Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ext. New York City - update

It's been a while since I posted on the blog but I haven't been sitting around doing nothing. I have been watching lots of films but only posting mini review on Twitter for the time being.

Instead all of my focus is currently going into my book on New York film locations.

I went over in July and with my official photographer aka my dad, we walked the equivalent of three marathons in 3 days as we ventured all over Manhattan (and Brooklyn and Coney Island) to photograph as many locations as possible.

In the end we visit over 90 locations which has provided lots of material for the book which I am now in the final stages of writing.

I hope to have a draft finished by the end of August with a view to publish it myself in September/October.

More news to come as I reach the finishing stage but in the meantime, here are a few taster images from my trip...


Sunday, 21 June 2015

EIFF - Empire Podcast Live and Ewan McGregor In Person

An early start to hop on the 6.35am Megabus to Edinburgh was required this morning in order to attend two of my most anticipated events at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.
First up was a live recording of Empire Magazine's Podcast featuring regulars Chris Hewitt, Phil DeSemleyn, Ali Plumb and Helen O'Hara.

This was the second year in a row that they have done a recording at the Festival and this was just as informative, intellectual, irreverent, hilarious, full of spot prizes of varying quality and PG-13 material as last time.
As well as the usual movie news, reviews and readers questions (well audience questions in this case), they were joined by guests Robert Sheehan, director Corin Hardy and actress Emily Mortimer.
It is great to see the podcast being recorded in person for the full "live and uncut" experience as the comoradarie between the Empire guys is evident in person and often allows for some more risqué humour which probably will not make it into the final edit (those who were there will know what I'm talking about but essentially involves Ron Weasley and a 99 cone).

Following on from the podcast, there was time for a quick pitstop in Festival HQ (aka the Filmhouse Cafe Bar) before heading over to the Lyceum Theatre across the road for Ewan McGregor In Person.

Interviewed by Edith Bowman, Ewan started off by talking about the film he was at the festival to promote, The Last Days In The Desert, in which he plays Jesus AND Lucifer.
Following that they took a relaxed and candid tour through his career with wit and charm, from the likes of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting to working on Beauty And The Beast.

Highlights included:

  • Realising that despite having a French wife and four children who speak French, he couldn't initially do a French accent for Lumiere without it sounding Mexican.

  • A moving story about how his parents let him leave school early to pursue acting and how some advice from his Uncle Denis Lawson (Wedge Antilles in Star Wars) helped him understand the craft and get him into an acting school.

  • Talking about the method of "playing with himself on screen" when he plays the dual parts of Jesus and Lucifer.

  • Having buried the hatchet with Danny Boyle, he is now open to the idea of a Trainspotting sequel.

  • His regret that Peter Capaldi hadn't secured funding for his script where Ewan would have played four parts (Bonnie Prince Charlie, his decoy, an American actor playing Bonnie Prince Charlie and a Scottish lookalike).

  • He is looking forward to the new Star Wars film but scoffed at the hilted lightsaber believing that if you are using it properly you don't need a hilt.

  • He would also be happy to become Obi-Wan again to tell the story of what happens between Episodes III and IV.


  • Despite being in conversation for over 90 minutes, it only scratched the surface of a wide and varied career of Scotland's most successful export since McEwen's and the crowd would have happily sat there for another 90 to ask more questions but alas he had to head across town to present the screening of The Last Days Of The Desert... but not before a few photos on stage (where he did some mime) and a couple of quick selfies and autographs outside.

    Then it was time to get the train back up the road but a fantastic day at the Festival and looking forward to one final trip back down next weekend to see one of my all-time favourite films Back To The Future with a live orchestra score.

