Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Critical Week: Leapin' lizards!

Yes, The Rock has leapt to the rescue of yet another franchise, taking over as muscled male lead for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which had a lively Sunday morning press screening in London, complete with live snakes, lizards and other critters for us to handle and terrorise each other with. Snacks included croissants, blinis and toasted ants and grubworms. Yes really. Fortunately the film is preposterous fun.

Other biggies screened to us last week included Safe House, with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds in a destructive chase across Cape Town; Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a lively comedy-drama with Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and this year's top scene-stealer Kristin Scott Thomas (see also Bel Ami and The Woman in the Fifth); A Thousand Kisses Deep, a moody time-travel drama with Jodie Whittaker and Dougray Scott; and Babycall, a dark and possibly supernatural thriller starring Noomi Rapace as a tormented mother.

The happy surprise this week was the found-footage thriller Chronicle, which reinvents the genre the way it always should have been done: with strong characters and a great story. And I also caught up with the Oscar-nominated animation A Cat in Paris, which is unmissably brilliant. Finally we had two docs: Girl Model is a disturbing exploration of the fashion industry, while A Bigger Splash is a remastered edition of the intimate and often naked 1974 doc about iconic painter David Hockney.

This coming week's offerings include John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven, Channing Tatum in The Vow, Antonio Banderas in Black Gold, the British 3D sequel StreetDance 2, another attempt to catch the controversial Russian political doc Khodorkovsky (after a previous screening was cancelled), a filmed version of the Royal Opera House's Madam Butterfly 3D, and a restored print of Remoir's classic Le Grande Illusion.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Critical Week: Lost in Alaska

London critics sat through two films about survival in Alaska this past week: the first was Joe Carnahan's grim, icy, existential thriller The Grey, starring Liam Neeson, about plane crash survivors facing both the elements and a pack of angry wolves. The second was Big Miracle, starring Drew Barrymore, which was rather more inspirational, telling the true story of the global effort to rescue a family of whales trapped under the Arctic ice.

Of course, the Oscar nominations on Tuesday were the big news this week - my brief comments and all the nominees are HERE. Elsewhere, critics were confronted with a rather non-scary boogeyman in Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's Intruders, starring Clive Owen; murderous Nazis in the powerfully involving Polish true story In Darkness, which was Oscar-nominated on Tuesday; a family crisis in actress Melanie Laurent's beautiful directing debut The Adopted; a pair of vintage 1980s con men in the rather chaotic black-comedy romp Polish Roulette; and an astonishingly successful man who has somehow avoided both fame and money in the endearing documentary Bill Cunningham New York.

This coming week we're faced with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds in the thriller Safe House, Ewan McGregor in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Rock in the 3D adventure Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Noomi Rapace in the thriller Babycall, the found-footage thriller Chronicle, and two British thrillers: Best Laid Plans and A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Friday, 20 January 2012

London film critics speak...

The 32nd London Critics' Circle Film Awards were held Thursday night at BFI Southbank with a flurry of starry glamour. As secretary of the Critics' Circle Film Section, I've been heavily involved in planning this event, running the voting procedure for our members and organising a sometimes bewildering array of details for the big night - from liaising with stars and agents to making sure the trophies were engraved and delivered on time.

It all kicked off with a lively red carpet lined with fans and press - some of our nominees took nearly an hour to make their way through the gauntlet, but then that's why they were here! A few pics: Michael Fassbender signs autographs, above. And below are a few stylish nominees: Fassbender again, posing with his Shame costar Carey MulliganSubmarine's Yasmin Paige and Craig RobertsWar Horse's Jeremy IrvineDreams of a Life's Zawe Ashton and director Carol Morley; and Attack the Block's John Boyega.
Aside from overseeing our @londoncritics Twitter feed volunteer and any urgent troubleshooting, my main role on the night was to welcome the nominees, celebrities, critics, sponsors and guests into the party - a great job as it meant that I got to chat to everyone as they came in. The pre-ceremony reception lasted just over an hour, and we were ushered into the theatre for the awards, which were again hosted by the critics' charming chairman Jason Solomons.

First up was Supporting Actor, which went to Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn), who gave a terrific thank you before racing off to tape this week's Graham Norton Show in the TV studio just down the road. Supporting Actress went to Sareh Bayat (A Separation), and her award was accepted by the film's producer Negar Eskandarfar

British Breakthrough Film-maker, sponsored by our main sponsor Virgin Atlantic, went to Andrew Haigh (Weekend). who was genuinely thrilled to win such a hotly contested prize.

