Sunday 31 July 2011

5 Picks for Venice/Toronto film fests: Dark Horse, White Snake, and Madonna

Despite its justified title as the top film festival in the world, Cannes has found itself in an awkward position in the film calendar for well over a decade, especially with American films. With a few exceptions, like this year palme d'or winner The Tree of Life, it is just too early in the year for awards hopefuls to risk being presented there and be long forgotten when the awards season begins in earnest. No such problem with the Venice and Toronto film festivals however, with a similar and prime position at the early autumn, which gives films a chance to ride a wave of exposure meant to take them all the way to the Oscars.

So, as the programmes of both festivals are being announced, I took a look and decided to pick five films I am most looking forward to, for very different reasons. I have purposefully excluded those high profile films that were in Cannes already (so no Drive or The Skin that I Live In) since it seems a little pointless to cover them again, as excited as I am to see them! The good news for us, Londoners is that we just now most of the line up will end up at the London film festival in October.

Saturday 30 July 2011

The Expendables 3D! Here Comes the Girls!

I was going to write a review of South Korean subtle masterpiece Poetry, just out in London today, but then I watched a BBC TV film called The Haunted Airman with Robert Pattinson just now and I have lost the will to live as a result, let alone to write. So I need to write about something less high brow. Sure, I could write about the casting news for The Expendable sequel. But it feels rather boring and samey, so why not skip to the next one? And bring in the women for crying out loud!

Thursday 28 July 2011

Battleship: This is not a Joke

A couple of years ago, a flurry of crazy projects were announced within a few days of one another, in what appeared to be extended April's Fool. There was to be a Monopoly film adaptation by Ridley Scott. Joust, the 80's, ostrich riding 2D scroll videogame was to be made into a film. And so was Battleship. Obviously, very few of us took all of these projects seriously. It turned out we were wrong since Universal has actually poured $200m into one of these projects (Hint: it is not Joust). Battleship is real indeed, it will be released next year and a first teaser is just out.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Pixar's John Lasseter Q&A at the NFT in London

John Lasseter with his producer Denise Ream at the NFT

The British Film Institute in London had a special treat for Pixar's fan last week end: A preview of Cars 2 followed by a short Q&A with animation legend and Pixar's honcho John Lasseter. It is almost a shame that he had to take the stage after what will remain as one of the rare misfires from the studios but he showed so much all-round enthusiasm that it would have been hard to bear a grudge against him. The legendary studio is actually celebrating its 25th anniversary this year but, according to him, they were too busy to notice!

He was so chatty that few questions were asked to him eventually and this was almost more of a talk than a Q&A, but he certainly gave an interesting insight into Pixar and his love for his craft. It was hard to believe that the man on stage was the legend responsible for so many masterpieces!

Monday 25 July 2011

Break My Fall Review

For such an exciting and happening city as London, there is certainly a great film to be made about the lives of its creative, polysexual young things, yet very few have attempted to capture this scene and the few people who tried have done it no justice. Either they try too hard and end up making their cast seem incredibly smug and annoying, or they just lack the talent to carry out their vision.

Will London ever has its Gregg Araki, its Pedro Almodovar, its Gus Van Sant? Instead, we either have the vomit inducing Richard Curtis land of "loveable" toffs (Notting Hill, Love, Actually), and the opposite extreme world of gritty council estates in films such as Kidulthood and its sequel Adulthood (What comes next, Pensionhood?). So it is laudable that first time director Kanchi Wichmann has managed to find a realistic tone that will ring true to many Londoners of all persuasions in low budget Break My Fall. The question is however, was its story worth telling?

Sunday 24 July 2011

BFI, you are spoiling us!

Drive (2011)

Right first of all I need to start this by saying that the BFI  (British Film Institute) is NOT paying me for this post. I have been very critical of them on some occasions but largely, I admire their work, as a charity, to promote cinema in Britain in a passionate but never elitist way. Having just received the programme for September at the National Film Theatre, which should logically be in a bit of a lull before the London Film Festival in mid October, the line up is actually incredibly good. It is as if the BFI, as a filmic ambassador, is planning on spoiling us with trays of celulloid Ferroro Rochers before the main course in October. I do not know where to start!