    Thursday, 18 June 2015

    EIFF 2015 - Maggie

    Maggie is being sold on it being a zombie movie and the movie in which the world discovers that Arnie can act.
    Only one of these facts are true and shockingly it is the second one because the former Governer and Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers what is arguably his finest on screen performance to date (although is that difficult given his previous benchmarks? After all he is a movie star rather than an actor).
    As a father struggling to come to terms with the fact this his daughter will evolve into a zombie, Arnie delivers a surprisingly tender and emotive performance, even shedding the odd tear or two.
    Despite it being marketed as a zombie movie, it is a far away from your typical zombie flick as Let The Right One In is from a vampire movie.
    There is no widespread panic, massive scenes of desolation or Arnie fighting off hordes of the undead.
    Instead at the heart of the film is a family drama where a biological outbreak has created a disease that causes people to slowly turn into the undead.
    The disease is treated in the early stages just like any other, with patients patched up and sent home with a pamphlet on preventing the spread of the disease until it is time for them to "turn" and they are shipped off to quarantine.
    Quarantine is meant to be where the infected are cared for in their final days but according to some, it is in reality a horrific place where all the infected are left to rot and feed off each other.
    And so to the central crux of the story and what Maggie is really about.
    The film is actually a comment on the moral dilemma of assisted suicide. Should Arnold allow his daughter to get taken to quarantine where the quality of her life is not assured and she slowly and painfully deteriorates into someone that they and she herself no longer recognises or does he do the humane thing and help her end her life?
    All three central performances are strong, with Breslin providing a lot of pain and empathy as the girl who will turn and Joely Richardson offering a counterpoint to Arnold's desire to protect his daughter as the stepmom who doesn't see Maggie as one of her own.
    The tagline for the film could have been "Don't Get Too Close" but this is close to being the freshest take on the zombie film since 28 Days Later and won't be undead on arrival in cinemas this July.

    4 stars

    EIFF 2015 - Opening Night Gala - The Legend Of Barney Thomson

    Last night saw the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival kick off festivities with its opening night gala premiere of The Legend Of Barney Thomson, directed by and starring festival patron Robert Carlyle.
    Having missed last year's opening gala without an unfortunately timed and incredibly painful case of kidney stones, it was exciting and reassuring to be able to walk the red carpet in my tuxedo (which up until an hour before still had the tags on from its purchase last year!).
    The film tells the story of Barney Thomson, a Glaswegian barber who is down on his luck and accidentally kills a co-worker who fires him from his job.
    With a serial killer stalking the streets of Glasgow and mailing body parts of their victims to relatives, Barney's mum (a hilarious Emma Thompson) convinces him to ride on the coattails of the killer to get the police (including a dogged Cockney copper played by Ray Winstone) off his scent.
    There are parallels to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (particularly with Ray Winstone in the film as he played the barber on BBC) but Barney is a much more sympathetic character, with the emphasis on the pathetic.
    The psycho Begbie is nowhere to be seen here as when we meet Barney he is sad, alone and about to be fired from his job. Even then he can't seem to muster the energy or passion to fight back, only killing his co-worker by accident. Then his attempts to dispose of the body set off a hilariously awful chain of events that cause Barney's life and lies to spiral out of control, and Carlyle plays his sense of hopelessness and growing anger at his inability to change things quite wonderfully.
    The sense of humour that runs through the film is as sharp as the razor that Barney uses at work. A lot of it comes from the situation that Barney gets himself into and a fair dose comes from Emma Thompson's turn as his ageing, bingo obsessed mother.
    She delivers the "Glasgae banter" with aplomb and receives many of the films biggest laughs (although one does wonder if anyone outside of Scotland will understand what she is saying half the time).
    The film's subplot about inter-departmental police rivalry could have done with a trim, or even a short back and sides, but Carlyle (in his first film as director) has delivered a accomplished tale of the macabre that should play well to audiences who enjoy a wild, wacky and wicked ride.
    The Legend Of Barney Thomson was a cracking, crowd-pleasing choice for the new direction of the Edinburgh Film Festival and proved to be a bloody good laugh.

    4 stars

    Tuesday, 5 May 2015

    John Wick poster

    There were two items of good news regarding John Wick this week because not only was there an official announcement about production of a sequel John Wick 2 (which will need a snappier title I imagine) but I also found out that my alternative poster design won the Hey U Guys competition!

    The prize is that I will receive a framed print of the finished poster to hang on my wall which will make me feel like the new Saul Bass, Drew Struzan or Olly Moss.

    Really I'm just happy that people have liked the simplistic but retro design and the feedback has been very encouraging and I might enter more creative brief competitions in the future.

    Friday, 24 April 2015

    Avengers: Age Of Ultron - Review

    In 2012's The Avengers, Nick Fury and Joss Whedon were both faced with an impossible task:

    How do you solve a problem like Maria Hill? Just kidding.

    No, I obviously meant how do you bring together Marvel's greatest individual superheroes together into one successful and cohesive unit?

    Well thanks to Whedon's writing and directing skills, the answer was... "Very easily" because it became the most successful comic book movie of all-time.

