Monday, 30 January 2012

Is Eli Elite?

Okay this may be an old question to ask.  But lets go back to the start of this season, when Eli Manning out of the blue asked the media to consider him as an elite quarterback - in the same breath as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Big Ben and his older brother Peyton. 

Go back to mid-November and many people would have laughed in his face if he asked the question again.  The Giants were on a six game losing skid with the Cowboys in pole position to win the NFC East and head to the playoffs.  Then the Cowboys self-destructed twice away at Arizona then at home to the Giants when from two winning positions they were the makers of their own downfall, admittedly that was a problem for the entire Cowboys season.  The Giants beat Dallas in the last game of the season to win the NFC East and give the Giants a home game to the Falcons.

Whilst the Giants blew out the Falcons 24-2, that was a more a help of the formidable Giants defense with a full personnel present for the first time all season and some horrible playcalling from the Falcons offense who chose to manage the clock with short gains instead of stretching the field over a Giants secondary that is not as good as their front four.

Eli then helped his elite question marks by going into Lambeau Field against the 15-1 Green Bay Packers who had a two week rest.  Like he did five years previously, Eli marched into the cold Lambeau and walked away with the win, thanks in part to some awful defending by the Packers secondary.  A telegraphed hail mary at the end of the first half was picked easily by Hakeem Nicks, with no pressure on the grab.

That performance was Eli's best in the playoffs.  The Conference championship match up against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park, was an old-fashioned defensive slugfest settled by two error by punt returner Kyle Williams who fumbled twice, the second time led to the game-winning field goal by Lawrence Tynes.  Manning was somewhat absent from the victory, although tellingly he did not throw an interception.

This goes in stark contrast to Tom Brady, who in the previous playoff match agains the Denver Broncos he threw 6 TDs, against the Baltimore Ravens he went for no TDs but 2 picks.  Unusual Brady numbers, but still Brady is at the Superbowl for the 5th time.

For me Brady is assured of a place in the Hall of Fame due to him winning 3 rings already, the most TDs thrown in one season.  For Eli Manning, his legacy is in real question come Sunday in the Superbowl at Indianapolis.

If Manning wins, he would have twice taken a 9-7 team to win the Superbowl. Manning won the Superbowl the first time in Arizona, his drive to win the game at the end when he hooked up with Plaxico Burress for the go ahead and winning TD was down to him.  People will remember the catch by David Tyree where he somehow kept held of the catch under double coverage, my memory is of Tedy Bruschi being unable to sack/tackle Manning who evaded the pocket pressure and was able to get the ball away as he had to because it was 3rd down.  You must remember Tyree made the catch look good, the throw was god awful.

Now five years since, he has improved most significantly since the defeat at home to Seattle Seahawks when he threw a pick 6 in the last two minutes when they were seeking to go ahead, it led to a 97 yard interception return which lost the game.  However, no other QB has led more fourth quarter comebacks and victories than Manning. Manning is the go to QB on third down.  Manning is getting results with a limited field of targets - apart from Nicks, Mario Manningham and breakout star, Victor Cruz; he has maybe Jacobs and Bradshaw running underneath or catching for the short yardage gains.  One big play at Green Bay was a short four yard catch by Ahmad Bradshaw that became a 18 yard gain that led to the hail mary and the lead at halftime, and a huge momentum shift.

Plus with Manning he is playing hard.  He dropped back 56 times in San Francisco, meaning he wants either more time in the pocket or wants to release the ball quickly - yet he got hit 20 odd times, sacked six times yet he keeps getting up and delivering.  So New England can try and hit him, if he can avoid the collision but he will play hurt and remain the leader.

To be elite, you have to be the focal point of the team.  You have to lead by example.  When they went under .500 for the season, there was no sense of alarm by Manning who had to endure a period without many targets, hence why Cruz has come to the fore and without much of a running game.

Personally, for Eli to be elite he has to beat Brady again.  Then he can be considered one of the top 5 QBs in the league along with Brady, Rodgers, Brees and Big Ben (all have won a ring), and join Brady and Big Ben as the only active QB with two rings.  He will also be considered better, even greater, than Peyton because Eli will still have another five to seven years to add to his own legacy with the Giants who will remain a threat in a competitive division.  Whereas, Peyton may not play again for the Colts and will certainly not enjoy the freedom he enjoyed in Indy anywhere else.  Peyton will have to follow a playbook, and not run the show.  At the moment, it looks like Eli is calling the shots and happily Tom Coughlin is letting him do it, so long as it pays dividends.

So is Eli elite? At this moment, he is a SuperBowl winning quarterback who is achieving great things without too many weapons.  Whereas Brady, is the man with a great slot receiver in Wes Welker and two freaks in the form of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez - two men who will have a big say in the outcome of Sunday's result.

Unfortunately, for Eli whatever the result come Sunday he will still be seeking an answer to this question.  It seems to be a shame that he is alive in a time of great quarterbacks and peers; yet he will certainly go down fighting for the cause - so if you judge eliteness by competitiveness and hunger, Eli would certainly be high on the list.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


At Cannes last year, it seemed that Drive flew in under the radar somewhat.  Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring flavour of the year, Ryan Gosling - it became a word of mouth stormer on the Croisetter culminating in a Best Director award for the Danish filmmaker.  Ironic, that a Dane left Cannes with anything to shout about following the shameful exit of Lars Von Trier in the same week.