Saturday 23 July 2011

Give Faye Dunaway Some Money!

I came across a rather distressing article online about Faye Dunaway a few days ago. The iconic actress lives isolated in a modest house in a poor part of Los Angeles. Despite having just turned 70, she is hard working on a project she is directing and starring in, Master Class, where she plays Maria Callas despite being about twenty years too old for the part. She is in poor health and is fighting a court case relating to the film's production. Where did it all go wrong? And, do we, film fans, not owe it to her to help her?

Friday 22 July 2011

The Amazing Spider-Man: First Trailer Swinging By

If you think this summer was the summer of superheroes, you are wrong. This was a mere appetizer, a collection of lesser known, B-list celebrities (in films anyway!) such as Thor, Green Lantern and Captain America, grabbing some of the limelight while they can... because next year is going to be the real thing. Summer 2012 is going to be the coliseum of superheroes, with juggernauts The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises all coming out within three months of each other.

While we are still a year away, we are already getting some teasers as it has now become the custom. Hell there is even talks of a teaser for Neil Blonkamp follow up, Elyseum, out soon, and that is not out until 2013! A teaser for The Dark Knight Rises is out but it is showing so little that it is not worth discussing yet. A meatier The Amazing Spider-Man teaser just got released however.

Thursday 21 July 2011

John Carter: First Trailer

John Carter, formerly known as John Carter of Mars, has been going under the radar for quite some time, despite a release date less than a year away, buried as it was in months and months of extensive post-production. Finally, a trailer has been released however. And it's certainly ramped up the excitement as far as I'm concerned!

John Carter tells the story of its eponymous hero, a Civil War veteran who finds himself magically transported to Mars, where he becomes the unlikely saviour of a local race in the midst of its own civil war. Since the trailer was first released a few days ago, I have read that the plot seemed to have slightly been influenced by Avatar, which is a very daft thing to say, as John Carter is actually the adaptation of a series of novel more than a century old, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), and which has had a major influence on science fiction over the decades.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

A Better Life Review - Gardening Leave Mexican Style in L.A.

Sometimes it can take a long while for an idea to come to fruition and make it to the big screen. In the case of ‘A Better Life’, it was almost 25 years in the making. For producer Paul Junger Witt, a story he heard about an illegal Mexican gardener having his truck stolen, gave him the idea for a film. However, it wasn’t till the screenplay by Eric Eason had been completed and studio funding found that work could really start. The last film written by Eason was ‘Manito’, which he also directed. Given the ongoing debates in the US presently overillegal immigrants, the release of the film in July will have a lot more impact than had it been made all those years ago.

Monday 18 July 2011

Cars 2 review

Pixar's latest film, Cars 2, is finally coming out in the UK, a month after its US release. The BFI had organised a preview at the NFT in London last Saturday, followed by a q&a with Pixar legend John Lasseter, which I was lucky to attend, and I will be covering the q&a in a separate post in the next few days. But first, Cars 2.

The decision by Pixar to make a sequel to Cars surprised everybody, considering that the film was their least popular, especially outside the US, despite enjoying a decent run at the box office. It was even more surprising considering their recent stream of constantly innovative projects, turning unlikely and risky premises into films that met with critical and commercial success. Some felt the studio needed a safe bet commercially. Others argued that Cars was John Lasseter's baby, hence the push for a sequel. Ironically, Cars 2 turned out to be their first critical misfire, and after a decent opening, a commercial disappointment, with box office receipts well below some of their riskier projects such as Wall-E and Up. So did it deserve this negative reception?

Sunday 17 July 2011

The Thing Prequel's first trailer: It's not human. Yet.

And we carry on with the catalogue of remakes/reboots from horror classics from the 70's and 80's. In actual fact, we have already reached the stage where we are rebooting reboots, with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on course for a roaring 3D reboot next year, a mere 6 years after the prequel to the remake came out. It was only a matter of time before John Carpenter's masterpiece, The Thing, got the prequel treatment. In fact, this film has had a long gestation, and a much delayed release date, which is never a good sign. The film will finally be released this autumn however, and a first trailer has come out.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Man at Bath Review: Francois Sagat flexes his acting muscles

The name Francois Sagat will either means absolutely nothing to you or be terribly familiar, depending on your orientation. The French actor has made a name for himself in the gay adult industry before recently branching out with appearances in more mainstream films and music videos. There was a cameo as an unbelievably buff heroin addict in Saw 6. And then a leading part in L.A. Zombie by Bruce LaBruce as a buff zombie, arguably not much of a stretch from his previous career considering the content and lack of dialogue.

