Thursday, 13 November 2008

Secret Sunshine

I had a pleasant Sunday afternoon last weekend catching up on a screening of Secret Sunshine, the feature film from South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. Jeon Do-yeon (Scandal) plays the mother of a small boy whose life becomes hedged around with grief and recrimination after she moves to a provincial Korean city near Pusan. Though Jeon won best actress in Cannes, the film has only played three times in the UK – twice at the London Film Festival and once, a year later, at the Korean Film Festival. This is where I finally managed to see it, at the Barbican, introduced by programmer and critic Tony Rayns.

Lee Chang-dong is a fascinating man. He began life as a teacher, then went to France to write a novel. At the age of forty Lee began to make movies (after an apprenticeship with Park Kwang-su, who filmed one of his stories). Before you know it he was made Arts and Culture minister for South Korea, serving two years before being forced out by a US trade insistence on a lowering of the quota system, which, as in France, subsidizes locally-made films by taking a small percentage of the box-office takings.

Lee's film Oasis won best director prize in Venice in 2002, but it’s taken until now to follow that film up. Secret Sunshine is as morally refined as a Bresson film; its almost made from beaten metal. Jeon, in almost every scene, plays the mother who, dealing with disaster after disaster, finally turns to religion before, like Larry Flynt, becoming disgusted by it. It’s a soft howl of a performance.

As a film it’s partly an attack on organized religion where the main character, it has been suggested, may herself be God. Yet her rage at God is extraordinary. In one of her most throwaway scenes, where become mad with rage and incomprehension against her train of suffering, she looks up into the heavens, seeming to transmit defiance with every ounce of her being. In another section of the film, her sabotage of a Christian rally, playing a CD over the PA system with a Korean pop song crooning ‘lies! lies!’ is also something to behold. By joining her local Christian group, she discovers a congregation who like to talk about suffering, but have no real comprehension of what suffering entails. Indeed, they are spooked when they see it. There’s something devilish in suffering, not the divine purging of legend.

My favorite Lee Chang-dong film remains Peppermint Candy (1999), one of the unheralded masterpieces of South Korean cinema. While his compatriots go for blood and mayhem, sober and serious Lee examines issues of the wholly abandoned, exploring, at the same time, the idea that life is somehow fundamentally evil. These are dread films from the world of the Demiurge. Hope is something that happens in Hollywood films, and in religion, and there can be something pitiless about hope. Yet these films are not hopeless.

Not a single Lee Chang-dong film has received even a one-screen release in the UK (even the US released Oasis, as did France, Japan and the Netherlands). He’s unknown here. You’ll not find him (or for that matter any other serious filmmaker) discussed on BBC arts shows.

It was a stark reminder, if reminding is needed, of the various and complicated blindspots in UK distribution. Films have not turned up that should turn up, films that might get a small audience, that are worthy of discussion on The Late Show (a program that no longer regards film as an art form).

Off the top of my head there's Wen Jiang’s Devils on the Doorstep from 2000, also a Cannes prizewinner, the Russian film Ostrov (on the back burner at Artificial Eye, but hopefully out next summer, a year late). There’s Li Yang’s Blind Mountain (you got it, a Cannes winner). Suo Masayuki’s Japanese courtroom drama I Just Didn’t Do It is an omission (curious fact – his film before that was adapted into the Richard Gere vehicle Shall We Dance)

I could go on, but all I suppose I'm saying is, go see them if you can.

Anyhow, here's the Secret Sunshine Trailer

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Defiance [The Review]

This is not a review. I left half-way through Defiance, in an act of, perhaps, Defiance. Defiance is highly thought of in the Oscar race. Daniel Craig plays the lead character, a rugged freedom fighter and militia man, a proto-Israeli if you like. He’s tipped for an Oscar nomination; US audiences like the story, based on a true incident, of Jewish Byelorussians fighting back against the Nazis.

After German troops storm his village and kill many of the inhabitants, with the help of the local police, Tuvia Bielski (Craig) heads for the silver beechwoods and soon find himself in charge of several dozen refugees of all ages and backgrounds.

With his brother Zus (Liev Schreiber again returning to his East European Jewish roots), Tuvia finds some early success in launching attacks on Nazi convoys and killing enemy soldiers. But the two brothers, in classic Russian style, do not see eye-to-eye. Tuvia believes in keeping the locals on-side whereas Zus favours what is in effect all-out war. Tuvia makes an effort to persuade members of an embattled Jewish ghetto that they must escape and join him. Zus feels that the elderly and infirm are simply slowing them down. Both, of course, are right.

After an ugly tussle which ends with fisticuffs on the muddy woodland floor, Zus leaves the ever-growing Jewish camp to join the Russian militia. These ex-Red army soldiers are only marginally better than the men they are fighting, but at least, Zus reasons, he is out there killing Germans. The Jewish militia-men find as much random anti-Semitism in the drunken Russian militia-men as in their foes, and the Russians refuse to share their antibiotics with the Jewish camp when a typhus epidemic breaks out in the bitterly cold, snowbound woods. The Red Army, it might as well be said, were aggrieved by the German attack; after all they had done everything to help Hitler, including the use of a submarine base and the use of Russian icebreakers for U-Boats attacking allied shipping.