Drive now revs up for its DVD release in the UK on Monday 30th January and the film should do well on the small screen as it continues an impressive theatrical release where it garnered numerous acclaim and a film that set my personal twitter timeline into over-drive.

Drive is based on the novel by James Sallis , and stars Gosling as a man who is simply known as Driver/Kid who works as a mechanic and part-time stunt driver for the movies in Los Angeles.  He is also a getaway driver for robbers of property and banks, he promises them a five minute window where he is their's for those five minutes.  A minute under or over and he walks away, but he will get them safe as he knows the streets of LA better than anyone.  The thrilling prologue perfectly sets up the stealth mettle of the driver as he avoids police pursuit and cleverly gets involved with the finale of a NBA game.

My only complaint of the film is not really a critique of this opening scene, but without this scene the film would take a long time to get going.  Only after the death of a peripheral character, does the film explode into this smorgasborg of ultra-violence.

To that effect the film is really a B-movie in the same vein of the oeuvre of Walter Hill (Driver) or Sam Peckinpah (The Getaway) that is elevated to exalted heights by an amazing ensemble performance.  All the main characters are played by established and credible actors who take a lot of the economic writing and create real characters.

Bryan Cranston as Shannon, the Driver's boss at the garage, is especially good with a limp for added effect but there is a humbleness in his eyes as his years of experience speak volumes.  The real surprise is Albert Brooks, as the moneyman Bernie Rose; Brooks is a comedian but there is a real coldness in his performance thanks in part to the delivery of his lines.

Yet the legend of this film will be built around the chemistry and central performances of Gosling and Carey Mulligan as Irene, the next door neighbour whose life impinges upon the Driver as he attempts to lend support.  Mulligan has this innocence and purity about her that will lend to a number of roles in the next few years, it could be the making or detriment of her career.

As for the violence I was shocked by the European feel of the violence, only a Danish director could make a film with this much gore and make it look stylish.  At times the film is a victim of style over substance - slow-mo's as the Driver comes home and he parks very slowly, a slow-mo kiss in the elevator ends with an eruption of violence that paints the Driver in crimson.

The DVD includes a theatrical trailer and an intriguing Q&A with Refn held at the BFI Southbank where he refutes stories about the casting process of the two females and his pleasure in blowing one of their heads off.

It is available from Icon Home Entertainment, my thanks to Think Jam Movies for the check disc.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


I remember when I went to the London Film Festival in 2009, and there was a lot of talk about a small film from Argentina called Liverpool.  I remember being a little struck by the title seeing as it is the hometown of my mother and wanting to see it, yet being unable to.

I always remember the title and now thanks to Second Run DVD, (who specialise in auteur cinema from third world countries and directors who fail to get home entertainment release) Lisandro Alonso's fourth feature film is gaining a DVD release in the UK having failed to garner a distributor in this country.

In the same vein of his previous work, it follows a lonely soul on a journey of discovery.  In this case, a sailor, Farrel, leaves his ship and begins a lengthy journey to wintry Tierra del Fuego’s interior, to an isolated village and family that he hasn’t seen in years. We gradually piece together his relationship with the people and community he finds there on a journey that looks familiar to him. From the opening sequences on Farrel’s ship, to the spectacular harshness of his destination, Alonso is meticulous in mapping the sights and sounds of the landscape and Farrel’s personal journey into the past.

Alonso's influences of film are far reaching from that of fellow Argentinian and South American luminaries to that of the mythology of American cinema and the cowboy in the Westerns. 

Alonso can be noted as nothing but courageous in his narrative storytelling, in a film where you are asked to invest a lot of time with one character Alonso does this amazingly brash about turn in the story as our focus must switch to someone else.  As the previous character exits, it reminded me of Alan Ladd as Shane in the synonymous film who walks off into the sunset, seemingly never to return - the mythology and convention of the western can be seen in the small town, the wanderer as a lonesome figure and the journey as a rite of passage and possible redemption (as with John Wayne in The Searchers).

Whilst it is a trying experience at times due to the facet of slow cinema in which this piece of cinema can sit next to the work Bela Tarr; it is nonetheless a rewarding watch should you stick with it.

The DVD is presented in a brand new director-approved anamorphic digital transfer and also includes Untitled (Letter for Serra) / Sin título (Carta para Serra) – a new short film by
Lisandro Alonso, available for the first time anywhere on DVD.

The work of Lisandro Alonso is part of Slow Cinema Weekend as part of the AV Festival in Newcastle, Liverpool is screening on Sunday 11th March

Liverpool is released on DVD from Second Run for £12.99 and is 82 minutes long with Spanish subtitles

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A Useful Life (A vida util)

Federico Veiroj's second full length feature is 70 minutes long. Do not be put off by that short length, the film is short and sweet.

A vida util tells the story of Jorge (Jorge Jellinek) who works at the Uruguayan cinematheque in Montevideo, and shows us how he must adjust to life after the cinema closes where has worked for the last 25 years.  Jorge is a cineaste, an archivist but not a film geek as we watch him and his colleague (Manuel Martinez Cerril).

