is officially over.

Founded in 1924, MGM operated under the motto "Ars Gratia Artis", a Latin phrase meaning "art for art's sake". The company enjoyed a long and profitable heyday thanks to the success of films such as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind and Singin' in the Rain. It scored what was arguably its biggest hit in 1959 with the Oscar-winning Ben Hur.

In recent years, however, the company's output has dwindled and it has become increasingly reliant on money generated by the 007 franchise. MGM has released only three pictures in 2009: The Pink Panther 2 and the remakes Fame and The Taking of Pelham 123. All of these were co-productions with other studios.”

Source: direct quote from Screen Online


Martin Scorsese will receive the Cecil B DeMille Award for his “outstanding contribution to the entertainment field” at the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 17, 2010.

The award, voted by the board of directors of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, was announced by Vera Farmiga at a press conference this morning [12].

The show, hosted by Ricky Gervais, will be broadcast live coast-to-coast from The Beverly Hilton.

Scorsese received two best director Golden Globes for The Departed and Gangs Of New York. He earned five additional Golden Globe nominations, including four as best director (Casino, Age Of Innocence, Goodfellas, and Raging Bull) and one for best screenplay for Raging Bull with Nicolas Pileggi.

Steven Spielberg won the Cecil B DeMille award last year and previous winners include Warren Beatty, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams and Michael Douglas.

Scorsese is the founder and chair of The Film Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation and protection of motion picture history.

Nominations for The 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards will be announced on December 15.”

Source: Direct quote from Screen Online

*all text in bold is quoted directly from source.

Trailers I Procrastinated With This Week...

UP n the Air

Clash of the Titans

-the ‘superhero’ Red Mist has the best power ever seen. A gun.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Read Debord!

An audiovisual homage and critique of Guy Debord's Situationist text 'Society of the Spectacle' using found footage, and thus, détournement.

Blessed at the London Film Festival

In Leicester Square people were getting ready for the closing night gala of the 53rd BFI London Film Festival; Sam Taylor-Wood's debut, Nowhere Boy, about the early life of John Lennon.

However, I found myself across the square in the newest LFF venue, the Vue, in a cinema only two thirds full for a screening of Ana Kokkinos's Blessed.

A late addition to the festival programme (a listing for it does not appear in the festival brochure), this film grew out of the provocatively titled play Who's Afraid of the Working Class?, dealing with the relationships between people on the edge of society of Melbourne.

It is perhaps a good thing that Blessed has no opening credits: a personal prejudice leads me to worry about films with more than two credited writers, and Blessed has four. However, this was far from a hindrance to the film. You don't win the jury prize for Best Screenplay at the San Sebastián International Film Festival when too many cooks have spoiled the broth. The dialogue of the teenagers - so hard for many writers to master - is pitch perfect ("not a spare word", was what my mother said, with whom I saw the film).

The film is split into two sections, "The Children" and "The Mothers", both halves taking place over the same day and night, and telling the different sides of same stories and relationships.

Dealing with issues like child abuse and Australia's Stolen Generations, Blessed is perhaps not an easy film to watch, but it is one that is well worth the effort.

Moments that may appear confusing when first shown make sense when the story is told from the other perspective. A scene that could turn into a cliché (a teenage burglar befriended by his victim) turns into something much darker in a split second. Other than one scene that reminded me of the similarly themed US ensemble piece Where the Day Takes You (Will Smith's film debut, trivia fans), I really cannot recall a film quite like Blessed. I do not wish to give too much away, but I will say one particular plotline is incredibly moving.

Cezary Skubiszewski
's somehow uplifting music is worthy of a particular mention.

I am unsure if the film has yet found a distributor in the UK. I hope it does. It also deserves recognition come awards season. Frances O'Connor, in particular should be rewarded for her performance.

