Thursday, 25 October 2012

London Film Festival: Ginger and Rosa (w&d Sally Potter)

The films I saw at the LFF are already beginning to fade out of my noddle, like ghostly images of some antediluvian past, so I'd better try to scratch down my last few memories of them before they drain out of the holes provided.

I was very impressed with Sally Potter when we saw her a couple of years ago at the slightly overcooked 'interactive première' of Rage at the BFI, so Ginger and Rosa was a film I was really looking forward to.

It's the story of two adolescent girls taking their first troubled steps into adulthood in 1962 London, under the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis and what seems to be certain and impending nuclear obliteration. The film even opens with a little overture of footage from the devastated city of Hiroshima.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

London Film Festival: Midnight's Children (d. Deepa Mehta)

Despite its exalted status in the literary canon, I'm ashamed to say I still* haven't read Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. So I came into this film, scripted by Rushdie and directed by Deepa Mehta, with high expectations but no baggage. However, there were times during this epic when I wished I'd brought a good book...

Speaking after the screening, Salman Rushdie said that he'd taken on the adaptation - his first screenplay - because another writer mght have been too reverential to the source material. However, given the film's strange lack of dramatic whoompf, maybe a more experienced screenwriter would have been the answer.

(And the muted round of applause the film received indicated that I wasn't the only member of the audience to be underwhelmed.)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

London Film Festival: Reality (d. Matteo Garrone)

Our second night of the festival, and after the brusque security slabs and barking BFI drones at the Odeon West End (“KEEP MOVING!!!”), it was off to the altogether more pleasant and relaxed Renoir for Reality, the winner of this year's Grand Prix at Cannes, co-written and directed by Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah).

While as firmly rooted in Naples as its predecessor, Reality is considerably lighter in tone – a dark but gentle comedy (based on a true story) about a fishmonger, Luciano (Aniello Arena), whose dream of appearing on the Italian version of Big Brother* starts to turn into an obsession.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

London Film Festival: Spike Island (d. Mat Whitecross)

Although a bit older than the main characters in Spike Island, I was also a Stone Roses fan in 1990, putting in the hours loitering around Affleck's Palace and seldom parted from the Waterfall t-shirt I got from Piccadilly Records. So maybe this was going to be the film for me…

Written by actor Chris Coghill (who has a supporting role here and played Bez in 24-Hour Party People) and directed by Mat Whitecross, the film focuses on five Manchester lads who are prepared to do whatever's necessary to get into the Roses' now legendary gig on the contaminated bank of the Mersey. As members of a band (Shadow Caster), they're also desperate to get their demo tape into the hands of their musical heroes.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Hitchcock's antiheroes (Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder)

As promised yesterday, here's another golden oldie. I published this originally on Mid-Summer Day 2010 - back when the world was young and all things seemed possible. As before sorry if any of the links have gone kaput in the intervening time.


Over the past few weeks we've seen Strangers on a Train (1951) and Dial M for Murder (1954) at the BFI. They were part of two separate seasons, but seeing them together raised an interesting issue: antiheroes – central characters who we should want to fail in their (usually criminal) objectives, but who at least a little bit of us wants to succeed.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Rear Window (1954, wr John Michael Hayes, dir Alfred Hitchcock)

As the BFI is in the middle of its Hitchcock celebration, I thought I might as well re-post a couple of things I did a while ago on his films. Here's Rear Window, from July 2010; I'll do my thing about anti-heroes in Dial M for Murder and Strangers on a Train tomorrow.

(I haven't checked the links at the bottom, so apologies if any of them have died.)


Last week we went to see Rear Window at the BFI, as part of the Grace Kelly season. It was – shamefully - the first time I'd seen the film, and although it didn't grip me on first viewing as much as some of Hitchcock's other films, a repeat viewing the following morning revealed what an impressive bit of work it is. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks (preview, BFI)

Last night we were lucky enough to be at the BFI for a preview of Asylum of the Daleks, the first episode in the upcoming series of Doctor Who.

I don't want to give too much away, but I think there are a few points I can make:

Monday, 13 August 2012

Repost: Glorious 39 plus Q&A with Stephen Poliakoff

During last night's Olympic closing ceremony, BBC Two took a punt on showing Stephen Poliakoff's Glorious 39 (which is still available on iPlayer until 12:04am on Monday 20 Aug).

When the film came out we saw it at the BFI, followed by a Q&A with the writer/director, so I thought it might be worth reposting that:

(Originally posted November 2009)

This is a bit after the event, but the other week we saw Stephen Poliakoff’s Glorious 39 at the BFI, followed by a Q&A with the writer/director, as well as cast members Romola Garai and Bill Nighy.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Play Without Words (Sadler's Wells)

With visions of Mr Alternative Car Park in mind, we've traditionally steered clear of 'dance theatre' down the years. 

