Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Critical Week: Take the wheel

Nicolas Winding Refn's Cannes-winning thriller Drive was the big movie for London critics this past week, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Stylish filmmaking and a terrific central performance from Ryan Gosling He's definitely on a roll this year with this, Crazy, Stupid, Love and George Clooney's forthcoming The Ides of March.

Other screenings took us on a world tour, starting with two Australian films - the scruffy-endearing Red Dog with Josh Lucas and the bizarre and beautiful art-film Sleeping Beauty with Emily Browning - then it was off to Greece for the quirky and very clever Attenberg, to West Africa for the inventive zombie romp The Dead, to Spain for the ghostly freak-out Atrocious, and finally to America for the realistic and engaging indie romance The One, the skilfully unsettling misogyny of The Woman and the hilariously entertaining backwoods horror comedy Tucker and Dale vs Evil. If it seems like there were an inordinate number of scary movies there, this is mainly due to the fact that London's notorious FrightFest took place over the long weekend.

This coming week we have another eclectic bunch of movies, including the ultimate fighting drama Warrior, starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, Zoe Saldana fighting her way through Colombiana, the French rom-com Romantics Anonymous, the 3D horror doc (yes really) Cane Toads: The Conquest, the doc Ultrasuede about iconic designer Halston, and a digital restoration of Terrence Malick's 1978 classic Days of Heaven.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Critical Week: A date with death

Yes, it's time for yet another duel between a group of sexy, young, anonymous actors and the Grim Reaper, as London film critics donned 3D specs for Final Destination 5. It's pretty much exactly what we expect by now - evil fun and a few random twists here and there. We did laugh. Our other 3D movie wasn't quite so much fun: Robert Rodriguez was back with a rather desperate-seeming fourth film in his series, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, with the added marketing device of a 4D scratch-and-sniff card on which all the spots smelled like sugar. And the other big Hollywood offering was the goofy, enjoyably thin heist caper 30:Minutes or Less.

There was more 3D off the beaten path with the nutty Chinese spoof 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, which is so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh. Then things start to get better. The Australian horror movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, with Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, was simply terrific. The Danish prison drama R: Hit First, Hit Hardest is extremely well-made and thoroughly harrowing, even if it feels like we've seen it all before. And the Swedish documentary The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 addresses a pivotal, turbulent period in American history from a fresh perspective that clearly informs us that what we think we know about those years probably isn't true. Finally, I got to attend a private screening of an untitled film Ken Loach made in 1969 for Save the Children that hasn't been shown to anyone since. Loach was at the screening and chatted with us afterwards; the film is being premiered at the British Film Institute to launch a major retrospective of his work next month.

This coming week, we finally get to see Nicolas Winding Refn's Cannes-winning thriller Drive, the Aussie adventure Red Dog, the offbeat Aussie festival art-film Sleeping Beauty, the quirky Greek drama Attenberg and the horror romp The Dead. Yep, Death is hanging around for another week...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Critical Week: Be yourself tonight

Yes, it was rather hilarious to see London's esteemed critics donning 3D specs for a (gulp!) 9.30am Monday morning screening of Glee: The 3D Concert Movie this week. While it was lively enough to keep us awake, it felt like a badly missed opportunity to delve behind the scenes on a show that has turned into a pop phenomenon in just two years.

Other big screenings included the remake of Conan the Barbarian, another missed opportunity, this time to breathe life into an old franchise, and the rather mopey, tame adaptation of this summer's mega-seller One Day. We also got to see two genuinely unnerving movies: the superb festival winner Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, and Guillermo Del Toro's creepy-house thriller Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, starring Katie Holmes. The doc this week was Page One: Inside the New York Times, which frankly is catnip to journalists as it explores how this venerable institution has dealt with the huge changes in the media world. As previously mentioned, I also caught up with The Change-up and The Help at Empire's Big Screen event over the weekend.

Coming up this next week, we have Robert Rodriguez's attempt to reboot his children's franchise with Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, the heist comedy 30 Minutes or Less, the latest in the death-comedy series Final Destination 5, the acclaimed 1970s doc The Black Power Mixtape, and, erm, the erotic Chinese mega-hit Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy in 3D. Wish me luck.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Big Screen Day 3: On an adventure

Another full day at the O2 for Empire's Big Screen event, which had so much going on that it was impossible to keep up with everything. I started, actually, in Soho with a 10-minute interview with Jason Momoa, the new Conan, who later caused havoc at the O2 for the red carpet premiere. He's a very big guy, extremely friendly, but not hugely chatty - well, at least not at 10am, presumably jet-lagged.