Next was a new award, Documentary of the Year, which went to Senna and was accepted by director Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey, below left. 
Young British Performer went to Craig Roberts (Submarine), another winner who was overwhelmed to take home the trophy. Screenwriter went to Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), who texted his acceptance speech from Iran, where he's already working on his next film. He had just returned home from his win at Sunday's Golden Globes!

British Actor of the Year went to Michael Fassbender (Shame and A Dangerous Method), who bounded onto the stage and gave a lively thank you.
British Actress of the Year, sponsortd by our champagne sponsor Moet & Chandon, was Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur and The Iron Lady), who wowed everyone with her gravity-defying Vivienne Westwood gown and gave perhaps the funniest and most generous speech of the night. Foreign-language Film added a third award to the tally for A Separation, and was again accepted by the good-natured Eskandarfarwhose husband Ali translated for her. Next up was a presentation of the BFI's Rescue the Hitchcock 9 appeal, which the event is held in aid of, and they had a real treat for us: a lively sequence from one of Hitchcock's restored silent films, The Lodger, accompanied live by pianist Stephen Horne.

Then it was my turn to take the stage to present the Technical Achievement Award, sponsored by Sky 3D, to Maria Djurkovic (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) for production design.

The Attenborough Award for British Film of the Year went to We Need to Talk About Kevin, and was accepted by director Lynne Ramsay (right) and producer Luc Roeg, whose father was in the house for a special award later on. Director of the Year went to Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), who ended up with two awards - see below.

Actress of the Year was a tie, which has only happened once before with our awards, and the winners were Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Anna Paquin (Margaret). Both delivered fantastic video acceptance speeches, mentioning each other and offering some terrific comments about the honour of the award.

Actor of the Year was Jean Dujardin (The Artist) who charmed everyone with a warm and witty thank you. 

Then it was time for the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Cinema, and the surprise of the evening was the appearance of Donald Sutherland on stage to talk about his good friend Nicolas Roeg - a gorgeous introduction that was followed by a clip reel and then Roeg himself, looking a bit bemused that the critics were saying something nice about him for a change.

Finally, Film of the Year went to The Artist, again collected by a now extremely happy Hazanavicius and Dujardin. And then it was time to head into the after party.

And here are a couple of photos of me at the event, first in my tux in the empty theatre before the event, and then snapped on a friend's phone with chairman/host Jason Solomons and Olivia Colman at the after party.

Now the awards committee will have a debrief and launch straight into planning next year's bigger and better event, which will be held in the 100th anniversary year of the Critics' Circle.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Critical Week: Near, far, wherever you are

This past week, Fox showed UK critics about half an hour of footage from the 3D conversion of Titanic, and it must be said that it looked spectacular: crisp and bright and remarkably inviting. And that scene on the bow of the ship now has a frighteningly vertiginous quality! Producer Jon Landau was on hand to talk about the great lengths James Cameron and his team are going to with this conversion, which has taken some five years (for comparison, they only spent six weeks converting Clash of the Titans). It opens on the 100th anniversary of Titanic's maiden voyage.

Then this morning we had the Bafta nominations announcement. The British Academy Film Awards always seem just a little offbeat, taking what we generally expect from Oscar nods (which come a couple of weeks later) and throwing in several wild cards. Once again, Bafta voters have snubbed some highly acclaimed films (The Tree of Life, Melancholia, Margaret) and performances (Olivia Colman, Vanessa Redgrave, Albert Brooks). More surprising is the way they ignored superior British films like Kill List, Weekend and Dreams of a Life, and there isn't even an technical nod to Wuthering Heights. Why in a year that was so rich for docs are there only three rather tepid nominees? Equally unexpected is the exuberant support for The Help. But it's not surprising to see the big love for The Artist and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which are likely to sweep the boards on awards night. FULL LIST OF NOMINEES >

As for press screenings this week, it was all a bit low key - aside from the family-friendly Sunday morning press show for the deliriously entertaining The Muppets. We also had the quietly horrific Austrian drama Michael, the offbeat British black comedy Acts of Godfrey, the overwrought Australian exploitation thriller X: Night of Vengeance, and the awkward American gay comedy The Love Patient.

Coming up on Thursday is the 32nd London Critics' Circle Film Awards, the organisation of which has occupied much of my time over the past few months. As secretary of the critics, I am welcoming our guests at the door and presenting the Technical Achievement Award. And of course I'll have the news and photos here on Friday.