During the Q&A Kokkinos that followed the screening, I asked what the reaction to the film had been in Australia. She said it had been largely positive, with a huge resonance for some people. I asked the question because I recall reading that the release of La haine led to questions in the French Parliament, followed by a screening for politicians. One could easily imagine Blessed having the same response in Australia.

Ana Kokkinos said in an interview (WARNING: slight spoilers in the link) that "People are thinking about the film days after." I saw the film on Thursday. It's Sunday now and I'm still thinking about Rhonda, Stacey and Orton.

One final point: The print I saw was the same one that had been shown at San Sebastián, and therefore had Spanish subtitles. It did not detract from the film in any way, but surely a film as important as this deserves more than one print in Europe? I know striking prints is expensive, but if it is prohibitively expensive, then the case for digital projection can only grow.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Foxy Feminism

Since its premier at the 53rd annual British Film Festival in London, Fantastic Mr Fox is quickly becoming a hit with parents and children alike and it’s easy to see why. The film’s use of quirky stop motion and music gives it a flare of originality. However, I couldn’t escape the feeling of disappointment (cue familiar eyeroll) at the film’s portrayal of the all too familiar gender roles. Perhaps it was due to the casting of Meryl Streep in the lead female role that caused me to subconsciously prepare for what I thought would be a more modern take on a classic tale. I left feeling disheartened. The only female character with any substantial screen time was Mrs Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep). Furthermore her character operated predominately within the domestic sphere that traditionally has stifled many great female roles. The primary function of Mrs Fox was to act as the ‘voice of reason’ that prohibits Mr Fox (George Clooney) from living his charismatic life of enjoyment and danger.

The climax of the film takes the form of a battle between the displaced animals (led by Mr Fox) and the three farmers Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon). One of the most memorable scenes in Fantastic Mr Fox is the one in which Mr Fox is shown rounding up and assessing his allies’ strengths. The dominance of masculinity is most striking in this scene and those that follow. The physical battle is shown to be a male arena, with Mrs Fox and the other female characters not permitted to leave the domestic setting. In addition, they are given only fleeting appearances in the narrative, with the possible excepting of the young fox which becomes the source of tension between Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson). The character is never fully explored and left merely as an object of desire for the young males.

Although adults will undoubtedly flock to see Fantastic Mr Fox, the film’s primary audience will be children. As such, it is important that there be a female character for young female, and male, audience members to relate to. This is absent in the film.

Fantastic Mr Fox looks set for cult status, it’s just a cursing shame that Wes Anderson failed to bring Roald Dahl’s classic tale into a modern society.

Rant over.

I want Moore.

Julianne Moore's greatest tool? Her mouth...

Whether she's gasping for breathe in [safe]...

Erupting on a truly deserving pharmacist in Magnolia...

Or struggling to maintain the perfect image of wife and mother in Far From Heaven...

Her mouth is the core, the indicator for the rest of her performance. You can go further with her mousy Laura Brown in The Hours, how her lips struggle to utter a word, or her Barbara Baekeland in Savage Grace, where her mouth is more deadly than any weapon.

Moore's mouth is a cinematic treasure trove, and what makes it all the more delicious is that it is also responsible for one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard and fortunately a reoccuring presence during her Screen Talk that coincided with the 53rd London Film Festival, where she screened not one but two new films, A Single Man and Chloe. (Both of which I was lucky enough to have seen, and will discuss later).

Humble to the point of frustration (how I didn't scream "YOU ARE A GODDESS" I am unsure), Moore was as intelligent, entertaining and enchanting as her film roles would suggest and any hints of superiority, in any capacity, were distinctly absent. In fact her message was quite clear, acting is simply a job and film is a director's medium, actors are only their vessel for which they can achieve their vision and be a cultural force. This was accompanied by an interesting ancedote of new-mum Moore on the set of Magnolia, where she would instinctively alternate from her role as gold digger in the midst of hysteria to mother rather than complaining "I can't mother my child, I'm in character!". Both interesting scenarios...that would surely scare any child senseless.