Anyway, I then headed to the O2 and got there in time to see the extended presentation of 3D footage from Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, which still looks a little unfinished. But the action is impressive, and I won't give a verdict until I see the completed effects. This was followed by Paramount's trailer reel, a blinding array of what looked like dozens of movies coming out over the next year, from Star Trek 2 to Madagascar 3. After this, Lionsgate was on stage, presenting a trailer for David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, which looks seriously unhinged. In a good way, then three extended scenes from Ralph Fiennes Coriolanus, a modern-day all-star Shakespeare adaptation that looks eerily prescient. Then they showed four trailers: the smart cancer comedy 50/50, the rather silly-looking Taylor Lautner thriller Abduction, the meaty fight drama Warrior (which already screened here as one of the secret films), and Jason Momoa's growling-posing Conan the Barbarian. And then Sky TV snuck in to offer a preview of the new series of Strike Back, featuring two muscle hunks in various states of undress as they indulge in black ops, racy sex, bare knuckle boxing and naked fights. All very macho! And then the two actors came onto the stage to talk about it - Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester - including much joking about the naked fight scene.

After lunch it was Disney's turn, and they kicked off with a thunderous montage of 2012 releases that shook the seats. Not quite the same Disney from our childhood. The first main event was Real Steel, starring Hugh Jackman, and the director Shaun Levy bounded on screen with a bit too much energy to talk us through a pair of trailers and two exclusive scenes. It's not looking hugely promising, but you never know. Then there was an extended video introduction from Andrew Stanton to two extended scenes from John Carter, plus a 3D trailer. And Steven Spielberg also had a special Big Screen video message to introduce world exclusive scenes from War Horse, after which the film's lively young star Jeremy Irvine took the stage to talk about working on the film. This concluded with a series of trailers: a longer, detailed glimpse of The Muppets, then The Help, the most well-received trailer of the weekend with a very cool montage for The Avengers and finally Pixar's Brave.

Then I watched a screening of The Help, which was thoroughly involving. I thought about attending the day's secret screening, but rumour had it that it was a film I'd seen before. Indeed, it was The Debt, with Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington. Unfortunately, I hadn't seen the secret films from Friday (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton in Warrior) or  Saturday (Ryan Gosling's Drive), but I have press screenings of both in my diary, so I think I'll survive. And that was it for this edition of Big Screen, aka Movie-con IV.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Big Screen Day 2: Coming attractions

On Saturday, London's vast O2 dome was again packed with movie fans indulging in their obsession with cinema. There are at least 10 things going on at any given time, so it's no surprise that I was only able to scratch the surface once again. Previews I saw included two British animated features from Aardman: Arthur Christmas, which looks like fun but was perhaps aimed at a different audience than the geeks here, and The Pirates!, which looks seriously unhinged. Aardman's Peter Lord was on hand to present trailers and unseen footage and chat about the films.

Then it was Sony's turn, and we had a taped message from Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, followed by the trailer for Friends With Benefits, followed by three more trailers: Straw Dogs looks grisly and nasty, Moneyball looks smart and a bit smug, and David Fincher's remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo looks better every time we see the trailer. Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari (edited together from red carpet interview bites) introduced the trailer and a hilariously frantic five-minute bank robbery sequence from 30 Minutes or Less, and then a videotaped Colin Farrell and Len Wiseman introduced an action-packed five-minute clip from their Total Recall remake. And now on stage, Roland Emmerich talked passionately about his new Shakespeare-scandal film Anonymous, showing us 15 minutes of scenes that look much darker and even more interesting than the lively trailer. He's certainly ready for the backlash, and the film looks pretty unmissable. And just before lunch, it was time for The Amazing Spider-man, introduced on tape by Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Marc Webb. In addition to a 3D trailer, we saw extended footage of Rhys Ifans as the Lizard. And finally it's clear that Webb's approach will be distinctly different from Sam Raimi's - darker, more intensely personal.

After the break, Icon was on hand with Drive, namely an exclusive clip that was pretty intensely brutal, followed by the just-as-brutal trailer. And the Cannes-winning director Nocholas Winding Refn showed up on stage to chat about the film, telling the hilarious story behind how he met Ryan Gosling and agreed to make the movie (it involves too-powerful flu medicine, breaking down in tears and REO Speedwagon's Keep on Loving You). Mext up we had Momentum, walking us through a number of their upcoming releases. The Troll Hunter trailer was followed with a slightly awkward on-stage Q&A with director Andre Ovredal and star Glenn Tosterud. British 1990 rave drama Weekender was presented with stills and a trailer; the intense-looking Scandinavian thriller Headhunters has a trailer that eerily evokes a certain dragon tattoo; Steven Soderbergh's Bourne-esque Haywire looks seriously action-packed, with a terrific all-star cast, and it's trailer was followed by an extended, astonishing fight scene. Jason Statham's new film Safe was presented with exclusive stills, while Mark Strong, director Eran Creevy and a couple of producers (pictured above) talked about their now-in-production London crime thriller Welcome to the Punch. We also saw exclusive stills of Tom Hardy in Wettest County and Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen's Shame. And finally it was time for Daniel Radcliffe's creepy-looking new ghost thriller The Woman in Black, with a trailer and exclusive clip presented by director James Watkins and editor Jon Harris.

