Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bridesmaids: Lifting the Veil on the Hype

When word that an all-female ensemble comedy was heading to our screens this summer, lots of the hype surrounding it concerned the possibility that this was a film that could be the female equivalent of the original Hangover.  Much like how that film came in under the radar and caught a lot of people by surprise, not only the executives, but also the director Todd Phillips who has been able to make two more films based on the revenue but has shown no ambition or scope.

The parts of the film boded well; a lead role for Kirsten Wiig, one of the starlets of Saturday Night Live for many years who has remained unheralded for sometime whilst in the shadow of Tina Fey, but Wiig co-wrote this screenplay with Annie Mumolo; directed by Paul Feig, who along with Judd Apatow had a lot of creative licence on Freaks and Geeks, that seemingly seminal but little-seen television series that gave star roles to James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel.  Apatow produces the film, and in support Wiig enlisted two actors who have become quite adept at comedy, Rose Byrne who lit up Get Him to the Greek and Melissa McCarthy, the heart of CBS chubby sitcom Mike and Molly.

However, I feel a lot of people have not been totally honest with their appraisal of the film.  A lot of hype has been circulating about the laugh riot in place of the film, how people were rolling in the aisles, how they laughed so hard popcorn sales went down because nobody could eat because of fear their sides may split.
As is often the way with me, I let a film's hype die down and then I go to see for myself - I went with my girlfriend on a quiet Wednesday afternoon (2for1 come on) and a quiet auditiorium of about 12 other people joined us.

To be fair, I laughed more at the trailer for Horrible Bosses.

The film starts with a sex scene between Annie (Wiig) and her fuck buddy playing with delightful glee by Jon Hamm. Any film that starts with panting and grunting of a sex scene whilst in progress is graving for your immediate attention, as if this is the best we have got, so please come and watch.  Annie is partically blind to her situation, and how much of a dick the guy is, 'I want to ask you to leave, but I don't know how to say it and not sound like a dick'.  Classy guy, yet she remains in his world.

Annie used to have a cakery that folded after her husband left and the recession hit, she is now working at a jewellers where she peddles terrible advice to would be married couples, 'Can you trust him? He might not even be Asian, look at him.' to an Asian couple no less.  She has one good friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph, another SNL alum), who is engaged to be married and she asks Annie to be her Maid of Honour.  At the engagement party, Annie meets Helen (Byrne) who is Lillian's new best friend.  Helen is rich, well-connected and gives Lillian a world in which to be a part of.  Lillian and Annie are first shown doing a boot camp from a distance without having to pay. 

Helen and Annie are immediately at loggerheads.  When they go dress shopping, Annie decides to take them to an off the road Brazilian restaurant. Upon arriving at the bridal shop, a shop Helen manages to get them into, everyone gets the terrible stomach pains and diarrhoea, all except Helen a strict vegan who did not eat the grey meat.  It is during the gross out that Megan (McCarthy) gets to shine as she its astride a sink to get rid of the lava coming out of her.  McCarthy is a deft comedian, but on occasion here, her ability to improvise is given too much rope with which to hang herself with.  That is a detriment to a lot of the cast.  The two actresses who play Becca and Rita, the other two of the bridesmaids, are not given enough screen time even though they are given a significant plotpoint on the plane. After the plane scene they are quickly forgotten about.

The extended sequence on the plane is probably the most delicately and well paced scene on the plane, as Annie who has chosen to sit in coach tries to infiltrate upper class - here the clever division between Helen and Lillian's relationship in contrast to Lillian's with Annie is clearly labelled but nonetheless divided by an airplane curtain.  Annie's slow dissent into a frenzy after mixing pills and whiskey leads to big laughs and the most I laughed during the film.

However, too often scenes feel flat such as when Helen and Annie try to one-up each other in terms of speeches at the engagement party, what could be funny was cringe-worthy to the nth degree.  Also when Annie has finally blown up at the bridal shower, she is at her job and has an argument with a young girl regarding best friends, an argument that reaches the cresecendo when Annie uses the C-word.  Now, the C-word can be a funny word when used properly by say Ray Winstone or Russell Brand; but it is an Anglo word, it is our word, that we gave to the Americans.  Here Wiig uses it for shock value, which is in bad taste and not funny for this particular scene.

The whole film is just a missed opportunity, too long (nearly two hours, which is half hour too long) due to scenes that indulge the actor's improvisational ability but with a story that sometimes forgets characters.  Admittedly, I liked the scenes involving Wiig and Chris O'Dowd as Officer Nathan Rhodes; the scenes exhibit a sweet chemistry between the two and a film based around the flowering relationship would have been more worthwhile with the wedding and bridal showers in the background.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A High Wind in Jamaica - DVD Review

Eureka Entertainment return with a fine Pirate picture from 1965 that has been lost to time and is in much need of reappraisal.

Based upon Richard Hughes' classic 1929 novel, Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success, The Ladykillers) adapts to give a high seas adventure with something for all the family.

Featuring two big stars - Anthony Quinn and James Coburn - and wonderful turns from the young child actors, the film much in the tradition of those rip-roaring pirate films of your youth (numerous Treasure Island adaptations, Mutiny on the Bounty), filmed on location and with excellent prodcution values. 

Pirate movies are like the modern day space films, once they hit dry land you yearn for the seafaring stuff; think of it as akin to Avatar.  The film is all the less once it hits the 2D universe, you want to see more of Pandora and be whisked away. 