Jorge can be termed a cineaste, as the director and his writers have been deliberate not to make light of his cinephilia - the first time we see him and Martinez, they are discussing Icelandic filmmakers for a future programme; Jorge has a poster of Kurosawa's Ran in his office and they are currently working on a retrospective of Manoel de Oliveira (the Portugese master).

The film endeavours to treat him not as a geek, and befitting the general stereotype of someone who likes to work in the dark and shy away from the outside world.  He attempts to ask out Paola, a University lecturer who is outside of his social circle but who shares a love of cinema with him.  Paola appears at the cinematheque on Jorge's recommendation.

There is a lightness of Jorge's attempts, whilst she is watching the movie, he is outside in seclusion saying to himself, 'Do you fancy a coffee?' and variations of this line as he motivates himself.  Jorge is a lovely character full of warmth and lightness in spite of his lumbering physical frame, he is quite beguiling at times.
Jorge can join the list of other South American anti-heroes, a hero who is technically an outsider isolated from the world due to his loyalty to his work and he is cut from the same cloth as Lisandro Alonso's characters such as the lonely seamen in Liverpool.

The major plot point concerning the closure of the cinematheque owing to lack of funds from the trustees on the board is dealt with sincerely, as there are genuine fears for the future of many cultural and historical institutions in major cities.  In this case, the capital's once burgeoning cinematheque has to shut due to a lack of renewed membership and the lack of people apparent at screenings speaks volumes - the economy of the script is wonderful.

Once Jorge packs up his things on his last day he takes a bus ride and he becomes a charater in his own feature film as he begins life outside and away from the cinema.  His character is a spy with a bag in need of losing; he orates a speech about lying to unbeknown students who mistake him for a substiute teacher; he dances on marble stairs as if he was Fred Astaire and then manipulates the romantic encounter with Paola that does not come across as weird but rather enchanting.

Originally the film was shot on colour and then transferred back to black and white which lends the film a real lushness and vintage quality, as if it is a relic from a bygone era.  Veiroj does not establish any auteur ticks in regards to editing and flashy camera movements to make the film suffer.

A Useful Life (La vida util) is out now on limited release around the country and can be viewed for another week at the BFI Southbank ( and is distributed by Dogwoof Pictures (

The Nine Muses

John Akomfrah, the director of this pristine film, was once a member of the Black Audio Film Collective in the 1980s.  Their most famous work was Handsworth Songs (1986) which explored the experience of the immigration through the extensive archive available; whereas the former work mixed archival footae with that of the urban present, the new work The Nine Muses mixes the archive with that of stunning landscape cinematography of the vast, empty Alaska.

The Muses who provide the film's title and its nine chapters - Calliope (Epic poetry), Clio (History), Erato (Love), Euterpe (Music), Melopmene (Tragedy), Polyhymnia (Hymns), Terpsichore (Dance), Thalia (Comedy) and Urania (Astronomy) - were the product of a union between Zeus and Mnemosyne, the personification of memory.  This new film, is a film about memory and how the different kinds of memory - personal, institutional, cultural - all have an effect whether good or bad on each other.

There is no narrative voiceover overhead, removing the 'voice of God' factor you sometimes get in films that deal with archive footage.  Instead the voices we hear are all from borrowed texts of canonical works like that of Shakespeare, Dante, Joyce and most tellingly Homer's The Odyssey. Akomfrah, who admits to watching near to a thousand hours of archive footage in preparation for this work, handles with great sensitivity the material which deals with immigrants on the move and arriving at a new home. 

Whilst the archive footage deals with movement - people running, people driving, immigrants on boats or trains.  The footage in Alaska is very still and meditative, it depicts a hooded figure in a coloured hooded jacket (either blue or yellow) who stands with his back to the camera.  His face is not seen by us leaving us with no characteristics with which to judge them by, rendering him an everyman to the audience. 

The person stands still in reflective mood, looking out across the landscape in contemplative fashion looking at the last possible place to emigrate to.  Alaska looks like the end of the world or a place after a terrible disaster, also it has the feeling that has the person been abandoned here with no chance of immigrating.  Even in a moment of stillness, the person can think of nothing but moving.

The Nine Muses is distributed by New Wave Films, whom I thank for the review disc.  They also reviewed Le Quattro Volte (the goat film from last year), whilst this film does not have the critical acclaim and festival exposure of Frammatino's work, yet this is a work that is both poetic and mesmeric.  The release may be minimal but the exposure and acclaim it receives will nonetheless be positive.

The Nine Muses is out on limited release from Friday 20th January.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Arsene's Questions

Arsenal lost to Swansea. 3-2. In Swansea. So why is it that much of a surprise or treated as the equivalent of when Arsenal last visited Wales for a competitive fixture against a side from the principality, as when they lost 2-1 at Wrexham back in 1992.

Swansea have only lost once at home in the league all season (to Man United, 1-0), they are a well drilled unit governed by the magisterial eye of Brendan Rodgers who gets them to play as well with the ball as when they are without it.

The key to Swansea's football (some call it the Barcelona way) is to get the ball back as quickly as possible once they lose it giving the players Joe Allen and Leon Britton the chance to shine both with and without the ball.  They have pace down the wings in Scott Sinclair (who converted the penalty to equalise for the Swans), Nathan Dyer (who scored the second in a man of the match performance) and up front they have a hard working centre-forward who never gives up a lost cause and scores the odd goal, in this case the winner, in Danny Graham.  The scorers may well get the credit, but the solid defence and impressive Michel Vorm provides solidity at the back, they are difficult to score against - although both Arsenal goals came from through ball played into space behind full backs.