Meanwhile, this coming week's screenings include Liam Neeson in The Grey, Clive Owen in Intruders, Drew Barrymore in Big Miracle, Melanie Laurent's directing debut The Adopted, the heist comedy Polish Roulette and the documentary Bill Cunningham New York.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Critical Week: Heaving bosoms

These three women (Kristin Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci) are the object of Robert Pattinson's affections in Bel Ami, which was screened to the press this past week ahead of its release in March. Lucky guy (or girls, depending on your perspective). Although we're not allowed to say what we thought of the film before its world premiere. The only other big movie this week was The Darkest Hour, a visually inventive alien invasion thriller from the minds of Chris Gorak and Timur Bekmambetov, although the script is a bit of a muddle, as is the 3D.

More interesting were the offbeat Largo Winch movies The Heir Apparent and The Burma Conspiracy, which I caught up with ahead of the second film's UK DVD release. Both are snappy globe-hopping adventure thrillers packed with terrific plot twists, a sexy hero (Tomer Sisley) and A-list female costars (including Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Stone). On the other hand, the British adventure thriller Mercenaries never overcomes its small budget, while the biggest star it can muster is Billy Zane. But the best of them all is the Austrian drama Breathing, a subtle and moving film about a young guy trying to come to terms with his own past actions.

This coming week we have a preview of Titanic in 3D, another acclaimed Austrian drama Michael, and another micro-budget thriller X: Night of Vengeance. I'm also revisiting The Muppets on Sunday morning - yay!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy "new" year!

Looking ahead at the cinematic landscape of 2012, it's not easy to find something original to look forward to. Every year is awash with sequels, remakes and spin-offs, but the economic crunch is clearly making studios even more timid than usual. So here are a few things worth looking forward to - or not. And note that this is by no means an exhaustive listing...

SEQUELS. The one everyone is most anticipating is Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises (Jul), starring Christian Bale and Tom Hardy's pumped-up back (above). James Bond is back, finally, in Skyfall (Nov), while most of the Marvel universe converges in The Avengers (Apr). For the rest, we should probably go month by month...

  • Jan: Underworld Awakening.
  • Feb: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. 
  • March: Wrath of the Titans, Streetdance 2.
  • April: American Pie: Reunion.
  • May: Men in Black 3.
  • June: G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
  • July: Ice Age: Continental Drift.
  • August: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Step Up 4.
  • September: Taken 2, Resident Evil 5.
  • October: Paranormal Activity 4, Madagascar: Europe's Most Wanted.
  • November: Breaking Dawn: Part 2.
  • December: Nativity 2: The Second Coming. 

PREQUELS. The most anticipated is the first instalment in the two-part prologue to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec). And Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus (Jun) has everyone wondering what he's up to.

REBOOTS. Perhaps the most baffling of them all is The Amazing Spider-man (Jul), retelling the origin story barely 10 years after Tobey Maguire's version. More intriguing is Jeremy Renner's takeover in The Bourne Legacy (Aug).

REMAKES. Studios are raiding TV shows - Tim Burton's Dark Shadows (May), 21 Jump Street (Mar), The Sweeney (Sep) - as well as theatre - The Woman in Black (Feb), Rock of Ages (Jun) - for material. And then there are the film remakes, from the Farrellys' The Three Stooges (May), Colin Farrell's Total Recall (Aug) and even a new take on the B-movie classic Jack the Giant Killer (Jun).

REVAMPS. Mainly this involves converting old movies into 3D so the studio can squeeze some more cash out of their archive, while of course letting a new generation of fans catch up with the films on a big screen. At the moment, two are in the release schedule - Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Feb) and Titanic (Apr) - but expect more to come.

ADAPTATIONS. Clearly hopes are high for new franchises based on The Hunger Games (Mar) and John Carter (Mar). Other literary adaptations include Joe Wright's Anna Karenina (Sep); Michael Winterbottom's Trishna (Mar), which sets Tess in India; Robert Pattinson's Bel Ami (Mar), John Cusack's The Raven (Mar) and Ang Lee's Life of Pi (Dec). The next game-to-screen adaptation is Battleship (Apr). While fairy tales continue to provide free story sources with two Snow White films - the comical Mirror Mirror (Mar) and the more gothic Snow White and the Huntsman (Jun) - and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Mar).

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Even though they're based on books, The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! (Mar) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Aug) are sure to be unlike anything we've seen before. Sacha Baron Cohen is back in the already controversial political romp The Dictator (May). And Tarantino is bound to set jaws dropping with his spaghetti-style American Western Django Unchained (Dec).

Finally, press screenings kick off this week for the new year with Robert Pattinson's period romp Bel Ami, and I also have the Russian alien thriller The Darkest Hour, the black-ops thriller Mercenaries, an animated biopic of adult manga author Tatsumi, and the arthouse cinema fable A Useful Life.