Three children are being sailed back to schooling in England during the 1870s, however, once the ship is attacked by pirates led by their captain Chavez (Quinn), the children accidentally end up on the ship they have commandered.  This leads to tension between Chavez and his fractitious crew led by his first mate Zac (Coburn), who believe the presence of children can lead to trouble if old sea-hand superstitions are to be believed.

The film cleverly evokes a time of childhood and how important the role of adults in the development of perception is; the pirates learn to break down the harshness of themselves once the children embrace their different way of life.  Life lessons are learnt by both parties, even though it will end with the parties separated.

The DVD is out now from Eureka in a new HD transfer in the correct 2.35:1 ration, the features include a UK and US trailer, and English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Twitter: @mastersofcinema and @steve_hills

Monday, 25 July 2011

Everlasting: The Immortals Series by Alyson Noel

The last in the series is released on paperback, and we may have found our successor to the Twilight saga.

Alyson Noel, lives in California, and in that temporally fluxed state she has created a world of immortals.  A love story between two of them.  Ever is the young teenager who has loved and lost Damen over hundreds of years.  They have faced deadly enemies, harboured dark secrets and a powerful curse meaning one may have to part from the other forever.

Over five books previously, the journey has become progressively darker in context, beginning with the third novel Shadowland where the secret and the curse meet, to the fourth Dark Star`where Ever must cope with the darkness inside her (a mention of puberty and adolescence perhaps).

The characters have progressed and thanks to the success of the first three novels, Noel has been able to develop these characters effectively and productively.  Pleasingly, and most tellingly, she dedicates this novel - the sixth and final - to her readers. 

I freely admit, that I am not a fan of Twilight, I have never read a Harry Potter book although I have seen more than 50% of the feature films.  But in this world, the world needs a new saga to love and cherish.  Twilight seemingly came out of nowhere and with the right marketing and strategy this adaptation (which must be coming in the next few years) may be global.

The novel is a mixture of a lot of influences - teenagers who speak like Dawson's Creek, very aware of their place, but knowing that due to the things they have seen in earlier lives they can talk with unabashed experience. 

At the start of the novel, a mystical woman appears calling Damen, 'Damen. Augustus. Notte. Esposito' The Notte is the key, as the name no-one has heard mentioned before, but the hagrid ageing decrepit who reminded me of some spirit from the house of Miyazki and Spirited Away.

All these influences and the sheer effortness of Noel's writing whisk you along on a journey along with the characters towards the crescendo that ultimately ends memorably.

Worth a read, even if like me you would be a little sceptical of something that cradles between teen fiction and mainstream fantasy smash.

Everlasting is published from PanMacmillan Books for £6.99 in paperback.

My thanks to ThinkJam for the chance to read the novel.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Oranges and Sunshine (Jim Loach, UK, 2010)

Out on DVD from Monday 25th July, Jim Loach's feature film debut tells the story about Margaret Humphreys, a woman whose courage to expose a scandal that the British government kept secret for decades.

The scandal concerns the deportation of thousands of children from the United Kingdom to Australia, under the impression that their parents were apparently dead, they were sent to children's homes on the other side of the world, where they were subjected to appalling abuse.  When promised oranges and sunshine (an advertising slogan which could still be in place for Australia), the children were given hard labour and life in institutions.  Amazingly, this practice was set up in the late 19th century and continued into the 1960s.

The name of the director may look familiar, and yes Jim Loach, is the son of the renowned director Ken Loach; and the social injustice of the storyline and social significance coupled with a stirring main performer defiant in the eyes of the powerful authorities, would well have appealed to Loach Senior in a parallel universe.  However, Loach Jnr, does show himself to be more than adept when dealing with the contentious subject matter and difficult narrative plot points.

Helped by an esteemed ensemble cast who lend gravitas and emotional depth to proceedings.  Emily Watson plays Ms. Humphreys and the determination is apparent underneath that timid exterior, the fierceness of her intentions seen in her eyes.  The ability to take on two national governments, reunite families and gain official apologies from those governments means the story had to be told on celluloid and Watson does more than enough to gain our affections for her character's attempts to overcome overwhelming odds.

In support, are two fine actors, David Wenham and Hugo Weaving (one of my favourite actors), who lend solidity to parts that in the hands of other actors and in lesser films would have been brushed aside by a more formidable lead actress - say if Meryl Streep did her best English accent perhaps.  But Weaving, who plays one of those moved children Jack, is quiet and introverted, but the emotional scars he has endured are more than visible, while Wenham's Len hides it under an extrovert brashness which could easily be mistaken for arrogance.  These parts are not meant to be showy roles, instead they are there necessary to the journey of self-discovery for Humphreys.

Credit to Jim Loach for showing enough discipline in his filming style, borrowing from his father's template for powerful lead performance mixed with a social conscious narrative and a shooting style that is both accessible and fluent.  Loach stands as a director to watch in the future, and as this is his debut feature, the future bodes well.

Oranges and Sunshine is available on DVD from 25th July 2011 for £17.99RRP from Icon Home Entertainment.

Monday, 18 July 2011


Gilda is Rita Hayworth. Rita Hayworth is Gilda. 

You can imagine that resembling the actual tagline when the film was first released in 1946.  Primarily created as a vehicle for Hayworth, following the end of the Second World War in the previous summer.