But this isn’t a history lesson, this is a mainstream Hollywood movie. Director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, I am Sam, The Last Samurai) has a certain way of doing things - mighty liberal themes, rich cinematography, and a mawkish love of sentiment. His scripts, generally, are leaden, a-historical, badly written and portentous. But his films do reasonably well because he makes up for his shortcomings in the competent direction of big-name actors.

I broke off seeing Defiance because I was sick of it. Sick to death of it. It was only halfway through and yet this interminable melodrama, droning on, was stretching out for another endless 90 minutes. In the time remaining, I could go home and watch the whole of Ivan’s Childhood, Tarkovsky’s masterpiece from 1962. Instead of watching Defiance I could have watched 142 minutes of Come and See from 1985, a Russian drama also set around the Nazi genocide in Byelorussia, a film so highly thought-of by Spielberg he organised cast-and-crew screenings at the Saving Private Ryan shoot.

In Come and See, you have the raw horror – the horror of war, not Fiddler on the Rough, which waltzes with as many cliches concerning Russian-Jewish heritage as it claims to shoot down. In Ivan’s Childhood you have the desperation and the cold, the wintry Russian landscape, the fragility of loyalties and friendships. You have the desolation of the young. You don’t have contrived relationships, weddings in the snow cross-cut with attacks on Nazis, binding religious ceremonies while blood is spilled, as if it was the Godfather, except Jewish, and in Russia. You have real, bitter relationships formed out of frost and fire.

So there you have it. This is not a review of Defiance. Good luck to it all the way to the Oscars, yet another overblown piece of Oscar carrion for the daws to pick at. No doubt Daniel Craig loved being out of his Bond persona, no doubt Liev Schreiber felt energized by his reconnection to an ancestral past, and Jamie Bell extended his emotional range in some sense. It’s a magnificent topic for a film. But mawkish, tedious Edward Zwick is not the man to do honor to those few and fabled Jewish insurrections, when the underdog bit back, and when people didn’t behave like actors, hugging each other, like acting classes in the woods.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Milk - The Re-Run

There are the first rumblings of a Sundance Film Festival boycott; not just the boycott of Mormon businesses in Utah advocated by many enraged Gay Rights activists, but an actual wholesale rejection of the esteemed (but increasingly creaky) festival itself.

Last week, Proposition 8 was passed by a vote in California. It reverses the right to civil gay unions and has effectively annulled over 18,000 of them (including the George Takei one) retrospectively.

The perception is that it was largely bankrolled by the Mormon Church (who spent tens of millions of dollars in a well-resourced campaign) has lead to five days of picketing in Hollywood, with Drew Barrymore manning the barricades and Melissa Etheridge announcing that she will refuse to pay income tax until she's "allowed the same rights" as other taxpayers. Mormon entertainers, including Gladys Knight and Brandon Flowers of the Killers, look likely to get an ugly reception at their California gigs in the next few months.

In a recent development, one influential blogger has called for the boycott of the Sundance Film Festival. This has created an angry response from liberal Mormons who point out that an attack on the festival and on Utah tourism in general will only harm the liberal areas and cities of Utah.

This has lead to an impassioned plea from Sundance blogger David Poland who has suggested a Harvey Milk model for boycotting specific businesses. The host hotel for the festival, The Marriott, can expect a downtown in business after it was outed by various bloggers as Mormon-owned. Hotelier Brent Andrus is on record as donating $20,000 for the Prop 8 Campaign.

It's extraordinary to think that a late-arriving Gus Van Sant film, whose gayness has been deliberately downplayed by the studio that made it (nothing sinister there - just a close observation of the way Brokeback Mountain reporting may have damaged its Oscar chances), has suddenly become the template for a whole new political campaign.

With uncanny timing, Harvey Milk's fight against Proposition 6, and his select boycotting of homophobic businesses nearly thirty years ago, looks likely to play itself out all over again.

The official website for Milk is here

Oscar Noms

Daniel Craig, 'Defiance'
Benicio Del Toro, 'Che'
Richard Jenkins, 'The Visitor'
Ben Kingsley, 'Elegy'
Mickey Rourke, 'The Wrestler'

Current state of play for Oscar 'Best Actor' Public Poll for LA Times.

Go vote here

Friday, 7 November 2008

OldBoy - The Octopus Eating Scene

With the news that Steven Spielberg is to remake the South Korean psychodrama, everyone is wondering whether that movie's most famous scene is about to be reproduced. Would Will Smith ever chow down on a slippery, live cephalopod?