The questions - from the The Script Factory's director, Briony Hanson - played safe with general interest; how did you get into X character, how do you find working with X, etc. And the interview progressed rather smoothly (quite unlike my usual encounters with Moore in the cinema), only on a handful of occassions did Hanson trigger the unanticapated from Moore. And in a flash, she was gone. As this flash lasted approx an hour and a half I cannot complain, but the greedy film fanatic inside me naturally wanted more. What about Savage Grace?, future theatre work?, and - most importantly for me - talk about your mouth!

Fortunately there are always her performances to obsess over, and her work in A Single Manand Chloe are worthy additions to her astonishing array of characters. A Single Man is undoubtedly the greater film, and will surely land her a fifth Oscar nomination come March 2010 yet it is Chloe that proves more interesting from the perspective of Moore. It sums up my own feelings on her career; in 'indie' film she rules as Queen, but once she steps into the realm of the commercial she begins to struggle.

The first hour or so acts as a wonderful examination of long-term relationships that have grown loveless and the loss of sexuality. Then a 'twist', more a disjointed change of characters and genre, throws all this good work out the window (teehehe) in a desperate attempt to incorporate a bunny-boiler finale. It is an odd decision that reaps no rewards, unless you enjoy your paint-by-numbers Hollywood thrillers with lesbian overtones (I imagine, to my dismay, many do!). Only Moore comes out unscathed; she could anchor a ship with the automatic empathy she summons. Just look at this failed attempt at a smile for the 'unsuspecting' prostitute she is about to enlist in order to discover her husband's infidelities...

She is wonderful, no?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Julianne Moore. 23.10.09. 18:30. BFI Southbank.

A sort of unknowing curiousity circled my head as we made our way to our seats in an auditorium that was to be for the next two hours the location for an interview with the one and only Julianne Moore. Certainly the person beside me was almost bursting out of his seat with excitement, anticipation and what was quite frankly a death-defying bubble of love for this woman. But what about the rest of us? Sure I knew who she was. Did I like Children of Men? Of course. Far From Heaven? It frustrated me. Was I really aware of anything else this woman had been in? Not really. So what the hell was I doing amongst all these 'fans' waiting to hear this woman, about whom my lack of knowledge didn't even permit me to form any sort of opinion, and allow us rather insignificant individuals a brief glimpse into her fantastical existence? Well, Michael, I owe it to you. your absolute adoration of this woman is so infectious and admirable that I wanted to be a part of your dreams coming true. Yes I was curious, intrigued, but perhaps, quite ashamedly, I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. From what I did know, I wasn't exactly struck down by her glamour, her beauty, or even necessarily her presence. But as she glided into that auditorium, and a room full of heads, mine included, in a split second spun to see this wonderful figure make her entrance, to say I was taken aback is something of a understatement. In that brief moment she owned the room and everyone in it. A head of cascading auburn hair framing what I never thought I'd consider to be one of the most beautifully stunning faces I'd ever seen. Her, again surprisingly, petite figure dressed head to toe in black chic; she was, quite simply, beautiful. And so the interview began. Conducted by Briony Hanson, whose rather impressive back catalogue, including an ownership to co-devising the first ever Sing-along-a-Sound-Of-Music, had earned her the all-empowering position of directing Ms. Moore's deconstruction to us.