So however qualified I might be to comment on drama, I really lack the critical vocabulary to say much about dance.

However, I was so intrigued by Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words, currently enjoying a revival at Sadler's Wells, that I thought I'd make the effort.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Doctor's Dilemma (National Theatre)

George Bernard Shaw's play is an interesting choice to put on at the moment, as the economics of healthcare are probably under closer scrutiny than they have been for nearly 70 years.

However, the NT – mercifully – isn't pressing as hard to make The Doctor's Dilemma as contemporary as its current production of Timon of Athens, even though it involves medics having to decide which lives are worth saving when demand for treatment outstrips resources.

The doctor in the title is Sir Colenso Ridgeon (Aden Gillett), whose cure for tuberculosis has propelled him to the top of his profession.

And his dilemma? With only one place remaining for his treatment, Sir Colenso must decide whether to give it to an ailing but brilliant young artist, Dubedat (Tom Burke), or a kind but poor fellow doctor, Blenkinsop (Derek Hutchison).

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Timon of Athens (National Theatre)

In the programme notes for Nicholas Hytner's modern-dress production of Timon of Athens at the National Theatre, Shakespearean scholar Peter Holland reveals that the little-performed play only just escaped disappearing altogether.

Shoehorned into the First Folio (1623) at the last moment to plug a gap, the play was unfinished, probably never performed and believed to have been co-written with Thomas Middleton.

So if it only just made it onto the ark, is it worth a revival in 2012?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Gerry Anderson's walk for Alzheimer's

(If you want to avoid my self-indulgent flapdoodle, the important bit about sponsoring Gerry and his son Jamie is at the bottom.)

Without wanting to get all John-Boy Walton about it, one day from my childhood remains particularly vivid in my mind and still gives me a wave of pleasure whenever I think of it.

One summer day in 1976 or 1977 when I was 8 or 9, my dad, my brother and I took the short train ride from Chorley to Blackpool for a day out (my mum must have been working).

The destination itself was exciting enough: our seaside trips were usually at sedate Morecambe, where I'd be shoved behind the counter of my uncle's seafood stall while he and my dad stole off to the Palatine or the Queens Hotel for a few hours' froth-blowing.

But it wasn't just the glorious sunshine or the brilliant picnic my mum had packed for us that made the trip so memorable.

While strolling along the Golden Mile we stumbled across Gerry Anderson's Space City exhibition, somewhere underneath the Tower.

I can't even begin to describe how much I loved his series, and as I wandered through what seemed to be room after room filled with costumes, props and beautifulmodels, I was in absolute heaven.

Even now, 30-odd years later, the opening bars of a Barry Gray theme tune still get my heart beating a little faster.

Sadly, Gerry Anderson announced recently that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease 18 months ago.

However, together with his son Jamie, he's taking part in a Memory Walk in October to raise funds for the Alzheimer's Society. (Jamie is also doing all three 'marathon' Memory Walks in September)

It's not often you get the opportunity to do something to repay one of your heroes even a little for the pleasure they've given you down the years.

If you've ever enjoyed one of Gerry Anderson's series, please go to Jamie's JustGiving page and make a donation.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Newsroom (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

Now here's a thing for a supposedly avid TV watcher to admit: I've never seen an episode of The West Wing. Not even five minutes, in the background, while I'm waiting for the kettle to boil.

But, of course, I'm fully aware of the status of Aaron Sorkin. I was even lucky enough to see him interviewed at the BFI alongside a screening of The Social Network, which was a bravura piece of screenwriting that deserved the Bafta and Oscar it won.

So, like a lot of people, I was looking forward to The Newsroom, his new series about the crisis facing US TV journalism in recent years. (The opener is set in 2010, as the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, er, came to the surface.)

Thursday, 12 July 2012

It's Dark in London (Festival Village; Oscar Zarate, Iain Sinclair, Stella Duffy, Alexei Sayle)

The other night we went to an event at the South Bank Centre to mark the recent publication of It's Dark in London by indie comics powerhouse SelfMadeHero.

The book is an expanded reissue of a very solid anthology originally published in 1996 (gulp), featuring strips from independent comic luminaries Woodrow Phoenix, Ed 'Ilya' Hillier and Carol Swain, as well as creative teams including Neil Gaiman and Warren Pleece; Iain Sinclair and Dave McKean; Chris Petit and Garry Marshall; and Alan Moore and the book's editor, Oscar Zarate.

Zarate led the event and was joined on stage by Sinclair, as well as Stella Duffy and Alexei Sayle, fellow contributors to the book, which now includes a few additional pieces of prose and poetry.

Monday, 9 July 2012

David Bailey's East End (Compressor House, East London)

Yesterday we took a long trip down the DLR to have a look at David Bailey's East End, an exhibition that opened last week at Compressor House, opposite Royal Albert station.