However, the film does not start with Gilda, it starts with the chance meeting between Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), a down and out gambler and Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a crooked German casino owner, on the docks of Buenos Aires where Ballin saves Johnny from a robbery attempt.  Farrell is then employed by Ballin in his casino and business is very good until Ballin leaves on holiday and leaves Johnny in charge. 

After agreeing that gambling and women are not a good mix, Ballin comes back married to a beautiful sensuous wife named Gilda (Hayworth).  It soon becomes clear that Johnny and Gilda know each other and were an item before something led to a break up and Johnny ending up in Argentina.

Much has been made of the psychological and Freudian undercurrent taking place in the film - the constant referral of Ballin's little friend (an actual knife that erects from the bottom of his walking cane) and how he now has Johnny as his new little friend.  The Freudian interpretation is that Ballin is actually a closeted homosexual, but an impotent one who in Johnny sees a younger version of himself - but virile and powerful.  After Ballin and Gilda return, it never becomes clear if they have consumated their union, yet Johnny most like can do.  Hence forth, we have an unusual love triangle taking place prompting jealousy and bitterness, ending with fatal results.

The new digital print does brilliant justice to Rudolph Mate's luscious black and white cinematography, and whilst a lot is focused on the luminous Hayworth, Charles Vidor does create some brilliant shots of film noir such as when Johnny and Ballin watch Gilda go up the prominent staircase - Johnny is in the light, whilst Ballin is in permanent silhouette, it is a shot of sheer beauty and yet terror at the same time.

Hayworth practically glows throughout the entire film, the first time we see her she throws her head back with a full head of hair getting ready for a night out - and yet the full object of desire not just for Johnny but any returning GI Joe from the war; she is beautiful, strong and made desirable by the fact that no man in the picture can truly attain her.  It is also helped by the presence of Hayworth's memorable performances of on 'Put the Blame on Mame' with arm length gloves and 'Amado Mio' (dubbed by Anita Ellis).

The script by Marion Parsonnet does whip along beautifully, yet I feel it does suffer somewhat by the third act troubles once a major player in proceedings is killed off, the narrative seems to get lost in its own labyrinthe and the not knowing if Johnny and Gilda will be reunited, and the comic relief of Uncle Pio (Steven Geray), who mocks Johnny as a peasant, is much missed.

Hayworth who is the centre of attention, is helped by Ford then a young buck who plays Johnny as a chancer but also with a fierce vulnerability at how Gilda treated him previously, making him wary of returning to her affections again.

Nevertheless, this is one of the more memorable film noir movies of the post WW2 eras and highly deserving of a re-release on the big screen, and can be seen at the BFI from Friday 22 July for an extended two-week period, as well as Filmhouse Edinburgh and Irish Film Insitute in Dublin.

The Round-Up DVD review

Directed by Roselyne Bosch, The Round Up is a faithful retelling of the events of July 1942 when more than 13,000 Parisian Jews (including 4,000 children) were rounded up and taken to the now notorious Velodrome d'Hiver sports stadium, by the Nazis in a then form of ethnic cleansing.

Based on meticulous research and the individual accounts of those who witnessed the events and survived them, the construction of the narrative is based around certain strands that come together to the Velodrome.  We follow Schmuel Weissman (Gad Elmaleh), a noble gentleman who is also a war veteran and is the intelligent one of the group who can speak for everyone with calmness against the Nazis. 

Jean Reno plays Jewish doctor David Schlenbaum, assisted by Protestant nurse Annette (Melanie Laurent), in caring for the 13,000 Jews crammed into the tiny stadium with little water and no food.  The first time we witness the full extent of the horror at the Velodrome we see it through the eyes of Annette - it is played with a choral singing over the wails of people and the noise of masses spilling onto each other.  Part mass crowd, part CGI the sight is horrifying and haunting for the soul.

Cleverly shot are the scenes of the round-up itself, played for naturalism with effective acting and editing, you are left in no doubt at to how unfortunate and frightening it must have been to be evicted from your family home all on account of your ethnicity.

What the film does tell you, and is quite critical of is the French government who allowed the round-up to take place so that the French police could patrol the capital city themselves, in a way they gave up the French Jews and made a deal with the devil.  In that instance, it is surprising that this story has taken so long to reach the screen - perhaps in part due to the delicate satirical nature of the material or maybe in part due to the fact that children were hoarded onto the trains to their deaths along with adults.

When watching the Holocaust films of recent years (The Pianist, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) you get a sense that maybe the Nazis could have had some humanity, but the detail of killing children also makes it hard to believe.  Another factor may also be the sheer fatalism of such a film, where the ending is pre-determined and no matter how benevolent a nurse is, she alone cannot stop the rampaging tyrannical force of Nazi Germany.

The problem also with Holocaust films is that after Schindler's List, a lot of films pale in significance, whilst this is a fabulous story in need of a larger audience (already more than 3million people in France have seen the film) and the box-office records in France suggest it may travel well; you get a sense that it would be better served in schools as an educational tool.

That is not to discredit the sterling acting from an experienced cast including the stellar child actors, along with the esteemable art direction from Olivier Raoux and costumes by Gilles Bodu-Lemoine; the film works well as both a political comment on a dark moment in French history, and a wonderful production in current French cinema.

The Round-Up (La Rafle) is released on Monday 18th July by Revolver Entertainment on DVD and Blu-Ray

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Deep End - DVD review

Released by the BFI Flipside strand, Jerry Skolimowski's 1970 film is ripe for reappraisal.