With crossed legs and an air of effortless ease, Ms. Moore responds to Hanson's intrusions with a charming wit and infectious laugh, both necessary considering the, shall we say, near-the-knuckle nature of the talk. Why is it that you seem to consistently appear in such controversial roles? Incestuous Mother? Drug Addicted Porn Star? Etc? Well, it's not about the controversy. Boogie Nights is not a film about sex and drugs (although it is), it's about finding yourself. The nudity is not about getting your clothes off, it's not crass, it's not indecent, it's all about the messages: the connotations. And as for the nudity, well, it's a job. Yes, a job. Albeit high profile, but a job nonetheless. Do Oscar nominations put pressure on your next film? No, they get me my next film. They pay the mortgage. That's not to say Ms. Moore goes about her 'job' in a nonchalant, dismissive fashion. No. Into her work she inspires a commitment and a trust so unremitting and so admirable that her success speaks for itself. What this woman is, however, is realistic. Humble. Gracious. A preciously treasured family life forbids her career to become all emcompassing: "No I can't take care of my son, I'm in character" she jokes. A stab a Daniel Day-Lewis? Perhaps. But it made us laugh. Why did you first work with Paul Thomas Anderson? Because his script was beautiful. Why did you first work with Todd Haynes? Because his script was beautiful. Do you get disappointed when your films are criticised? Who wouldn't? Do you have a piece of work you feel most proud of? No, I feel most proud when I'm on set, when I achieve something. The end product is the director's baby, and being in the moment of producing a scene, that's mine.

Perhaps Hanson's questions were slightly repetitive. Perhaps the constant revisiting to Ms. Moore's seeming preference for erotic controversy was arguably in fact a guilty reflection of Hanson's own adoration? Perhaps. But whilst one interviewer's desires were satisfied, so were a whole room of spectator's. Taking her career seriously, but not herself, Julianne Moore is infectious to listen to and a beauty to look at. Her attitude to life is admirable: a woman truly grateful for the hand she has been dealt, but certainly not one to take any of it for granted.

As for me? The cynical but curious spectator amongst a sea of adoration? A little crush? I think so.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

And so it begins...

A look at Fantastic Mr Fox

Growing up in Britain during the last few decades of the 20th Century, you can't have failed to have encountered Roald Dahl's work in some form or another. A friend of mine read his books well into high school, I'm sure I still have a VHS of Danny The Champion Of The World in a box somewhere. (We had two copies of the book in the house). I was taken to see the film of The Witches as a ninth birthday treat (looking back, I think it's quite cool that my parents took me to see a Nic Roeg film at such an early age - surely they wouldn't have done that had they not trusted the source material so much). My trip to New York in 2005 was topped off by a visit to a 42nd Street cinema to catch Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Wes Anderson's decision to film Fantastic Mr Fox raised some questions. Could he move from live action to animation? Would an American director treat the material in the same way as a Brit would?

Those questions were answered watching the film. Anderson and his writing partner Noah Baumbach apparently stayed at Dahl's old house in Great Missenden to write the screenplay, and the film was shot at Three Mills studios in London. (Just a short distance from Elliptical Edits central). Though the leads would be American (Clooney and Streep, with smaller roles for regular Anderson collaborators Jason Schwartzman,i Bill Murray and Owen Wilson), like Burton's ... Chocolate Factory, the film appears to be set in a fictional country that is a strange amalgam of the US and the UK.

Given that Anderson was the director, I was only reminded that it was a "kid's film" by the trailers that preceded it (though I have to say I was relieved by the absence of the increasingly tiring Orange mobile phone adverts).

From the first shot it is recognisable as Anderson's work - quirky dysfunctional families are his stock in trade, which makes him a perfect match for Dahl's writing. Dahl's usual mix of mischief, low level crime and mistrust of authority figures and joined by an Oedipal subplot involving Mr Fox's son and his cousin.

I was wrong - this is no kid's film, though I'm sure children will enjoy it, and though it's perhaps not as dark as some of Dahl's work, adults will find much to love. Anyone who saw footage of Dahl at work in his writing shed will note the similarities between that and Mr Fox's study. The deliberately, defiantly rough stop motion animation is an antidote to those who use CGI as a matter of course. It is perhaps no surprise that Bill Murray described his visit to the studios as "one of the most exciting days I have ever had in the film business." Coming from a man who has played Hunter S. Thompson and must have spent days covered in marshmallow for Ghostbusters, that's high praise.