Ah yes. The Octopus. The scene 'has become an iconic image in the minds of many Asian cinema fans,' according to Variety. It's one of the very few shots that didn't feature in the original Japanese Manga on which the film is based. When I called him up to talk about it, Park Chan-Wook revealed the lengths his actor had to go to in the search for the prefect take.

The scene unfolds as follows.

Choi's character has fought his way out of an inexplicable incarceration after fifteen grueling years of mind-games and private torment. He is now at large in the city, in front of a sushi bar where he receives a wallet of money and a mobile phone from a passer-by. He enters the bar, and sits on one of the red-upholstered bar-stools. He's wearing sinister, comedy sunglasses. 'I want to eat something alive', he intones dully to the pretty woman serving as a sushi chef.

He's given a whole octopus on a green plate. The phone rings, and it's a phone call from his tormentor. After hanging up he rips off the head of the octopus and chews on the tentacles, which sucker and writhe around his face and even creep into his nostrils. He faints face-down onto the sushi counter as the tentacles still wriggle from his lips.

'I want to say straight away that most people in Korea don't normally eat octopus of that size,' he tells me. 'But it's true we do eat it when it's still alive'. Park wanted to show the 'hatred' Choi's character felt after that mocking phone-call from his invisible tormentor, but also his desire to 'touch' after not touching a living thing for fifteen years.

'We filmed past midnight in a real Pusan restaurant called Gozen,' says Park. Pusan is a massive harbour overlooking the Sea of Japan. It's famous for its seafood, as well as its film festival.

'The props department had ordered a total of seven octopi from the fish market, via the restaurant's established contacts, and they were kept in the fish-tanks until we needed them' It was only on the seventh take that they got the final shot they wanted 'with the tentacles really moving around in a good way'.

It turns out that each retake was torture for Choi Min-shik. Despite his formidable action presence, he'ss a committed Buddhist. 'Before every take we had to do a prayer to apologize to the octopus for killing it,' recalls Park of that evening.

'It was very hard for him to kill something like that, let alone seven creatures in a row. It took him a long time to recover'.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Joaquin Phoenix Quits Movies to Focus on Music.

It's official.

Phoenix's publicist, Susan Patricola, has confirmed his earlier comments to TV's "Extra": The upcoming Two Lovers will be his last performance on film.

"He has said that Two Lovers is his last. But this is not strange. Joaquin has been directing music videos and been involved in music for the last number of years," she says.

Phoenix first talked about his decision to "Extra" this week while attending a fundraiser in San Francisco, abruptly ending the interview after the reporter wondered whether he was joking.

The 34-year-old star received Oscar nominations for his roles in Gladiator and Walk the Line. He learned to play guitar on the latter.

Phoenix co-stars with Gwyneth Paltrow in the romantic drama slated for release Feb. 13.

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When Hunter S Thompson shot himself in 2005, America lost a distinctive voice. Best know as a substance-abusing anarchic sonafabitch in pursuit of the American Dream in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where he was dubiously channeled by Johnny Depp, a long-standing friend, Hunter’s reputation as a pioneering skeptical journalist, star reporter of Rolling Stone, inventor of the Gonzo style, had long since drifted into obscurity.

One of the good things about this documentary by Oscar-winning film-maker Alex Gibney is how it restores Dr Gonzo to some semblance of seriousness. He was very much more than the Ralph Steadman caricature, a sort of drug-addled holy fool. At one point in the 1970’s, at the peak of his powers, Thompson was a formidable influence on the political landscape of America.

A mixture of talking heads, home videos, TV clips, film clips, recycled documentaries all pulled together with a Johnny Depp narration (sadly only ever reading from the books and never commenting on his own experiences with the man), the talking heads in particular are impressive. It’s a slight surprise when you see Republican Pat Buchanan speaking some warmly about him, and the former president Jimmy Carter not quite bringing himself to admit that it was Hunter’s early unequivocal support for him, when he was just a not very famous governor of Georgia, that later helped him clinch the 1977 election.

This is a feelgood documentary which avoids the darker part of Thompson’s psyche. It skimps on the details of his suicide. It says nothing about his early years. No doubt through issues of space it neglects a good deal of his writing, and skimps the quarrels with his friends. So you get many sequences from an interview with Jann Wenner, co-founder and publisher of Rolling Stone, climaxing as he rubs a tear from his eye, but you hear nothing of his fall-outs with Thompson after 1975. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that a New York media mogul should be treated with kid gloves; Graydon Carter is the producer here, after all.

History may well show that Thompson’s most important work was his Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trial ’72, in which he fearlessly exposed both the Washington political establishment and the journalistic cabal that supports it. Gonzo is especially good on this, while at the same time never quite getting to the heart of what Thompson believed politically; the overweening sense is that he simply hated being lied to, and whoever was in the establishment would have received his ire.