As for Arsenal, this is just another sorry episode in a season that may well go down in history as the worst of Arsene Wenger's tenureship.

Having navigated the quagmire of uncertainty following the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, Wenger seemed to have steadied the ship thanks in part to the irresistible form of Robin Van Persie who was winning games single-handedly.  He even got Thierry Henry back on loan for two months to fool people into thinking there were no real problems at the Emirates.

Yet the problems remain, an inconsistent goalkeeper who was at fault for the winner at Swansea as he did not lessen the angle for Graham to shoot at, his back peddling and dithering made Graham's decision to shoot across goal a lot easier.

The defence still is leaky, it did not help that he had four centre backs playing in defence owing to injuries sustained to Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna and Santos during the season.  Laurent Koscielny and Ignasi Miquel looked lost as they combated the pace of Sinclair and Dyer, whilst Per Mertesacker was given the run around by Graham all afternoon, and it was no surprise that he was sacrificied near the end for Oxlade-Chamberlain as Arsenal, chased an equaliser, on 77 minutes.

Yet the midfield trio of Aaron Ramsey (whose lazy pass led to Swansea taking a 2-1 lead), Alexandre Song and Yossi Benayoun could not compete with Swansea's tenacity and resilience.  There is a real sense of belief ringing around the Liberty Stadium at the moment - a team that plays attractive football, and keeps to that ethos even when they concede like they did yesterday.

The worry for Arsene Wenger was the near invisibility of certain players - Arshavin was non-existent and a non-factor until he had to come off for Henry midway through the second half, apart from his well taken goal Theo Walcott could not match Dyer for potency and end product but most worryingly, Robin Van Persie apart from the goal looked flat at times, even when they are chasing a goal at the end where was Arsenal's player of the season to stand up and be counted and carry the team to a point and salvation.

Instead, Arsenal must now re-assess hope some players return from injury as this is not Wenger's best starting XI and this season should be written off as one to be forgotten.  Again after a costly defeat, he looked to deflect blame from his team that were simply not good enough, and instead blame Michael Oliver for awarding a penalty to Swansea.

Frankly the team is not good enough to compete in this league at the moment, be it Man City's superstar line-up, Man United's experience of the big stage, Tottenham's similar Barca-style football, Arsenal have lost to all three of these teams as well as Blackburn, Fulham and now Swansea away from home.  The part-time signing of Henry is an attempt to paper over the cracks of his feeble transfer policy and failure to bring through any quality youth players - how he must regret not signing Tim Krul, nor Gary Cahill in the summer.  Cahill has now gone to Chelsea, Krul's value has shot up now.

Arsenal need to save the season, oddly enough their best performanes have been saved for the Champions League and maybe some glory in that remains, but the League has gone. They need to get back on track, yet they are at home to Man United this Sunday, whilst it should not be a 10 goal thriller again, do not bank on a goalless draw.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Life, Above All

Schmitz's inspirational movie was nominated for Best Foriegn Language film at the 2011 Academy Awards and tells the story of Chanda, who after her mother leaves the village goes off in search of her. It is based on the novel, 'Chanda's Secrets' by Allan Stratton.

Chanda (played by first timer, Khomotso Manyaka) learns of a rumour that spreads like wildfire through her dust-ridden village outside of Johannesburg. Her family is destroyed by this vicious allegation, forcing her mother to flee the village. Young Chanda believes the rumour was spread through superstitition and so goes in search of her mother and the truth she may hold.

Chanda is played by Khomotso Manyaka (a first time performance) who embarks upon a personal journey of discovery, as she listens to her heart for the answers and trusts the loyalty of her family to overcome the paranoia of the community.

Manyaka is amazing in the role of Chanda, being both innocent yet strong and commanding when necessary, following on in the footsteps of Tsotsi (Gavin Hood, 2005) it again shows South African cinema able to portray young children on the cusp of adolescence and ensuing adulthood with a sincerity and seriousness.

Schmitz (who filmed a part for the portmeneau film 'Paris, je t'aime') films with a confidence and shoots the landscapes beautifully conveying a real sense of vastness and place that Chanda is in.  Whilst the parallel storylines of child prostitution may make this film a tougher watch, nonetheless it remains a gratifying and rewarding one.

Life, Above All is released on DVD by Peccadillo Pictures on Monday 23rd January

Thursday, 12 January 2012

England's Line up issues

England are currently ranked the Number 1 side in the Test cricket arena, and they have not played since early September and so are touring the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan on a neutral site. 

Whilst Pakistan have been depleted by the suspensions and convictions handed out to three good players, and the constant infighting of the Pakistan Cricket Board, they nevertheless remain an enigmatic side - able to please and frustrate in equal measure. They themselves are trying to rebuild their test status from its current lower ebb.

Yet due to the unified front being portrayed by them, Pakistan are settled on the side that will go against England in the first test which starts on Tuesday.