In Man at Bath, his first proper starring part outside the adult industry, Francois Sagat is filmed playing pretty much a variation of himself, in a story involving a lot of nudity still, but that also requires him to flex his, aherm, acting muscles. Directed by Christophe Honore (Dans Paris, Les Chansons d'Amour...), Man at Bath (or L'Homme au Bain) is the kind of small and experimental project that the French director's meteoric rise in the ranks of French cinema might not allow him to make in the near future.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Contagion Trailer Going Viral

The first trailer for Steven Soderbergh's new film, Contagion, has just been released. And it is terrifying! Featuring an all star ensemble cast (Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Matt Damon...), the film centres on a deadly virus outbreak as it is rapidly spreading around the world and the increasingly desperate efforts by world authorities to curb it. You might laugh, reminiscing the laughably awful Outbreak (1996), with Dustin Hoffman, Patrick Dempsey and a monkey, which was dealing with a similar theme. But remember last year's swine flu. Now imagine a much more virulent strain. That spreads through touch. And kills in four days. Who is laughing now?

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Evil Dead Remake and the Giant Robots

Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2 (1987)

There had been talks of either a remake or a sequel of Evil Dead for years, and indeed it is one of the last few 80's horror classic not to have been remade, until now that is. As it has been confirmed, a sequel/remake is in the works, first to break the news was the long suffering main protaganist of the original trilogy, Bruce Campbell, who finally joined Twitter and discussed it with fans.

And now a director has been announced, which has put me in a state of cautious excitment. Original director Sam Raimi (Spiderman), will only produce, and the new film will be directed by Federico Alvarez. While checking him out in IMDB, I realised that this is the already legendary Uruguyan aspiring filmmaker who had made a name for himself with short movie Panic Attack not long ago.

Monday 11 July 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn's full trailer

As the release date is now fast approaching, and after a rather underwhelming teaser, a full new trailer for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn has now been released. And while it is an improvement on the teaser, the problems I originally had with it remain.

A Tintin adaptation had been a pet project from Steven Spielberg since the 80's. And for years, he has been wondering with what medium to adapt it with to do it justice, whether as a live-action film or animation. Indeed, the charm of the original Tintin comics largely reside in its unique graphic style, as it was drawn following what is called "La ligne claire", or the clear line, which is fairly self-explanatory if you look at the image below.

Sunday 10 July 2011

The discrete charm of 70's French Exploitation: Requiem for a Vampire

The beauty of services such as Netflix and Lovefilm, is that they have allowed a whole bunch of film fans to get hold of more obscure titles that they would have been unable to find at their local dvd rental store before, hence increasing their curiosity and creating a demand for more titles, old and new, to be released. That and the advent of IMDB (how did we ever live without it?).

How else could you explain the release of the late French director Jean Rollin's movies on dvd in the UK? The man was at his most active in the 70's and early 80's, and I had vague memories of reading about him, and of his reputation for churning out lame softcore films with added violence, before fading into obscurity.

DVD Catch up: Eloise, Catalan Passion and Intensity

There are two types of 'lesbian' films, those directed by a man and those directed by a woman. Male directors have a penchant for their lesbians being very girly and wearing short skirts whereas female directors put a more feminist slant on things and often include a few other lesbians.

Eloise is a blend of both elements as it’s directed by Jesus Garay, a Spanish director, writer & actor, and the screenplay is by Cristina Moncunill a writer, director and musician from Barcelona. So we get mini-skirts plus the believable lesbian, Eloise, who is what I like to call a 'converter' focusing on beautiful straight girls.

Saturday 9 July 2011

The Tree of Life review

I was wondering whether it was even worth writing a review of Palme d'Or winner The Tree of Life, given that so much has been said already since its world premiere in Cannes, and since the UK seems to be the one of the last countries to release it, well after France and the US. However, this turned out to be an oddity, a film that ultimately disappointed me, and yet one that I cannot recommend enough.