Although released in 1970, Deep End can be considered the last great British film of the swinging 1960s - which tells the unrequited love story of naive teenager Mike (John Moulder-Brown) and Susan (Jane Asher), after Mike takes a job at a rundown public baths where Susan is the female attendant.

Skolimowski's foriegn eye and view as an outsider pays credence here, as he has no objective viewpoint of public culture in London or is not making a comment about Englishness.  The Polish filmmaker is more concerned about his characters, their hopes and dreams, fears and aspirations.  He is very much linked to Mike and how his desire for Susan can be both uncertain and both definite in its totality.

Mike first makes physical contact with Susan by rubbing her up in a porn theatre whilst she is on a date with her fiance (a scene that might have been lightly plagarised by Taxi Driver for awkwardness sake), and it is a wonderfully handled scene where the camera is predominantly fixed on Asher in the middle gaze and Brown swaying in the background.  After her initial compliant, Susan kisses Mike fully on the lips and she turns back and smiles lightly - but you can tell she is happy she has done it.  Mike is needless to say delirious.  But a scene that could have been farcical is instead handled maturely.

Like a lot of swinging 60s cinema, there are moments of submissiveness (Diana Dors' cameo as a woman getting off on the name Georgie Best), permissiveness (the idea of a 15 year old engaging in a physical relationship - but this is no rites of passage story) and anti-authority (all the suits are stuffy and has beens).

Much like his compatriot Polanski's own London set film (Repulsion, 1967), the film follows a luminous lead female but on this occasion Jane Asher is not the one driven to distraction.  Moulder-Brown's engaging lead performance as Mike holds the film together.

The film though can be held up as an example of sexual politics as Susan, mainly due to her age, manipulates the emotions of Mike leading to the bewildering conclusion. 

Yet what remains true is the brilliant direction of Skolimowski - who handles Mike like a barometer for the temperature of a changing London, and uses fantasy sequences to his advantage to develop Mike more as an individual and utilise the fine camerawork of Charly Steinberger.  The film also had a brilliant soundtrack by then up and coming Cat Stevens and French rock band, Can.

The DVD is released by the BFI Flipside on Monday 18th July. Special features include a Skolimowski's documentary (74mins), Deep End:Deleted scenes (12mins), Original theatrical trailer, a Jane Asher short from 1977, Careless Love (10mins) and essays from David Thompson, Yvonee Tasker and Skolimowski's expert Ewa Mazierska.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Fowler in Bloom

Watching the Open on the BBC this week has been an illuminating experience, for all the current noises being made by the European tour of having the best players - and pleasingly Darren Clarke, Miguel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn were flying the flag searching for their first major, along with PGA champion Martin Kaymer - but the most interesting thing to witness has been the play of the American tour, and how they dominate the huge leaderboards at Sandwich this week.

Every time the Open comes round, it is hoped that a homegrown Brit will win the Claret Jug, yet it seems more and more likely that again we will go without.  Following the world 1 and 2 missing the cut along with luminaries like McDowell, Poulter and Harrington.  The hopes rest with Darren Clarke, the only Irishman to not win a major it seems and his start on Saturday's round with a two shot lead was good, but you fear he may blow up and cannot sustain the challenge due to a mental block or a question of stamina.

But going back to the presence of Americans on the leaderboard - 2009 US Open champ Lucas Glover, now sporting a 1909 beard along with Chad Campbell, Dustin Johnson, Davis Love III and Tom Lehman are all there, all well known along with lesser lights Webb Simpson, K Stanley and Jeff Overton, as well as the perenial nearly man Phil Mickleson.

However, due to the luck of the draw the eyes of the world's golf media have had to follow the game of Rickie Fowler.  I say luck of the draw as he has played all three rounds with the flavour of the month, Rory McIlroy - expectations were that McIlroy will add this homegrown Open to the procession at Congressional last month.  And that Fowler would wilt under the pressure.  It could not be more different.

Whilst McIlroy has been erratic, up and down and looking at a +5 finish after three rounds; Fowler has blown me away with his maturity and application on this famous links course.  On Saturday, playing in the worst of the weather, were a round of 74 would be considered par on a par 70 due to high winds and heavy rain.  Fowler surprised us with his invention and general demeanour.

There has always been the theory that Fowler (a 20 year old, 2nd year Pro) who has not won on the PGA tour as yet, would not have the imagination to play a links course, where humps and ridges change your shot pattern, but Fowler is proving to be a shot maker.  After two par rounds on Thursday and Friday, Fowler definitely saw Saturday as moving day, at only four shots off the joint lead held by Clarke and Glover, any player at Par or one over would consider they had a chance to win come Sunday, if Saturday was not a complete disaster. 

And as Tom Watson showed earlier on Saturday, if you apply yourself a good round can be had - a 74 from the 61 year old, left him at +4 .

In contrast, the play of McIlroy was distinct.  The 2011 US Open champion's driving let him down, wide right , wide left playing from wet rough leaving no control of the ball, whilst Fowler was accurate off the tee and having birdie opportunites which he gobbled up at the 15th and 16th, whilst McIlroy's putting (vital at Congressional) has let him down. Fowler has managed the course as well as the conditions, he has not looked ruffled by proceedings and in hindsight his round on 16th July, could be considered one of the great rounds in Open history.

And let us not be surprised by the presence of an American winner on a Links course - the names on the Claret Jug of the last 20 years include, Mark O'Meara, Justin Leonard, Tom Lehman, Todd Hamilton, David Duval and Ben Curtis.  All not great names, but nevertheless like Fowler showed the need to adapt to a situation and make the best of bad situations, and in that great American tradition show a bit of bravado when the going gets tough and to back your own ability.