England have played their two warm up games and tellingly they are having to shuffle their pack owing to injuries and lack of form.  Alastair Cook continues his fine form of late as he scored a faultless century of 133, yet his seventh wicket partnership of 90 with Matt Prior (46) saved some blushes for England as they were 121-6, with only Pietersen (38) troubling the scorers.  Both Jonathon Trott and Ian Bell were dismissed for ducks off of three and two bells each, neither man is entering the Tests with significant scores nor time at the crease.  Andrew Strauss remains solid, and Pietersen will score runs on any pitch.  Yet the worry over England may well be the bowling line up and strategy.

Graeme Swann is carrying an injury carried over from the first warm up match, yet he still bowled in the PCB XI's first innings and got one wicket off of 18 overs, whereas Monty Panesar had figures of 29-12-57-5, good figures for Monty yet they do not tell the whole story.  Panesar bowled on a pitch that had been previously used, so it was deteoriating yet Swann had some joy on the first few days of the same pitch in the first warm up match. 

The answer is that England on the sub-continent have two spinners; a spinner in Swann who can attack on a flat pitch, then they have Panesar who can take wickets as it becomes harder to bat.  Yet it remains England's policy to play six batsmen, one wicketkeeper and four bowlers (Swann, Anderson, Bresnan and Broad).  However, Tim Bresnan is out of the tour with a reoccurence of his elbow injury so there is room for Panesar to slot in, however Panesar remains not the best fielder nor can he hold a bat as long as Bresnan clearly can (two Test scores of 90 plus).

England have some questions yet they have faith in their batting line-up to come good and apply the scoreboard pressure of huge runs.  Andy Flower will more than likely pick the tried and tested line-up of one spinner in the line-up with Steve Finn filling in for Bresnan, consigning Panesar to the drinks duty.  Should the task fail, expect Panesar to come in at the expense of Eoin Morgan for the second test with Matt Prior batting sixth - a place where he looks ill suited but can do the job.  Obviously this makes the tail a lot longer than normal, yet you expect now one England batsmen to score a century in every innings.

The Power of Pollard
Kieron Pollard is an absolute beast in the T20 and ODI arena, his innings for Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday night 211-3 in the Caribbean T20 tournament. Pollard hit 56 off 15 balls included one over of 5 sixes, 30 runs (4 consecutively to open the over) as he laid seige to the paltry bowling offered by the Leeward Islands (the fourth went so high it delayed the game as they searched for the ball).  Pollard like Pakistan is one of those enigmatic figures, so talented and unbelievably skilled with hand eye coordination yet he fails to cement a place in the West Indian test side as it seems his mind is elsewhere.

Titanic 3D Preview

To celebrate the forthcoming re-release of Titanic to mark the 15th anniversary of its original release, and the centenary of the famous vessel's maiden and last voyage in the Atlantic on April 15th 1912. Twentieth Century Fox granted myself an exclusive look at eight scenes from the second biggest grossing film in history in the new 3D format. Following this there was a brief Q&A with the producer of both Titanic and Avatar, Jon Landau, the long time collaborative partner of James Cameron. Here is a review of that footage and the brief time with Mr. Landau ('please call me Jon')

The footage we see did mark out a Reader's Digest version of the movie, a bite size form of the 194 minutes of Titanic. What initially hits you of the footage, is how clean the film looks now in a digital form shot so cleanly and properly. The first scene we see is of when Rose (Kate Winslet) is about to board the vessel and she speaks of not knowing what the fuss is all about; the depth is so lush, you forget how vast the film was in its original form - the last great Hollywood epic that was built from scratch; an 800ft set built in Mexico, hundreds of extras on set every day, the making of the film had enough worries and material for a film of itself. There were many fears for the film's release, and yet the sentiment of the film and the benefit of a narrative story with universal appeals plus a unique female character that was inspiring to young female cinemagoers. It was these females who kept going back to see the film not only for inspiration from Rose, but also to fawn over Jack, played winningly by Leonardo DiCaprio.

After the footage, the first question was what would you have done now if you were shooting Titanic in terms of stock?
JL: If we were doing it today, we would shoot the film in 3D. James wanted to but we did not have the technology, so the reason we are re-releasing it is that we feel that there is an appetite to see it again on the big screen. In regards to the 3D release, we are giving people the option, as we are re-releasing the 2D also, yet the 3D will be the archival master of our film for years to come. Yet we feel the narrative storytelling is a selling point, and the ability to use 3D allows the audience the 'transport of experience' and to escape thanks to the storytelling, the characters and the performances.

What was the task of changing it to 3D?
JL: It was a mammoth task, every shot of the film is now a visual shot, every frame (24 per second) had to be looked at in terms of stereo depth processing. It surprises me how films release a 3D format in conjunction with their original 2D release, as they must only have six weeks to turn it around, and sometimes I feel that is the detriment to their product. We had 60 weeks to work on the conversion, and before that we had a year and a half of research and talks with vendors about the possibility of converting; the wonderful thing about conversion is that it is a creative process that uses technological tools, so we have not gone into the film editing it and doing a directors cut, we are converting not changing. We had 450 people working full time on the film; defining space and figuring out where objects sat in the shot. We used $18m on this conversion, more of a budget than some films.

What was the hardest shots for 3D?
JL: The toughest scene to actually do for example, was the scene where Jack joins Rose for dinner at the captain's table, there is so many objects on the table and so much attention to detail in the original production in the foreground and background, that to figure out which depth a glass should sit in. And also close-ups, because our faces have depth, so sometimes a face looks bloated or a nose may look flatter than they appear. However, the audience came first so we had to make sure the sentiment of the film was not lost.