There have been several documentaries about Thompson, one of them even cannibalized here, but this is far and away the best of them. That said, those seeking a serious analysis of Thompson’s work will not find it in Gonzo. But what it lacks in seriousness it more than makes up with an enthusiastic, appealing bundle aimed at a younger generation. He may have spent his life attacking the American Dream, but in many ways, and here’s the irony, he actually lived it.

‘Politics is the art of controlling your environment’, he once wrote. He made an art out of politics, and his life became a work of art.

**** out of five

Gonzo receives its UK release on 19th December 2008

Monday, 3 November 2008

Taxi Driver: Story of the Scene

'You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who do you think you're talking to? Oh yeah? Huh? Ok.’

Travis Bickle is practising with his guns in front of a mirror in one of the most-quoted scenes in modern cinema. The film is Taxi Driver. The actor is Robert De Niro. One of the last scenes to be shot, the dialogue is improvised by De Niro who borrowed the ‘signature line from a stand-up comic’ according to Amy Taubin in the BFI Film Classics guide for the movie.

The exact identity of this comedian, curiously, remains unrecorded. Scorsese’s follow-up film was to be King of Comedy – his exorcism of the information that John Hinckley had become obsessed with Taxi Driver prior to his assassination attempt on Ronald Regan. Scriptwriter Paul Schrader had in fact used the case of Arthur Bremer – who had tried to assassinate presidential candidate George Wallace – as a template for the Travis Bickle character.

Paul Schrader, who had only seen his first film at the age of seventeen, was an ex critic turned top-dollar screenwriter. He was a protégé of Brian de Palma, for whom he had written the semi-autobiographical Taxi Driver (drawing in fact on his LA experience of a nervous breakdown). With De Palma’s blessing (and some nice percentage points) Scorsese took over the script with De Niro in the lead. Despite De Niro’s recent Godfather II Oscar win the Hollywood establishment made clear its antipathy for the film at an early stage – the budget was hard to raise at a paltry $1.3 million.

The film’s story is simple enough. It’s a mood piece, a love-hate letter to New York in the era of 1970’s urban decay and chequered cabs. De Niro plays the alienated Vietnam vet Travis Bickle (his name a homage to Malcolm McDowell’s character in If…) who drives a taxi for a living; enraged by the spectacle of Jodie Foster as an underage child prostitute, he decides to arm himself with a small arsenal of handguns and ride to her rescue. In the famous mirror scene here he is, stripped to the waist, practising his moves. The mixture of jump-cuts, reverse angles and 180-degree swish pans make it hard to differentiate the man from his mirror image.

Accorsing to Scorsese, Bickle’s fluid moves are inspired by the filching scenes in Bresson’s Pickpocket. And the reason Bickle keeps repeating the line ‘are you talkin’ to me’? If the camera had panned down you would have seen Scorsese himself lying on the floor, mere inches from the actor, wearing headphones, mouthing to De Niro ‘say it again’ out of earshot – worried that the street-noise from bustling New York was ruining the take.

Tarantino Update

The final casting pieces of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds have fallen into place.

Maggie Cheung has been cast as Madame Mimieux, the French matriarch of the Cinematheque that takes in the protagonist Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) when she is homeless and being sought by the Nazis.

Previously French icon Isabelle Huppert had been attached to the role. But she reacted badly when news leaked out that she had been 'fired' from the role because of diva-ish behaviour. In fact, she had simply not turned up to a reading because no deal had been struck and no dotted line had been signed.

Finally, Samuel L. Jackson will be the omniscient narrator.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Peter Sarsgaard: The Warm Up

How does actor Peter Sarsgaard prepare for his Broadway performances in Chekhov's The Seagull?

Topless, he plays table tennis in his New York apartment, sweating against a gadget that bounces the balls back at him

"It's my pre-show warm up," he says. "I'm in there frequently playing ping pong against a robot, topless and wearing shorts."

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Halloween without the Wicked Witch

Carlos Leon is throwing a Halloween party - and anyone can come.

Madonna's former lover and father of 12-year-old daughter, Lourdes, will be hosting a spooky bash on Long Island City, Thursday, 6-9 p.m. It's at The Crescent Club Sales Office on Queens Plaza North.

Carlos designed the condo's fitness center, it seems. Just don't come dressed as The Material Girl.

Cheyenne Jackson: Hit on By Rome's Matrons

Cheyenne Jackson just performed at the AmFAR benefit at the Rome Film Festival.

Spies noticed "a steady stream of wealthy, Mrs. Robinson-esque socialites kept coming up to his table - it was amusing hearing 'Quel ragazzo é bello' [What a beautiful boy] and watching the ladies request private concerts or singing lessons."

They were destined to be disappointed. Jackson, who starred on Broadway in "All Shook Up" and "Xanadu," is openly gay.

Jonas Brothers to the Big Screen with Farting Dog

20th Century Fox has locked the Jonas Brothers to make their feature starring debut in a Farrelly Brothers film Walter the Farting Dog.