Tiger may be out of the picture, but as Davis Love III plays alongside many of his team for the 2012 Ryder Cup he must be happy with the shift towards a team who will be gung-ho and firing on all cylinders.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Treacle Jr (Jamie Thraves, UK, 2010)

More than ten years ago, Jamie Thraves directed The Low Down, a largely respected and acclaimed independent picture that was listed as one of the best British films of the last 25 years.  Then Thraves fell off the radar, he could not get funding and he only made one more film, The Cry of the Owl, in Canada which never really saw the light of day.  Thraves triumphantly returns with his third feature film, Treacle Jr, out in cinemas this Friday (15th July).

Like The Low Down, this film has at the centre of it a fine leading performance from Aiden Gillen (Queer As Folk, The Wire).  Gillen plays Aiden, a man who most people avoid in bars; that guy who latches on to anything in conversation just so he is talking to somebody.  And wearing his trucker baseball cap and rucksack, he always has some quick business scheme on his brain and overactive imagination.

However, Thraves script does not begin with Aiden but rather Tom (Tom Fisher), a happily married man with a young baby daughter in Birmingham who instead of going to work one morning, gets on a train to London.  After sleeping rough a few nights and getting beat up, he first encounters Aiden at the A&E department of a local hospital.  Aiden hooks onto Tom, and try as Tom might to untie himself from his clutches, they become firmly attached.

Much like Sally Hawkins' Polly in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, Aiden's sheer exuberance and effervescence can at times be infuriating, but due to Gillen's sympathetic portrayal and the Aiden's journey in the narrative - we see him get beaten up, he has a girlfriend who uses him for her own means.  Cleverly, the film uses Tom as a conduit so we see Aiden through his eyes, and how slowly the tendernesss of Aiden comes to the surface helped by the use of a cat as a surrogate child.

The double act and unlikely friendship between two very different men, harks back to Midnight Cowboy and Thraves himself says he thought of it more like Shrek and Donkey; but the close bondness and Thraves undying admiration for these characters helps in the depiction of London at the street level with the help of some low-key but insightful observational humour.

Independent by definition, self-funded by Thraves and his close family for a budget of close to £30,000 it makes you wonder how good a film he could do with a sufficient budget, after drawing stellar performances from all the cast and making a film that is evocative and original.  It is all the more remarkable and worrying, that a genuine talent and refreshing voice of British cinema has been kept quiet for so long.

Monday, 11 July 2011

K&S Festival - Tom Watt Interview

Following on from the 'Kicking and Screening' preview I wrote last Thursday, I was granted an interview with curator and programmer for the September festival, Tom Watt (actor and broadcaster) on the telephone.

I asked Mr.Watt, how did the idea to have a London football festival come about:
'Well, there is already an American festival currently in its third year in New York which was originated by Rachel Markus, who took the idea back to America with her.  I have served on the advisory board of that festival, and it was inevitable to get a football/soccer festival in London.  We sat down with the CEO of Everyman cinemas, Andy Myers who is himself a big football fan and he got the gist of it straight away and that got the ball rolling immediately'
What can we expect on the schedule?
'We hope to have a lot of things happening, but we are conscious to make sure that it is not like a typical film festival experience where it is too dry and a bit too buffy. We are hoping to have an opening night as a New York night with 'Once in a Lifetime' screening, and on the Saturday to have a combination of a premiere for youngsters along with Arsenal in the community. So we are getting actual football clubs involved and there definitely being something for everyone.

Are you going to have Q&A's?
'We will be, but we hope to not have Q&A sessions with just the directors and writers of the featured films, for instance we hope to have One Night in Turin screening, where you are just as likely to see a featured player from the 1990 England World Cup squad as the director, Pete Davies.  It is important we make the festival as inclusive as possible.'

I mention to Mr.Watt, how all the more memorable films involving soccer seem to be feature documentaries why does it not serve drama better?
'I feel that is because football is fluid and unpredictable, which is also why it is the most popular sport in the world.  Unlike American football and baseball [which we agreed were better served by dramatic film], which are very stop and start in their action; football is difficult to capture and that is in the nature of the game.  Although I do hope we will be able to screen In the Hands of Gods, which was about a group of guys travelling to meet Diego Maradona, which was set up and shot like a documentary but the journey lent it a dramatic direction in its action.

'The more I talk about the festival and the more people hear about it, they are confident it will work. We have a London film festival, a Jewish film festival, a Horror film festival; I am convinced it can become part of the festival calendar.  Also, along with the work of Everyman cinemas who will get us the films, and with support from our sponsors at Sky Sports and the 'Hawksbee and Jacobs' show on TalkSport, I am hopeful we will be showing films to packed sold out houses and that people will see the festival as a series of events rather than a series of films'.

And for the closing night?
'I am hopeful, we will be able to screen Escape to Victory [John Huston's 1981 picture which featured the star-studded line-up of Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Pele, Ossie Ardiles and Russell Osman] on a big screen.  The film is fondly thought of, and yet I do not know anyone who has seen it in a cinema, we have all seen it on video or DVD late night with a beer, so to see it in a communal cinema is a dream of mine.

I end my interview there with Mr.Watt and wish him well for the festival which will run between September 23rd-29th at the Everyman Cinemas across their numerous sites in North London.