Thursday 7 July 2011

The Iron Lady and Conan The Barbarian: New Trailers

As two new trailers have been released within a few days of each other for The Iron Lady and Conan Barbarian, I thought I might as well discuss them in one post, given that both of them feature a witch.

So on to the first witch, the Iron Lady. First of all I have to admit I am no big fan of biopics but then I will see anything that Meryl Streep does, well almost, even I relented at snooze fest Lion for lambs (2007). This teaser starts off promisingly. With those two men looking like they are about to unveil their demonic creation, I was half expecting her to remove her bandage, shout out for a mirror, smash it, then erupt in a cackling laugh. And then I realised this looked more and more like a superhero origin story. Maybe she had fooled us all and was actually playing one of the dancing Ironettes from Iron Man 2, who gets to become Tony Starck's Iron gal in her own spin-off?

Tuesday 5 July 2011

London FrightFest 2011: A preview

Every year on the bank holiday week end in August, a bunch of horror fanatics shun the opportunity to stay outside enjoying the sun and the fresh air, and spend day and night locked up at the Empire cinema in Leicester Square in London instead, for a week end of gore, screams and laughter. Yes the London Fright Fest 2011 is nearly upon us!

Despite being a huge horror fan I have only started attending two years ago. First year I saw Dead Snow, with its nazi zombies and it was as hilarious as it was gory, with the bonus of watching it on a huge screen with an adoring audience that was lapping it up and laughing along. Then last year I saw Monsters, which I had my reservations about, plus I also wondered if it did deserve to be at Fright Fest, as you can say a lot of good things about it but it certainly was not scary! So what does this year have a store? Here is a small selection of films that should not be missed.

Monday 4 July 2011

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo review

If there was an Oscar for best title, (and frankly, there should be one), we would have a serious contender with Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. It conjures images of a cheesy sci-fi with a plastic giant beetle, or of a particularly twisted sequel to the Human Centipede. But this is actually a documentary, about the obsession of the Japanese for insects, and more broadly their relationship with nature.

While the documentary genre has risen to new heights of popularity over the last decade, it is rare to see one that breaks the mould. I am especially growing tired of the jokey approach from Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock (Supersize me), with their fancy graphics and a director that becomes the central subject of the film. So it is refreshing that American director Jessica Oreck has gone for a different and original approach in her pursuit of this unusual subject.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Sawako Decides Review

Sawako is not having the best of times. Having moved to Tokyo five years ago under dubious circumstances, she finds herself in a dead-end job (she is on her fifth job in five years), and has a boring and unsuitable boy-friend who wears tight jumpers that he knits himself (her fifth boy-friend in five years, can you see a pattern?). If she was British, she would be called Bridget Jones, down Baileys in her oversized pants like there is no tomorrow and have a bunch of obnoxious, I mean, zany friends who swear a lot. But Sawako is Japanese, and she lives in the real world. So she gazes pensively, wondering where it all went wrong, and has refreshing colonic irrigations hoping to flush out painful memories of her exes.

Going nowhere, she decides to go back to her home village, with her recently sacked boy-friend in tow, to attend her ailing father. Having hit rock-bottom, will she be able to revive the fortunes of her family's company, and finally earns the respect she deserves?

Saturday 2 July 2011

Film Socialisme: Jean-Luc Godard and the YouTube cats

Jean-Luc Godard has had such an intriguing post New wave career. In the 80's he became a familiar face in French television talk shows, trying the subvert the medium with his presence. He also toyed with the mainstream, hiring big stars in France such as singer Johnny Halliday and Nathalie Baye for Detective (1985). He even cast Gerard Depardieu in Helas pour moi (1993). This last one was an unhappy experience, which prompted the French actor to declare: "In 1993, I have made two adverts, one for Barilla pastas, and one for Jean-Luc Godard". I take it the two men did not see eye to eye.

And then the grand master of cinema got bored of the media circus, and embarked in the third phase of his career from the 90's onwards, one that has been more experimental and offered him more artistic freedom. His latest, Film Socialisme, was shown at the Cannes at Un certain regard last year, and is finally being released in the UK on the 8th of July.