The title character in the "Walter" books is a fat dog with severe flatulence. The brothers play musicians whose parents are asked to care for the dog by an aunt just before she passes away.

Based on a best-selling series of books by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, the film is being adapted by Alec Sokolow and Joel Cohen into a family film that will revolve around Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas, as well as their younger brother Frankie.

Want to know more about windy walter here

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Story of the Scene: Star Wars (1977)

How did a Warner Brothers stock sound effect become an in-joke amongst movie sound editors and movie geeks after being revived for the original Star Wars? Who screamed the Wilhelm scream?

To be frank, it’s a fairly insignificant moment in Star Wars. Luke Skywalker is on the Death Star, lair of his nemesis Darth Vader. He's fighting a running battle with the white-armored Storm Troopers and now he’s come to a vertiginous drop at the end of a corridor. He's firing upon the Storm Troopers on a similar position just opposite. One Trooper falls into the abyss between them and there’s a strangulated slightly high-pitched cry.

Welcome to the Wilhelm scream, used in over 130 films since the 1950’s.

This was the moment when it became currency again, a cult item, a moment of Hollywood history and a piece of pure Hollywood kitsch.

The man who put the scream in Star Wars is Ben Burtt. During his sound design work on Star Wars, Burtt was looking through the Warners archives. He came across an almost forgotten 3-D film called Distant Drums, made in 1951.

During a scene in which some soldiers are wading through the everglades, one is savaged by a waiting alligator. This is the first ever use of the Wilhelm Scream. Why is it called the Wilhelm scream? Burtt called it that after finding a subsequent use in The Charge at Feather River (1953) where it is issued by one Private Wilhelm (played by Ralph Brooke) after being shot in the leg.

For years it was only ever heard in Warner Bros films. It can be experienced in Judy Garland’s A Star is Born amongst many others. After Burtt started using it as a leitmotif in all of his movies it became much better known. For a long while Joe Dante employed it as a favored zombie cry in his films. More recently he has abandoned its use; now everyone is in on this former industry joke, a bit of sonic badinage between special-effects geeks.

During the editing of
Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino called for a break when he was told all about the history of the scream - just as he was using it himself. By coincidence a TV channel was playing it that very afternoon, and Tarantino called time, crowding into a nearby room with his sound crew so he could watch Distant Drums.

So who screamed the Wilhelm scream? The most likely candidate is Sheb Wooley, most famous for the song The Purple People Eater which sold 3 million copies in 1958. Originally a bit-part actor, he played the uncredited role of Private Jessup in Distant Drums and was it seems hauled into Warner's for some post-production screaming.

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Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Wrestler [The Review]

Mickey Rourke stars as the washed-up New Jersey wrestler in this Oscar-tipped low-budget movie, due for US release on 19th December.

Rourke's performance as the washed-up eighties actor playing a washed-up eighties wrestler has gripped those cultural commentators who have already seen it. Nobody ever thought this would happen – a comeback performance from Mickey Rourke many years on from his 1980’s triumphs with Barfly, Angel Heart, 9½ Weeks and Rumblefish.

Rourke plays Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (and gets annoyed when people use his real name), a career wrestler who is still putting on performances way past his sell-by date and having to supplement his meagre income with work heaving crates in a warehouse. He lives in a trailer park, is estranged from his daughter and seems to have few friends, even though he’s popular with his fans and his fellow wrestlers. During one event he suffers a cardiac arrest, and briefly retires, involving a humiliating stint on a deli counter in a supermarket.

Tempted by a rematch of his most famous fight back in 1986, he unwisely agrees the fight, the massive bypass scar still healing across his chest, pumping himself full if pharmaceuticals and steroids to build up bulk.

Director Darren Aronofsky is best when he plays his New York card – fancifully in Pi, but very down-to-earth in Requiem for a Dream (2000), a film whose central performance, with Ellen Burstyn as a middle-aged woman addicted to speed-filled slimming cures, won an Oscar. Here he’s in New Jersey. This is a cold and fairly uninviting place, and the hand-held camerawork accentuates the feeling of a documentary.

The environment is wintry and decaying, but the wrestling ring, somehow, always feel warm – and its understandable why Randy feels forever drawn back to it. It’s not like it was however; he was to endure many novelty, gothic acts, which involve a great deal of superficial mutilation and bleeding. The audience, these days, doesn’t want peroxided men in spangly tights and Guns and Roses on the soundtrack. They want rivers of blood.

Randy describes himself as a ‘big broken piece of meat’ and that is the feeling that Rourke gives with every inch of his performance. Indeed, the final speech that Randy gives at the end could as well describe the troubled career of Rourke himself, who at one time retired from acting to box professionally.

There’s hardly a scene where we don’t see Randy, whether he’s trying to make friendly with his angry, estranged daughter, getting picked up by a slightly suspect female fan, or in the ring with fights. There are no Rocky style training sequences. Training sequences are, to be honest, pretty boring. Instead we get more attention payed to the unexpected femininity of these super-masculine figures – the care they take with their hair being dyed, the tanning, the obsession with the body beautiful.