Why do you feel 3D is getting the wrong end of the stick of late?
JL: I think not every film needs to be in 3D, you look at a film like The Artist is black and white, and silent and it is just as powerful a movie. I feel part of the problem are the glasses, they are part of a deterrent. So I have gone to the glasses' manufacturers asking them to think of it as an opportunity, to make them cooler, classier and more aesthetic value to when you are sitting there. Because 3D is becoming more applicable to our lives as it appears in our homes, computers and mobile devices, so why not make it better viewing experience. I also don't think 3D is the future, for me we have to try and make a move to 48 frames per second; which will give us a crisper, sharper look giving the audience a heightened sense of reality and transform the exhibition experience. I think Peter [Jackson] is doing it for The Hobbit, so that will be exciting - and Peter is thinking of returning to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and convert them for 3D also.

What is the future for you and Mr.Cameron?
JL: Well we are working on the Avatar sequels, we have recently leased a facility for 5 years but we have built in-house a building for the technical, post production crew so they are a part of the collaborative process. We learned so much from Avatar to help us with the Titanic conversion than you realised; 3D is not the be all and end all in action sequences because of the sharp editing, 3D is key in dialogue scenes where the nuance of performance can still be captured and still grab the audience. And we dont want to own the rights to 3D filmmaking, we invite Steven [Spielberg] and Peter [Jackson] to learn from us as we are all storytellers and we want to push and improve the future of film.

Here is the trailer for the re-release out on 6th April 2012

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Rodrigo Garcia Interview

Rodrigo Garcia (director of Mother and Child) allowed me his time on the phone from Los Angeles to talk briefly about his new film being released in the UK on Friday 6th January, 2012 by Verve Pictures.

What is the appeal to you of women in your work?
I dont know, I first wrote the script in my mid to late 30s and found that the men I was writing were all too similar to each other or myself, and writing women allowed me more tools to approach the story with.  They were more complex and more varied from one another.  But I would not say I am a feminist director with a pro-women agenda, as I feel female characters are more satisfying for me and my work.

What was the genesis for Mother and Child?
I had been working on the script on and off for nine years, the most complicated thing was the structure of putting together Karen's story from 35 years ago up to the present day combining with events that take place but not necessarily at the same time.  And then the problem with independent cinema in America especially, is that you can have a good script but you need a big name actress/actor to sell to financiers.

I read that Naomi was the first person you went to in that respect?
Naomi was one of the first but my ideas of actors always changed, and then when we approached her she was pregnant so we waited for her to give birth, but that is her tummy for real in the movie.  And the sex scene she shot just 5 weeks after giving birth.

I found Annette Bening's performance to be outstanding, how did she come on board?
Well, again Annette was one of the first people we approached but due to family commitments she could not commit herself and then Naomi fell pregnant and so the window was open for her to take part.  I felt her work was first rate on set but only in the editing suite did the appreciation of her work take shape as she went from misanthrope to a sympathetic grandmother.

What was your research for the three women and their backgrounds?
I did research about adoption mostly, but for the women I felt Karen had to be near 50 and no longer able to have children.  Elizabeth had to be 35 yet successful in her career but still able to bear children and Lucy had to be near 30 and unable to.  Its about the calendar and how it relates to people being able to have children.

What is the appeal of multi-strand cinema and why is it so apparent in Latin American cinema?
I was not conscience of it, and it is seemingly a coincidence because Magnolia has it, Robert Altman has it, Crash had it, it is good for cinema were flukes and destiny are thrusts to the narrative. 

Were you nervous shooting a sex scene between a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) and white woman (Watts), still a taboo subject in Hollywood?
I did not feel race was an issue in the film and it did not compel me.  What interested me most about race was giving Karen an african-american child - a child she could be close to in terms of proximity and yet be different from her.  Karen also falls in love with a Latino man, something that she did not anticipate or presume to happen.
The sex scene I felt had to be about more than just sex and tell us something about Elizabeth - her sexuality, her career, her relationships, her identity.

Its taken a while for this film to reach our shores, in hindsight would you have changed anything?
Oh definitely, you know Truffaut used to say 'you start every film hoping it to be a masterpiece, and at the end you are relieved it is breathing'. The movie is a version of what you had hoped for, however I am happy with work of actresses and satisfied with it definitely.

And on that lovely note, I bid farwell to Mr.Garcia wishing him every luck for the future.

Mother and Child is released from Verve Pictures on Friday 6th January in selected cinemas nationwide.

The 300 Club's newest member

January 5th 2012, Sydney, Australia.  Michael Clarke, the Australian captain, joined an illustrious list of men as he completed the 25th score of 300+ in Australia's first innings score of 659-4, as he declared on 329*, the 14th highest individual score in Test cricket and only the 6th Australian to achieve the feat - joining countryman, Sir Donald Bradman (twice), Bob Simpson, Bob Cowper, Mark Taylor and Matthew Hayden.

Although many thought the declaration come at an odd time with many observers believing he would obviously have overtaken Mark Taylor and Donald Bradman's score of 334 and with many thinking he would have had a chance to attack Brian Lara's record of 400* on such a benign and flat SCG pitch.  Tellingly, post-innings Clarke gave the impression that the need to win the match was more important than personal milestones, he also declared when Michael Hussey had just reached 150*. Clarke can rest with the knowledge that he has scored the highest Test score at the SCG as it celebrates its centenary this year.