The 70+ photos displayed range between the early 1960s and the past few years, and fall into what Bailey describes in his notes as three “bursts of photographic energy”.

The first grouping covers the 60s, from grainy black-and-white street photography at the start of the decade to larger evocative colour shots of the working-class social scene towards the end of the decade.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Hit and Miss (Sky Atlantic)

Having achieved a bit of a catch-up on the Sky+ box, we turned our attention earlier in the week to Hit and Miss – Sky Atlantic's recent six-parter starring Chloe Sevigny as a pre-op transsexual assassin (now out on Blu-Ray and DVD).

Ever since Pulp Fiction I've been a bit ambivalent about drama involving hitmen; there seems something a bit uncomfortable about the (usual) equation of 'cool' with a total disregard for the value of human life.

And while the 'Created by Paul Abbott' factor was enough to entice me towards 'series link' (it was written by Sean Conway), for some reason I was still expecting a reheated version of some Nikita-style toot.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the first two eps. For a start, it had totally eluded me that the series was set in Manchester and the surrounding moors, rather than the US.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (Chris Ware)

For a few years either side of the millennium I drifted away from comics, meaning that I missed the rise of Chris Ware as possibly the most acclaimed living cartoonist.

I've come across brief examples of his strips in various anthologies (such as McSweeney's 13: The Comics Issue, which he edited), but until this week I'd never tackled his 380-page landmark work, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, which in 2001 became the first 'graphic novel' to win a major literary prize – the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award.

And even though I was familiar with his very distinctive illustration style, the emotional wallop of the book and its constant narrative invention left me breathless – and almost intimidated by the scale of its creator's talent and vision.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Obviously I haven't been posting much on here for a while.

However, we finally saw The Artist at the BFI the other week, and it was prefaced by the rip-roaring trailer for The Bad and the Beautiful, which is being shown until May 3rd as part of the Vincente Minelli season they're running.

I posted a quickie about the film when we first saw it in 2009, so I thought I might as well repost it here.


 We saw The Bad and The Beautiful the other night, as part of the 'Passport to Cinema' series, run by the BFI and NFTS. Written by Charles Schnee (who won the Oscar for Best Screenplay) and directed by Vincente Minelli, it's a portrait of Jonathan Shields, a monstrous but charming Hollywood producer, played by Kirk Douglas.

It's got an interesting flashback structure, with Shields never appearing in 'real time'. A director (Barry Sullivan), film star (Lana Turner) and screenwriter (Dick Powell) are summoned to the office of Shields' assistant and offered the opportunity to work with him again. Then, each of them recalls their experiences at his hands that made them swear never to go near him again.

However, Shields is a complex character. Despite his selfish deeds, it's clear that he's a man of considerable ability and charm - not quite the typically monstrous blowhard you might expect.

Ironically, his ruthlessness made their various collaborations successful and paved the way for all three to enjoy future prosperity. As the film ends, it's clear that he retains sufficient charisma for the trio to find themselves being drawn in to his proposed project.

I'd never heard of the film before seeing it in the BFI brochure, but it's an entertaining look at the dark side of Hollywood, with quite a bit of edge. And any film with a screenwriter as one of the main characters has got to be worth a look.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Wuthering Heights (wr. Olivia Hetreed & Andrea Arnold)

Last night we saw the recent adaptation of Wuthering Heights, directed by Andrea Arnold, at the BFI, and its primal approach gripped and affected me more than any film I've seen for a while.

Arnold shares the screenplay credit, but as her co-writer Olivia Hetreed also gains a 'story' credit, it seems that the latter was probably behind most of the choices for the structure and focus of the adaptation.

It's interesting that Hetreed used to be a film editor: I've yakked on before about the parallels between screenwriting and editing, and it's clear from the start that she's taken a very bold approach to recutting the raw material.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

What Makes a Masterpiece? Stories and Film

This looks like it might be of interest to anyone who thinks about the art, craft and science of creating stories.

It's on More4 at 9pm on Saturday 7 January, but I'm guessing it'll be on the 4oD on-demand service afterwards.

WHAT MAKES A MASTERPIECE? 1/3: Stories and Film

We have always thought that the power of great art lies in its mysterious ability to move us. But now science is claiming to have discovered the secret to why we like what we like, and is challenging some of our most deeply held beliefs about the arts. 

Presented by Matthew Cain, Culture Editor of Channel 4 News, this three-part series explores the world of art through the prism of 'neuro-aesthetics': a field of scientific research that looks at how the human brain processes art. 

Each episode focuses on a different art form, as Cain explores some surprising theories about how art affects us and asks if neuroscience could radically change our attitudes to human creativity. This first episode looks at stories and film.