This isn’t Rocky, this is rock-bottom. Both Aronofsky and Rourke have pulled of a spectacular, shining comeback here – Aronofsky from the disaster of The Fountain and Rourke from the disaster of his life. This film is highly recommended.

***** stars our of five

Monday, 27 October 2008

Rogen: I Hate Getting Thin

Seth Rogen is shedding pounds off his body weight - and he hates every minute of it.

"I've been eating better and training - and hating myself for it,' admits Rogen, who is on his slim to prepare for his Green Hornet role. 'I feel like a sell out, I feel lame, I feel like a guy I would make fun of."

Rogen also wrote the screenplay for The Green Hornet, a reinvention of the old 1930's radio show that also became a Bruce Lee vehicle in the 1960's. Perhaps he should have made his Britt Reid character a little on the chunky side...

After all he's re-writing it right now.

Read more here

Cronenberg Writes a Novel

While attending the ongoing Rome Film Festival, Canadian director David Cronenberg has mentioned that he's writing a novel.

Cronenberg has already written 60 pages. It's not horror or sci-fi, but the otherwise Canada's most famous export after Celine Dion offered few details on the project. Perhaps The Dead Ringers director will write it with novelty pens fashioned from gynecological instruments.

"Based on the pages I have written we found publishers all over the world, which is very terrifying to me," Cronenberg told reporters. "It's at a very delicate phase right now, so I can't really talk about it. It's not like Stephen King, I don't know what it's like but you wouldn't call it a horror or science fiction novel at all. But what it is exactly, well, I don't know yet."

Friday, 24 October 2008

Angelina: I'll Marry Brad

Angelina Jolie has been speaking to Vanity Fair, Italia.

"When we first met I already had a child," she tells the publication, "We didn't live together and we adopted Zahara. Usually people fall in love and and everything revolves around people getting married. Children are an afterthought."

"We've done everything the wrong way around, but sooner or later the children will ask, you know, they watch films and ask questions," Jolie, 33, said. "They want to know why Shrek and Fiona got married and we haven't." (Pitt has said he won't wed Jolie until gay marriage is made legal.)

"I have never been to a fashion show and I hate shopping," she continues. "The rapport between fashion and celebrity has something slimy that I don't like. So that's why I choose clothes that truly correspond to me."

Her favorite Red Carpet moment? "There is no reason to feel nervous on a red carpet. In May last year at Cannes I smiled a little more because Brad had dirty trousers and one of the children had weed on him."

Boris Johnson and Jaws

Colin Firth looked black as thunder while London Mayor Boris Johnson joked about his politics on Wednesday night.

Here's me standing by Boris a few minutes beforehand.

Giving a speech prior to the Gala screening of Michael Winterbottom’s Genova, Johnson told a packed audience that he routinely called his secretary ‘Miss Moneypenny’ before giving an extended, stream-of-consciousness riff on the true hero of Jaws, which was, he claimed, the local mayor, who quite rightly fought to keep the beaches open despite some ‘trifling incidents’ with the bathers.

As Michael Winterbottom and Firth, who stars in the film, waited in the wings of the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, Johnson joked that he noticed from an internet search that Colin Firth didn’t share his political views. Throughout the mayor’s monologue Firth scowled, and never looked at him once.

He looked even more annoyed when Johnson started quoting Elizabeth Bennett, evoking memories of Firth’s most famous TV role as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Who would have thought that the mop-haired politician could so successfully play the regency heroine to his moody Mr Darcy, evincing a saturnine scowl as good as anything he did in the Jane Austen.

As minions brought his bicycle at the end of the movie, Boris was heard to mention that the film was ‘wrist-slashing stuff’ before hurtling off into the West End.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Howard Voices Surprise

Terrence Howard says was surprised to learn that Don Cheadle would replace him in "Iron Man 2."

"It was the surprise of a lifetime," the actor and musician told National Public Radio yesterday. "There was no explanation, (the contract) just up and vanished."

Howard said he read news reports that money was the issue, saying the contracts he signs apparently "aren't worth the paper that they're printed on sometimes."

Cheadle assumes the role of James Rhodes, a character that becomes Iron Man's sidekick War Machine in the comics, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Chevy Chase - Not Amused

Chevy Chase didn't see the funny side of Sarah Palin’s guest appearance on Saturday Night Live last weekend.

The former SNL alum slammed Palin’s lack of improvisation skills on Saturday’s program, which was hosted by W star Josh Brolin and featured Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin.

Palin appeared in an opening skit with staunch Democrat Baldwin, and again in the Weekend Update segment, when she nodded along to a rap song by SNL’s Amy Poehler.

He tells Access Hollywood “Quite frankly, it’s a big mistake to let her go on. What was brilliant about (SNL producer) Lorne (Michaels) was that he had nothing written for Sarah and that apparently she cannot improvise herself out of a paper bag!"