Follow the festival on twitter @KSFilmFest and on Facebook

Sound of Fear: The Musical Universe of Horror

Sound of Fear: The Musical Universe of Horror
at Vision Sound Music

Date: Saturday 3 September 2011
Venue: Purcell Room and Front Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Tickets: Part I - £10, Part II - £12.50, or Parts I & II £17.50

Produced by Sound and Music, the UK’s leading organisation for contemporary music and sound art, Sound of Fear brings together an international cast of artists, critics and composers to celebrate the music and sound design of the horror film. Part of Vision Sound Music, a three day festival celebrating the unique relationship between audio and visual cultures, the two-part event takes place on Saturday 3 September at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Through live performance and discussion, Sound of Fear explores the musical universe of horror, from its supernatural soundscapes to shrieking string arrangements. It pays tribute to the masters of musical menace, such as Bernard Hermann and John Carpenter, who have made the horror movie soundtrack such an iconic narrative device.

Two of the most famous virtuosos of the genre, composer Harry Manfredini and sound designer and composer Alan Howarth, will appear alongside a younger generation of critics, sound artists and musicians using new technologies to remix and deconstruct some of the most memorable scary movie moments. The event will be prefaced by an online interview with legendary director and composer John Carpenter, especially for Sound of Fear.

Saturday 3 September, 6.15pm
Sound of Fear: The Musical Universe of Horror Part I

Three performances celebrating the menacing effect of sound and music in horror movies.
Vicki Bennett (aka. People Like Us) presents an audio collage from over 100 features to illustrating common concepts and themes, Korean artist Lee Hangjun creates an immersive deconstruction of Hitchcock’s legendary Psycho shower scene in After Psycho Shower and John Carpenter’s closest collaborator Alan Howarth performs live selections from classic soundtracks to Halloween, Escape From New York, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing.

Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall,
£10 (or £17.50 combined for ticket to Parts I & II)

Saturday 3 September, 8.30pm
Sound of Fear: The Musical Universe of Horror Part II

A discussion panel comprising Friday 13th composer Harry Manfredini, musician and author Stephen Thrower and film critic Kim Newman take the audience on an audio journey through iconic moments in the history of horror.As well as celebrating the familiar sounds of iconic blockbusters such as The Omen, Hellraiser and Friday the 13th, their presentation will pay homage to the lesser known soundtracks of movies like The Beyond, Cannibal Holocaust and The Return of The Living Dead.

This will be followed by A Musical Compendium of Horror – a new arrangement created
exclusively for Sound of Fear by the acclaimed international ensemble of soloists zeitkratzer. The 12strong group will draw on the entire musical gamut of traditional horror filmscore techniques, combining carefully crafted theatrical lighting and sound design, to plunge the audience into a chilling sound-world of tension, fear and unease.
Queen Elizabeth Hall

£12.50 (or £17.50 for combined ticket to Parts I&II

Friday, 8 July 2011

Mem Ferda: Larger Than Life

You may have seen pictures of him, you may have heard of him, you will certainly being seeing more of him in the next 12 months. Mem Ferda, a classically trained actor with a diploma from LAMDA and a degree in Business Administration, does not strike you as a cultural icon. But at 6' 2" and 240lbs, there is nothing average about this London born actor of Turkish descent.

Ferda has three films of varying budget and genre specificity coming out in the next year, that will bring him a new level of attention. A veteran of primetime television in this country (Heartbeat, Eastenders, Whistleblowers); his intimidating frame has gained him a part in the upcoming The Devil's Double, directed by Lee Tamahori (We Were Warriors, Die Another Day) and tells the story of Latif, employed as the body double to Uday, the son of Saddam Hussein, played with relish by Domonic Cooper (The History Boys). Ferda plays a stooge of Hussein's regime, who is made an example of at a garden party - the scene in question that features a lot of Ferda has garnered a lot of speak on internet message boards and got people whispering when the film has been shown at Berlin and Los Angeles film festivals earlier this year.

The scene can be described as gruesome and gory in detail, and for Ferda it was a lot to take on. He had to add weight to his already huge frame, and the whole scene took 3 days to shoot. Working with Tamahori, was like a dream 'He directed one of my favourite films [We Were Warriors] and he did push me, which i felt he needed to and I am grateful he did do. Off set he is a great guy, but as a director he was very hands on.'

The film is scheduled for release in the UK in mid August, and with a heralded action helmer behind the camera, with a solid lead holding the fort - the omens are good for a film that does not intend to make any political statement about Iraq or the Saddam regime. It is an action film with a good alternative storyline as its basis.

Recently wrapped, is Pusher an English translation of Nicholas Winding Refn's Danish cult classic about a Danish drug dealer, this time transported to the streets of London directed by Luis Prieto. Ferda is joined in the cast by Richard Coyle (Coupling) and Agyness Denn and Bronson Webb. Speaking to Ferda, you could tell how proud he was of this performance. 'I play Hakan (a Turk), who is united with Richard's character, the Pusher of the title, and so we create a partnership. Now playing another Eastern European I was wary of playing a villain or hoodlum again. Luckily, me and the director [Prieto] worked on the character, and made him a bit more humane and humanistic. And make him less of a bad guy, but a good guy in a bad situation.'

Whilst he has a film about to be released, and a film just wrapped, a busy man cannot be kept down - and he is currently filming Ill Manors, the directorial debut by Ben Drew, more widely known as musician Plan B; who also wrote the screenplay and is taking the leading role in what is being called a hip-hop musical - gritty and urban featuring also Natalie Press in the cast.