There is nothing that will scare, and plenty that will delight children, and enough for adults to enjoy, Fantastic Mr Fox is a crossover gem. It also includes the best cameo from a former Britpop star since Damon Albarn popped up in Antonia Bird's excellent Face.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Invention/Creation/Evolution of Ricky Gervais

THE INVENTION OF LYING exists in a world where the concept of lying has never materialised. Everyone thus speaks exactly what they think, all the time. Gervais invents lying. Gervais becomes powerful through his invention. Gervais accidentally creates a religion after lying about an afterlife to his dying mother. Gervais becomes more powerful. Gervais cannot bring himself to use lying as a means to attract women.

For this is a film written, starring and directed by a singular creative force, it therefore bears a significant imprint of His personality. From the film’s very beginning (the opening credits) Ricky Gervais’ nasal voice is present criticising the production companies that appear on screen. The voice is the same as the film’s lead character yet its source is never identified, left to float beyond narrative into the non-diegetic. Gervais thus plays Himself; His character, His own personality and His own creation of ‘The Man in the Sky’ (a perverse, quasi-holy trinity).

Not a hindrance. Through Gervais sacrificing so much of His self to the film He sets a considerable impression of His fears/His loves/His hates upon it. His comic commodity is represented in full; complete with exasperated eye rolling, that wonderfully chipped smile and His broken delivery of a drowning man.

HIS FEARS are exorcised in the film’s opening half hour. Gervais systematically works through the insecurities He possesses by allowing other characters (that He has created!) to insult/degrade Him in a manner that flirts between the extremities of Pathos and the discomfort of self-loathing. The insults are not limited to His on-screen persona and situation (no money/may lose job), but predominantly extend to His own appearance (fat/snubby-nosed/unattractive). That these are physical aspects, ones that transcend character and are inescapable aspects of Himself, allude to the personal nature of Gervais’ anxieties. Indeed, the main problem lying between Gervais and complete happiness (Hilary Swank) is His own imperfect genes – that He cannot escape His fat/snubby-nosed/unattractive children He will undoubtedly create in procreation. To exhibit these anxieties in such a public manner (through the medium of film, and before that television and stand-up) project a portrait of Gervais as an anxious man.

HIS LOVES are inherent in the style of THE INVENTION OF LYING. The film, in its direction, contains a certain level of immaturity (or rather, innocence). But this only adds to its charm, as though all that Gervais knows about filmmaking has been absorbed from the generic romantic comedies the film’s narrative spine is based on. The sickly sweet dialogue/the message that one needs to look past appearance and see that which lies beneath/the constant violins soaring at any hint of emotion/the functional editing = a fresh enthusiasm for cinema, utilising the medium as a simple story teller. An approach unabashed by the experience of practical or the weight of theory. This never seems to annoy, and instead comes off as a sweet and charming disarmament. However, the innocence projected drowns the underlying theme of Atheism remarkably well. A masterstroke by Gervais if He wants to succeed in His beloved America.

HIS HATES, as alluded to above, are lost beneath the shine of an aesthetic designed for a white, American, middle-class Christian (male, conservative). That this wholly generic style of filmmaking is so drenched in a particular ideology makes the Atheist conscience of THE INVENTION OF LYING merely a sleeping depth. It is easy enough to be gently swayed by its undercurrents, but the film will never incite anyone to feel any differently (or rather, more actively) about their religious position. Thus, it is this very innocence that ceases THE INVENTION OF LYING from becoming a significantly Atheist text (a reading that should be bursting at its seams, but remains predominantly ignored). For an ideology to be successfully communicated (in a way that encourages activism/debate/empowerment) it can evidently not be to the passive spectator classical narrative editing conditions. Although a brave full debut from Gervais, and a theme He will hopefully become more confident with in the future, THE INVENTION OF LYING never breaks from its genre’s norms. It is merely a silent step in the right direction.