    It couldn't have been easy coming back to try and achieve the impossible one more time. Particularly when Marvel Studios have really raised their game in Phase 2, with them on their best run of movies so far with Iron Man 3, Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy (we'll skip over Thor: The Dark World).

    Thankfully Joss is up to the task, delivering a film that simultaneously feels bigger in scale but more intimate in terms of character development.

    Following an attack on a HYDRA base, Tony Stark is haunted by a vision of a world (and Avengers) defeated by the return of the Chitauri army.

    He creates the Ultron program, designed to be "a suit of armour around the world", but as anyone who has ever seen a movie about artificial intelligence would know, it is not the best idea as any Skynet-esque defence system will soon realise the best way to protect the Earth is to rid it of its most destructive force... Humans.

    And so Ultron is born. Brought to life (so to speak) by a fantastic vocal performance by James Spader who brings charisma, humour and villainy in spades.

    He recruits two "Enhanced" characters, whatever you do don't call them "mutants", in the form of super fast Pietro and telekinetic Wanda Maximoff to take down the Avengers whilst preparing his masterplan.

    As if that wasn't enough for them to deal with, the Avengers all have their own issues going on:

    Stark is faced with the Frankenstein-esque guilt of his creation. Black Widow and Bruce Banner are getting close but the Hulk keeps getting in the way, with them sharing one particular exchange reminding us of Whedon's work in Buffy. And it nice to see Hawkeye finally get a proper story arc with a surprise reveal as to his past.

    As mentioned before, the action set pieces are HUGE and while at the end it once again falls into the third act trap of people fighting metal men but interestingly there is continuous mention of how Captain America and the gang focus on saving lives and minimising damage.

    Was this a deliberate middle finger to Man Of Steel? I for one like to think so.

    Every single member (of the ever expanding team) gets a chance to shine with the movie's most crowd-pleasing moment going to new character Vision.

    On first viewing there is just so much happening in Age Of Ultron that it seems overwhelming and certain bits can feel lost in the overall mix but it could benefit from repeat viewings.

    Overall Whedon has once again assembled a great movie out of Hollywood's biggest and busiest franchise and his absence going forward will be sorely missed.

    In the meantime with Marvel Studios advancing to Phase 3 and rumours of the fall-out of this film affecting the plot of Captain America: Civil War does this make Age Of Ultron technically aka Ul-Tron Legacy?



    4 stars

    Tuesday, 7 April 2015

    John Wick - review

    John Wick is proper old-school filmmaking. The kind of movie that can be described and pitched in one sentence:

    "Keanu Reeves kills everyone associated to the Russian gangster who murdered his dog".

    Or even more succinctly, "Don't get on John's Wick"!

    This is a throwback to the action movies of the 80's and if filmed back then, would probably have starred someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steven Seagal.

    Reeves is arguably an actor who, as Ronan Keating might put it, "says it best when he says nothing at all", and it works perfectly for the character for whom actions speaks louder than words and starts off as a man consumed by the loss of his wife and sees a glimmer of hope in the form of an adorable puppy called Daisy.

    I can legitimately use the word "adorable" as I experience an entire audience at my Unlimited preview collectively "Awwww" when he stared at him with those puppy dog eyes... and the puppy stares back.

    When Russian gangsters attack Wick, take his car and kill his dog, slowly but surely the real John Wick begins to emerge as he returns, step-by-step, kill-by-kill, into the world he left behind.

    The movie takes it time with the slow reveal of exactly who Wick is and what he did... most of it revealed in a great monologue about the Bogeyman by one of the film's trump cards Michael Nyquist, who delivers a terrific deadpan comic performance as the gangster whose son unleashes the beast in Wick.

    Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch are former stuntmen who worked with Reeves on The Matrix and have crafted action scenes that utilise the skills he has learnt over the years ("I know Kung Fu") and have developed a new style of fighting involving weapons that could be deemed "Gun Fu".

    The film, like its title character, is lean, mean and doesn't outstay its welcome.

    At one point Wick remarks "People keep asking if I'm back and I haven't really had an answer, but yeah, I'm thinking I'm back."

    Not only is Reeves back with a bang, but in a world that features so many great ideas like a hotel just for assassins with "house rules" and a cleaning company that specialises in the clean up of murders where everything is paid for in gold sovereigns, there is so much more to explore that I for one hope that John Wick is back for good.

    5 stars