Whilst filming Ferda had his eyes opened to the darker side of London, 'We filmed on Carpenters Estate in East London, and that was rough. We were filming a scene were I am thrown in the back of a van, and the residents were throwing stuff at us from the floors above, which was a bit scary'. Ferda plays Vladimir, 'Yes, another Eastern European, but I play a nasty people trafficker who brings over Cassia (Press' character) who gets pregnant and I am not happy about it, so a lot of the film I am chasing her.'

What drew him to Ben Drew's debut feature? 'Well I am a fan of his work and he has the midas touch at the moment, and he is a good director and actor, so I am expecting good things with the end result'.

Freda speaks eloquently and passionately about all three projects, but I then ask about what is beyone this current purple patch. He mentions how he would like to spread his wings, 'I am really trying to get into the production side, I am involved with this little film Emulsion, which was filmed in Bournemouth and is just about finished. And then there is GridironUK, which I am associate producer on, and it is about American football but with a comedy genre in it, it is an original idea and we start shooting in Crewe (near Manchester) in August.'

I sense talking to him, that there is another underlying reason for this need to produce, 'I want to be a role model, but with the negative representations of Turkish people on film and television, there are not any writers creating these characters. So with my script work with White Lantern films (who produced Emulsion) hopefully we can find the scripts out there to portray a more positive viewpoint.

Is there anything in particular you would like to do? 'I'd love to do a comedy', leaving me surprised but not shocked by such a statement from a confident man who has made the best of what he has got, and run with it.

Lastly I ask Ferda about a recurrent quote that came up in my research; 'Cultivate your inner life through perserverance and sacrifice' my question was, is this was a personal philosophy? 'It has two meanings - on an acting level, it acts as a constant reminder to analyse deeply, introspectively, your emotions and senses - what makes you who you are and to persevere in understanding yourself always, then when playing a role sacrificing all this to the character you are about to play. As an ethos, it helps me and hopefully others to remember who you are, where you are from, how you battled to be where you are. The spirits that motivated your behaviour and guided your beliefs and the sacrifices made. So not to squander your opportunites'.

Sterling words of many depths from a man of many layers, Mem Ferda fits all the descriptions of being larger than life and never judge a book by its cover. Over the next few months he is giving you the opportunity to catch him in action, do not miss out.

The Devil's Double is released on 12th August. Pusher is scheduled for release later in the year and Ill Manors is scheduled for release in 2012.

Sawako Decides (Ishii Yuya, Japan, 2010)

Directing his first 35mm cinematic release, Ishii Yuya has constructed an offbeat and satirical minefield of a film that cleverly contrasts big city urban life with small time village life, in a script he also wrote.

In the lead as Kimura Sawako, he has Mitsushima Hikari, playing with wide-eyed abandonment and herself as unusual as the people she encounters.  Having left her home town after seeing her father, Tadao (Shiga Kotaro) kissing another woman, when she was near the end of teenage years; she fled for Tokyo and took in a job at a toy company that remains unfulfilling after a number of years. 

Kimura is also in a relationship with a deluded simpleton, Arai Kenichi (Endo Masashi) who thinks of himself as an enviromentalist and free-thinker, but who easily gives into temptation when running off with the villlage bike Tomomi (Suzuki Natsumi).  In a clever elliptical plot strand, Arai has a daughter, who he would like to take Kimura as her 'new' mother; but because of Arai's wandering libido the daughter suffers much like Kimura did with her father when she was younger.

Upon her return to the village, Tadao is in bed facing death from cirrhosis; Kimura takes over the day-to-day running of the clam packing business and employs unusual business practices to gain the trust and enthuse the workforce.  Tadao's sudden rise from death's door to berate Kimura's life and choices leads her to believe that in spite of his weaknesses she will end up marrying Arai not in part due to his attractiveness, but due to the kinship between herself and the daughter, Kayoko.

Along with the mediocre romance there are other narrative plotpoints helped by uniquely rounded background characters.  Unlike other Japanese (and other Far Eastern films) that sentimentalise the working classes; here you have a film with a moral centre and a clear display of female empowerment.

The film is satirical in its depiction of the big business and small business; in big business the boss is as much a child as the children he deems suitable to play with his toys; yet he remains firmly on his own in a bubble.  Whilst the small rural community fare better together working in unison for a common goal. 

As for Kimura, there is never any doubt that she is making all the decisions on her own, in spite of parental advice, it is clear she is enamoured with Arai and in spite of his mediocrity he is the best chance she has at a happy marriage.  And her empowerment bolsters the workforce gaining results in the profit margin and net profits.  The film may be subversive in its delight of depicting such offbeat characters, but the bottom line remains the net reward for the charactes ambitions.

After a slow start to the film that only takes off after she leaves the populated Tokyo, the film does create a bold vision of urban life in spite of some less than perfect cinematography, however, seek it out for a unique slice of Japanese life in the sticks.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Kicking and Screening Film Festival

Great news from the Everyman cinemas chain based in London; during September (23rd -29th) they will be presenting for the first time in London the Kicking & Screening Film Festival across their brands of cinema in North and North West London at Hampstead, Belsize Park, Baker Street and Screen on the Green - Islington.  Screening the best films about the world's greatest and most popular game.