However, much is made of the landmark as a mythical figure that is rarely attained, it should be remembered that many of the scores come in boring draws where some teams do not even reach their second innings. 

Clarke himself was at pains to say that he had scored a better century in South Africa when his team were 37-3 and he faced down the onslaught of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to give Australia a competitive first innings total.  Clarke himself is finding runs easier to come by now he has the captaincy, as when England toured last winter his form all but deserted him.

Clarke said the innings was a better knock, whilst this was harder only on a mental and physical scale.  And even though he has joined such an illustrious list, he would rather be remembered for that South African innings.

The same can be said of many on the list who even though they have the milestone for their career achievements all have greater moments in their lifetime.

Graham Gooch's 333 the first one I can remember witnessing in my lifetime, had a far more memorable innings of 154* at Headingley were he carried his bat against a fine West Indian bowling line-up that included Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh in their pomp.

Brian Lara has done the feat twice - 375 and 400* (both at Antigua; both I saw live) - yet his career should be remembered for the 277 he scored against Australia in Perth in 1993, an innings that set him apart from other batsmen of his era.

Virender Sehwag has also done it twice (309, 319), yet his explosive 83 off 68balls laid the foundation for India to chase down a target of 387 set by England in Chennai, 2008.

Even if Alastair Cook had achieved the milestone when he was out for 294 at Edgbaston, he would more than likely be remembered for his immense 227* at Brisbane, or the century he scored against Pakistan at the Oval which saved his Test position and led to him breaking all manner of records on the subsequent Ashes tour.

Odd also when you look at the list, how many of the players who have the accolade can be deemed one-day specialists - Sehwag (twice), Chris Gayle (twice, 317 & 333) and Sanath Jayasuriya (340).  And you add Matthew Hayden (380) the sheer finesse of those men is formidable.

Yet Clarke can be deemed one of the more elegant players to hold the special 300 club distinction along with Mahela Jayawardene (374) and Younis Khan (313).

It is a fuss to be made over, yet like Clarke is able to admit.  He would rather be remembered for winning a test series against a competitive opponent than a personal achievement.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Fergie's Cock-up

Sir Alex Ferguson was celebrating his 70th birthday in the New Year, another milestone to go along with his 25th year in charge at Old Trafford.  Yet as with 20 years ago, when one Dennis Bailey scored a hat-trick for QPR in a famous 4-1 victory on Fergie's 50th birthday, away teams do not seem to read the script. 

The stage was set.  Manchester United joint top on points with their city rivals, City who played the day after at Sunderland, so the opportunity was there to get a lead over them.  And the fixture machine gave them bottom of the table Blackburn Rovers at home, although heartened by a gritty point away at Anfield, this is still a team without an away win all season.  The chance was there for the taking, yet the underdog had bite.

Blackburn Rovers were led impressively by their lead man Yakubu who ended up scoring twice, and the eventual winner came from the unheralded Grant Henley with 10 minutes remaining for a famous victory and extend the stay of execution for Steve Kean, who was supported in the build up to the game by SAF saying he should be given a chance to save Blackburn.

Kean and his spirited side were helped by an odd team selection by the elder statesman.  A squad that has been ravaged by injuries in defence and midfield led to a centre back pairing of Phil Jones and Michael Carrick; a central midfield duo of Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sun Park, with Danny Welbeck marooned on the left wing with Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov up front with Wayne Rooney omitted from the squad altogether. 

(It transpired that SAF disciplined Rooney, Darron Gibson and Jonny Evans for an ill-advised piss up on Boxing Day night which led to them being physically unable to train on Dec 27th.  Rooney admits he was fine to train, yet the punishment was handed out).

This was a bizarre thing for Ferguson to do; something as trivial as footballers drinking should be dealt in-house.  Ferguson must have thought that dropping Rooney would not warrant a mention, nor turn a head; all the more the media would be on his side.

Yet I feel he was very arrogant in choosing the Blackburn game to drop three players from - three players who would have all started more than likely - as he felt the strength of his squad would see them past the bottom side in the League quite easily.  The sheer arrogance came back to bite him on the behind.

A penalty against Berbatov for a clear shirt pull led to Blackburn's opener coolly converted by Yakubu, then Yakubu's sheer physical presence led to the 2-0 advantage as he powered past an out of sorts Carrick and a fortuitous ricochet to fire past David de Gea who was recalled over Anders Lindegaard.

Yet count Man.United out at your peril as Berbatov quickly replied a minute after the second goal, and then got his second ten minutes later.  You would have expected United to convert their momentum to a victory, yet it was Blackburn who got their third goal first and eventual winner; a goal which showed the falliability of the makeshift United defence as Henley cleanly outjumped a flapping de Gea and then easily headed in the dropping ball at the second opportunity against a lead footed Rafael on the line.

Luckily for United and Ferguson, there was a silver lining as City suffered their second defeat of the season at resurgent Sunderland as a last minute winner by Ji gave Martin O'Neill's side the spoils.

Both Manchester sides were guilty of not converting chances and heaps of possession; yet for Ferguson the chance to leapfrog their rivals has gone.  He may rely again on Liverpool defeating a mentally flustered City side working on one day's rest, whilst United travel to Newcastle.