Lindsay Gets Sued by three Quaking Men

Remember when Lindsay Lohan allegedly commandeered that SUV and got arrested after a car chase through Santa Monica earlier this year?

Now the three men who's truck she borrowed are suing her, claiming she was "angry and aggressive" and the men "felt surprise, shock, fear and panic" at their behavior.

The poor lambs Ronnie Blake, Jakon Sutter and Dante Nigro are seeking unspecified damages in the case, just filed in Superior Court in Santa Monica.
Highschool Musical clips HERE
Watchmen footage HERE

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Gwynie Gets Goopy

Gwyneth Paltrow was out an about in London's West End last night, where she was premiering her film Two Lovers during the London Film Festival.

She's not been backward in offering her public support for Madonna, saying on GMTV this morning “She's a very dear friend. I support her in all the ways I can. I'm just here for her and on the other end of the phone. I speak to her a lot.”

You can find Gwynie's website Goop here

Tea and Billy Bob

Billy Bob Thornton is reported to have been secretly dating Tea after meeting her on the set of their new film ‘Manure’. But he insists their relationship is purely professional.

It was reported this week Tea’s estranged husband David Duchovny separated from her after discovering explicit text messages from Billy Bob on his wife’s cell phone.

It didn't help that she went on record calling him as 'maybe my new favorite person in the world'

You can read about the movie here

Thor Busted, Ghosts Yet to Be

Turn Down News: Daniel Craig has turned down a chance to star in Thor as it would be 'too much of a power trip' and Seth Rogan has said he 'will turn down' starring in the new Ghostbusters film if he thinks the script isn't good enough. Rogan told "There is a point where it.s so bad it's really easy to say no."

Sunday, 19 October 2008

'There will never be a Female Bond' - Interview with the Director of Quantum of Solace

These are out-takes for an interview with Marc Forster written for Sight & Sound, the excellent magazine for the British Film Institute.

How were you approached to direct Quantum of Solace?

I like Bond films but I was never a fanatic. My agent rang me up about Eon productions and I said look, I don’t want to meet them. There’s no script. If it doesn’t succeed it really harms my career and if it does succeed it means I can make other big
Hollywood blockbusters, which I’m not that interested in making anyway. This is crazy. Then Amy Paschal from Sony rang up and said look can you just meet them out of respect, as a favour to me, so I meet Barbara Broccoli.

So you had to think about it?

I went home after the meeting and happened to read an old interview with Orson Welles where he expresses regret for never having made a commercial movie. We were still cutting Kite Runner and I mentioned the offer to my DP and editor. They said, are you crazy? We have to do it. It’s a piece if history!

Then what happened?

On the third meeting I met Daniel Craig and we really clicked. He really understands the character. He reminds me of Steve McQueen.

Then you started working on the script with him in Pinewood?

I worked on it and then the writers strike started and we knew we had enough material till early April and then, if the strike continued, we’d be really screwed. We began the film not knowing we could film the ending.

And you brought in your own team?

I brought in my crew and all the people I collaborated with before. The former Bond crew did six of the Bonds and I needed to do my own look. I said to Barbara and Michael look if you really want me to make this movie I need to bring my own people otherwise I can’t do it

This is a dark Bond

Is Bond really good? You now longer know whether the government has the best interests of the people in mind. Now the villains and the good guys are a mish-mash. There’s not only darkness is there. You can’t take it too seriously – Bond is damaged and he is needs to keep his humour and the lighter side.

And the villain is an environmentalist

I thought the villains should change he should just be this normal guy and he’s this environmentalist on top of this. There’s an overlay between Bond and Greene. All the topics and stuff I threw in there which weren’t relevant last year suddenly become relevant now – the price of oil, access to drinking water, problems in Venezuela and Bolivia, the economic downfall of America and how they have to keep up a front.

Don’t you think that Matthieu Almalric who plays the villain Mr Greene looks like Roman Polanski?

He told me when he did the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, of course Emmanuelle Seigner was a co-star and she lives with Polanski and he visited the set. One day Polanski was standing in front of him and it was very strange for him – they looked the same.

You controlled everything down to the material of the suits Bond wears, which was a rare material

I’m pretty much of a control freak – its not the material of the suit but the colour, style and look

And what were your reference points?

I loved the early Bond movies, the retro-look on the one hand and juxtapose it with the modern world. I always thought Hitchcock always had an influence on from
Russia with Love and I wanted to take North by Northwest and throw something like that in – and Parallelex View, and use those as a references.

What changes did you make to the Paul Haggis draft you had?

For example, soon after the beginning, it was scripted originally that Bond runs into
Siena cathedral and has to fight there way up. I thought that was really unspectacular and not very interesting.

What did you do?