A bit later I caught a screening of The Change-up with Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman. Enjoyable if not amazing. And here are a few more photos - two of me and two that capture the mood of the place, as cowboys and storm troopers chase trolls with the rest of us. Frankly that was enough for the day...

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Big Screen Day 1: A little dizzying

After three years of Movie-Con, Empire magazine decided to up the ante and create something even more like San Diego's Comic-Con, taking over London's vast O2 with a blinding array of previews, screenings, workshops, panel discussions and movie experiences. Frankly it's a little dizzying, with so much going on that it's difficult to figure out where to go. But there's great stuff around every corner.

On Day 1, I attended Universal's  preview session, which started with a trailer and some extended clips from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, introduced on tape by Gary Oldman from the set of The Dark Knight Rises and followed by a rather dull Q&A with writer Peter Straughan and producer Robyn Slovo.  The clips made little sense out of context, but the film looks pretty fantastic. There was then another video intro, from a seemingly surgically enhanced Seann William Scott for American Pie Reunion, but no footage. And this was followed by a series of extended trailers: John Cusack in The Raven (looks like an intriguing Jack the Ripper-style thriller), Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds in The Change-Up (looks weak), Mark Wahlberg in Contraband (a slightly above-standard thriller), Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English Reborn (pretty stupid), The Debt (good film, weak trailer), Tower Heist (too comical), Battleship (overserious) and the Tarsem-meets-300 Greek gods romp Immortals (which looks pretty amazing actually).

I also attended a discussion on censorship with Empire's Kim Newman and Tom Six, director of The Human Centipede and its sequel, which has been banned in the UK by the BBFC despite being passed uncut in both America and Australia, both of which are usually more jittery about these things than Britain. The conversation was lively and engaging, mainly because Six is so relaxed and funny - he's genuinely bemused that his film has been censored, and yet he's annoyed that the BBFC is encouraging people to illegally download the film here. He also still plans to make part 3 of the trilogy. And Newman summed it up by noting that banning a movie simply never works as the film doesn't go away; it actually becomes more desirable.

Finally, I roamed around the "Live Quarter", an exhibition space packed with mammoth booths advertising Hollywood movies, plus displays of some impressive movie props. Here are some photos putting me in Tintin, Pirates, Cars 2 and Real Steel. More tomorrow ...

Monday, 8 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

While rebooting this franchise seemed like an extremely iffy idea, the news that they were using Weta performance capture technology (complete with master performer Andy Serkis) made it worth a look. And indeed, it's a thoroughly involving summer movie that actually layers in some thoughtful substance with the lively action-thriller plot. Not only does it create an intriguing back-story for the franchise, but it bodes well for future episodes.

A superior cast helps too, with the almost too engaging James Franco in the central role, facing off against the gorgeous (and rather gratuitous) Freida Pinto, an over-emotive John Lithgow and three talented Brits in the bad-guy roles: Brian Cox and Tom Felton as father-son slimeballs and the superb David Oyelowo in the thankless greedy jerk role. Put all together, it's a sometimes thrilling romp packed with chilling moments and some gentle commentary on the dangers of tinkering with nature.


Back in London, my screening diary is already filling up, starting with the remake of Conan the Barbarian and the adaptation of the mega-bestseller One Day and moving on to festival favourite Take Shelter and New York Times doc Page One. But the biggest event is Empire magazine's Big Screen, a Comic-Con style indulgence in upcoming movies, stars and cinematic experiences that takes place Fri-Sun at the 02. I'll have full coverage here over the weekend.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

On the road: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore, with the help of a witty and astute script, lend this comedy a surprising weight. Even as the story's farcical elements escalate (including two huge coincidences and a few corny characters), there's a serious, moving undercurrent that makes the film genuinely soulful. So amid some snappy humour, there are moments that are riotously funny, cute, sweet and even heartbreaking.

Carell and Moore beautifully underplay their characters, which makes them extremely believable and sympathetic, even when they do something awful. And the actors around them are terrific as well, including Ryan Gosling against type as a hilariously slick womaniser who finally meets his match in Emma Stone. The film is packed with clever moments, smartly directed in a way that lets the film slide effortlessly between silliness and emotion while never abandoning the realistic characters. In fact, it might be a bit too good for mainstream audiences to embrace. Although stranger things have happened.