The title race may well go to the wire, and longer than you think if managers intend to dismiss lesser teams in this division with this awful team selection.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Faces in the Crowd

Milla Jovovich, the star of the Resident Evil series, stars in this new DVD release about a woman who has a rare illness and yet is victim to those around her.

Anna Marchant is a primary school teacher who after witnessing a brutal attack is diagnosed with 'prosopagnosia' a real-life neurological disorder that can be called face blindness.  This does not mean that she is face blind per se, but actually people look different every time she sees them. This leads to her being unable to trust people around herself, and unable to identify the killer.

The high concept is a hark back to the 1990s thrillers of Basic Instinct and Blink (1994), the aforementioned Stowe thriller - yet it seems transported from that with jumpy cutting and histrionic performances, bad production design and bad gender politics; we have all seen so many of these films that we think the killer could be anyone of the people she meets, even the law enforcement individuals, this generic convention is not helped by the casting of Julian McMahon (Dr. Doom in Fantastic Four) as the police officer who can help her.

However, for all the high concept and possible good fortune in having an idea that could be executed, the film has very little tension and thrilling moments.  The film fails to liven up until the ending, which itself is somewhat telegraphed and has a whiff of inevitability about it.

The film is only 78 minutes but instead of being brisk it drags and rightly is only being released on DVD in this country.  Jovovich's hordes of devoted fans may help turn a profit on home entertainment releases, yet maybe she should stick to the computer games and not the high concept thrillers.

If you want to see a film that stylistically and credibly uses a neurological disorder as the foundation for a good film, seek out Agnosia or Julia's Eyes  - both foreign language films but worth the watch.

Faces in the Crowd is released on DVD (£15.99) and Blu-Ray (£19.99) on January 9th from Metrodome Entertainment.

Mother and Child

Rodrigo Garcia's fourth full feature is a mulit-narrative storyline you would expect from executive producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), in the form of a cross-generational, cross-cultural boundaries in Los Angeles which revolves around the lives of 3 women who are unexpectedly entwined based upon the roles of mother and child.

Featuring some amazing performances by Annette Bening and Naomi Watts, the film intially starts off in this ambivalent mood as all three women - add in Kerry Washington for the multi-racial point of view - fail to endear themselves to the audience let alone the men in the picture.

The men in question are playing by formidable men who are playing weaker male stereotypes and inversions of their screen personas; Paul (Samuel L. Jackson) and Paco (Jimmy Smits) are rather secondary to proceedings, yet in spite of this lack of narrative thrust the natural charisma of both actors do shine out of very one-dimensional characters.

The first half with Karen (Bening) playing the spinster and lonely old maid comes to the fore, whilst Elizabeth (Watts) the daughter that Karen gave up at birth plays a bunny-boiler with a real coldness and hostility; yet both females have to go through an abundant change in their identity and character. 

Karen loses her mother so can embrace the opportunity of romance with Paco instead of refusing it as she is indebted to the law of the mother, whilst Elizabeth surprisingly as a career woman yet one who has been abandoned at birth - does not want to do the same to her unborn child.  Watts reaction to the doctor who presumes she wants and will have an abortion is noteworthy.

Bening also starts to win us over by becoming a surrogate grandmother to her cleaner's daughter, allowing her the chance to play mum which she refused herself. 

Lucy (Washington) is planning to adopt with her husband, yet she has to alter her social circle.  Unfortunately, Lucy's strand (much like me mentioning her in this review) is somewhat lost in the shuffle - and yet Ms. Washington provides the most cathartic moment in the movie when she breaks down at the hospital following the birth of her surrogate child.

The theme of abortion in the film is neither for nor against, yet it is clear to point out that no-one wins and that everybody loses out at some point.

This is more a film about female roles in society and the social dynamic of the family group.  Karen becomes a Mother only after she stops being a child once her mother dies; Elizabeth is ready to become a Mother only when it is thrust upon her by an unplanned pregnancy; whilst Lucy is not fit to be a Mother and is only told to be one and act like one by her own Mother.

It can be interpreted as a Terms of Endearment without the bond that was in that film between Shirly MacLaine and Debra Winger - whereas that had larger than life male characters who desire women; in Mother and Child the men are both middle-aged and content to settle down.  Paul offers the world to Liz if she is pregnant with his child, and Paco is anointed an angel sent to comfort and support the spinster Karen.  Lucy's husband, Joseph (David Ramsey) disappears altogether at one point and Elizabeth's affair with her neighbour Steven (Marc Blucas) is swept away - so there are narrative flaws in a two hour film, albeit a two hour film that does not drag nor have you checking your watch after barely one, as with some Hollywood films.

The female empowerment aesthetic does begin to grate after a while, although the respect Garcia has for his character's is never in doubt and it is is exhiliarating to see an actor like Bening firing on all cylinders.

The plot can be described as hackneyed and telegraphed, yet a plot full of cliche is elevated by the 3 main women and notable support by Cherry Jones as Sister Joanne, a Nun who encounters each at various moments in the film.

Mother and Child is released nationwide in selected cinemas on January 6th by Verve Pictures and is a Mockingbird Pictures production in association with Everest Entertainment.

My thanks to Rabbit Publicity for allowing me to attend the preview screening.