I thought it was much more interesting to start in the belly of Siena, the Roman water cisterns, pop up into the centre of the square with the annual Palio going on, chasing through 50,000 people into the horse stalls, up a stair and onto the roof and along the roof and into the tower, crash through into the glass dome and have a fight hanging on the ropes – a firs
t, I think

Will there ever be a female Bond?

No, I don’t think so. Bond is such an icon – it wouldn’t be the same.

Why did Amy Winehouse get dropped from singing the theme tune?

I met with her but she didn’t feel so well, she never wrote anything she never delivered a song so we needed to move on

What’s Your Favourite Bond Movie?

I love from
Russia with Love – but maybe because it’s set in Switzerland. But my favourite is George Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s secret service – it’s just a cool movie

Is it true you were on the kidnap list for the Baader-Meinhof Gang when you were just 12?

Yes it’s true. My Father was an industrialist I grew up in a wealthy environment. That’s why we left
Germany and I grew up in a mountain resort in Switzerland. Later he lost all his money.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Quantum of Solace [The Review]

After the death of girlfriend Vesper Lynd at the conclusion of Casino Royale, James Bond hunts down the shadowy group that blackmailed Lynd to betray him. Uniquely in the canon this is a follow-on mere minutes on from the former outing, a second time round for the slightly nasty Bond inaugurated by Daniel Craig. But what does Quantum of Solace actually mean?

Beginning with a car chase in Italy, the action doesn’t let up from the beginning as Bond fends of machine-gun wielding pursuing villains in their Alfa Romeos and ends up in an M16 base in Siena. There his captive reveals the existence of a sinister, clandestine organization which M (played again by Judi Dench) instructs Bond to investigate, horrified that she has no knowledge of this group or its scale of influence. M herself nearly dies as her own bodyguard springs the captive during questioning; the trail leads to Bolivia and a man called Dominic Greene (Matthieu Amalric) who is using the developing world eco-crisis to feather his criminal nest. This is a Bond film all about – water. Not diamonds, oil or uranium. Water.

There’s a long and glorious history of Bond villains but this is the first film to give them a reality check; this villain doesn’t weep blood, or sport titanium teeth, or even stroke a cat. This villain could be a Wall Street trader, a classic corporate psychopath adept at keeping ahead of the game. The Bond girl formula remains fairly unchanged – there’s Olga Kurylenko as Camille and Gemma Arterton as the tragic Agent Fields, whose death, already spread over the internet, references the ormulu assassination in Goldfinger.

There are plenty of chases, an early one through Siena during the Palio horse-racing annual event, and a pleasingly anachronistic one where Bond pilots an old cargo plane and is pursued by a propeller-driven fighter plane. Director Mark Forster doesn’t mess around with the editing – some of it is so fast it’s actually hard to follow, with edit upon edit lasting just a few seconds.

Craig, for my money, remains the best Bond since Sean Connery, and nothing about this film is going to damage that reputation. So much of the Bond films is not in its action sequences but its depiction of the international jet set high-life, and the luxurious hotels he checks into (in one amusing sequence refusing to settle to a flea pit because it suits his cover story) certainly fit the bill for vicarious pleasure. Craig brings a meaty charm to his Bond, who by this point is fairly demented from lack of sleep, grief and a desire for vengeance.

Memorable moments include a Godfather-like meeting of villains during a huge public performance of Tosca - this sequence recalls Moore-era Bond with a touch of Hannibal Lecter about it. Humor is fairly thin on the ground, but, despite the claims of Geoffrey Mcnab on The Independent, it’s there. There's a delicate balancing act between faintly preposterous situations and a genuine feeling of imminent peril. At least, post Bourne Identity, the actual hand-to-hand fighting is better to watch, and better choreographed. Bond deals in adrenaline, not life and death. Bond is never going to die.

The truth about Bond is that its machine. It's a huge, sleek vending machine. It may be famous for its product placements - its Omega watches, its high-end cars (Fords here - not very sexy), its suits and loafers, its hotels, its gold, its holiday venues. Fanciful gadgets have been phased out, mainly because you can't sell them.

The Bond franchise also a huge product placement for Pinewood, the British studio where it always takes place, and a single self-refreshing product for Eon productions who make it. Recently I met Marc Forster on a huge corporate junket; that I was supposed to interview him without seeing the film was proof to me that it wasn't ever intended to be a film. It's pure product. It's auto-merchandising taken to a level of art.

The feeling of watching Bond, unless you happen to be a psychopath, is being co-opted into a huge piece of rolling machinery with its destination always fixed and its definition of sexy corporate, glassy and ever so slightly dead.

Quantum of Solace? I’ve read up extensively on this title, and asked Forster when I met him a few weeks ago. It’s taken from a short fiction by Ian Fleming, the original writer of Bond. It means a fleeting moment of comfort. And in this Bond, the fleeting moments of comfort he gains come, without doubt, from the kills he makes.

Stars: *** Out of Five

Verdict: Bound to be overpraised, the fate of all Bond films.

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