K&S was the first film festival in North America devoted entirely to football/soccer films.  The unprecedented success in 2009, led to a second one in 2010 with satellite festivals taking place also in Washington DC, Houston, Boston and even, Amsterdam.  The third annual K&S/New York festival will be staged at the famous Tribeca cinemas later this month.  And in September, football cinema is coming home.

Everyman cinemas however are asking upon film-makers to submit football-inspired shorts and/or features to be considered for this year's schedule.  Anyone wishing to do so should go to the following links: or

The deadline for submissions is August 1, with the full festival line up announced on August 31st.

It is worth noting that on the K&S advisory board, and those likely to have a say on the line-up include Grant Best (football live director with Sky Sports) and Tom Watt (renowned football historian and Arsenal fan, and broadcaster for BBC London)

And with such successes as The Damned United, Zidane and Once in a Lifetime released in recent years; the time is right for a glory tinged football festival. 

Spread the word of this young festival, and if you can get down to any of the screenings, even better.

Animal Kingdom - DVD review

Lauded upon its cinematic release in the early weeks of this year, David Michod's debut feature Animal Kingdom is released on the 11th July on DVD and Blu-Ray from Optimum releasing.

Michod's epic feature tells the story of fictional family the Cody family, a rag-tag of differing brothers in terms of personalities and personas, who have had a successful run in bank robbing in the urban milieu of Melbourne.

Interestingly, the first character we see (and to whom we will follow throughout the narrative) is Joshua, later christened J, who is an outsider to this group even though he is related.  Joshua has moved in owing to the death of his mother from an overdose.  And so the Codys attempt to fit him into the mould of themselves, a fresh pair of legs for the fight.  Overseeing all of the boys is their mother, who may be the most evil of the lot Janine Cody, played with chilling presence by Jacqui Weaver (who was Oscar nominated for her portrayal).

The most potent member of the group is Pope Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) who plays the family of one another, and deals with the corrupt cops.  Once things take a turn for the worse, Pope decides to take revenge against the police force.   Added to the mix is the one honest police officer, Det. Nathan Leckie (played by Guy Pearce) who sees the innocence in J and attempts to get him to testify against his brothers.

The familiar tropes of gangster genre are evident here; people looking out for themselves, the manipulation of others, ulterior motives, the use of violence to problem solve, the lack of periphery female characters, whilst the one present woman Janine, is more memorable and problematic than the men.  But as always with crime families the idea of mortality and law is second to blood running thicker than water.  Janine loves her boys, all our career criminals so will not have a bad word said against them, and will defend them to the end.

Michod interestingly twists the narrative structure, by using the fact that they are career criminals against the construction of the character's identity focusing on the claustrophobia of being stuck indoors and hiding from the police, and making it clear that they are unable to do anything apart from break the law. 

Whilst indebted to The Wire in terms of constructing a portrait of criminal activity with heavy psychological undertones and elaborating on violence without pandering to intelligent viewers, Michod shoots with a keen eye for detail and uses the city of Melbourne as a character itself - bright exterior with suburbia looking good in the heat, but with a merky criminal underground taking place in the cold light of day.  He might be indebted to American influences such as Baltimore's finest and Scorsese's crime epics (most importantly Goodfellas) but you do get the impression that this is distinctly Antipodean about this production.

Featuring stunning performances uniformly from the cast, expertly shot and editing with a tantalising screenplay in harmony with his own confident directorial debut; Michod should be proud to have given this gift to the world, from half a world away.

The DVD extras include the obligatory making of documentary, trailers and interviews with the director and cast; how much a director's commentary would have been needed in this instance.

Available on DVD (£17.99RRP) and Blu-Ray (£22.99) from Optimum Releasing from Monday 11th July.

Norwegian Wood DVD review

Starring Rinko Kikuchi and Kenichi Matsuyama as the lovelorn Naoko and Watanabe from Haruki Marukami's eponymous novel is a slow burner of a film about depressed youths with radical sensibilites but within a classical template of melodrama.  Whilst the film is brilliantly conceived and shot by a technically gifted cast and crew, providing a real shot in the arm for Japanese cinema, the problem with adapting a famous modern novel to the screen with a ready made audience in place, will ultimately leave fans of Marukami's novel wondering what went wrong.

Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) and Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) cannot let go of the past and instead allow it to define themselves and their future. Their mutual passion is part of their malaise rather than an escape. Watanabe’s other love interest, Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), could be the answer to his problems but he’s so tied to the past he treats her interest with caution.

Lee Ping-bin brings a real sensuality to the films cinematography, however the blue tinge used for sex scenes and the frigidness of other scenes seem to distance the audience from proceedings.  Leaving the actors to wander through some scenes; one sex scene early on in the film serves no dramatic purpose other than to show them having sex.

A musical score supplied by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead deviates from swooning mood pieces to orchestral pieces with full blown guitars - the score works well as a means to explain the differing feelings of euphoria and anguish between these angst-riddled characters.

Performed with sterling diligence by the the young actors, the most notable is the performance from Rink Kikuchi as Naoko - heartbroken and vunerable.

In the end, the film whilst faithful to the book becomes a victim of its own stylisation and imagery - a matter of style over substance, but is that a problem of the adaptation or the fault of the source material; a book deemed unadaptable for the silver screen.  We have the adaptation, but die-hard fans may be unimpressed, whilst this is a shot in the arm for Japanese cinema in that they know they can make this sort of film now.

Norwegian Wood is released on DVD from Soda Pictures on 4th July 2011