Archive for the ‘Movies’ Tag

Who hustles the hustlers?

christian-bale-batman

This time last night I was putting the plan into action. On leaving work I faced up to the hassles and bustle of the tube strike and managed to get myself into the West End. I walked up from Embankment to Forbidden Planet in St Giles’s and picked up a copy of a Dark Knight comic (along with my current fave, Sledgehammer 44). Phase 1 complete.

From there I headed across Soho to the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. I dropped down into the screening room (where I was last for the classic in-the-making, The Wolf of Wall St, with Enfant Terrible No.1) to watch, for the second time, American Hustle. I wasn’t too taken with it on my first viewing on DVD – it felt a bit superficial and cold in the shadow of Silver Linings Playbook which was my top film of last year.

christian-bale-american hustle

But it played much better for me on a huge screen – and all the better as Christian Bale, director/co-writer David O Russell and producer Charles Roven showed up in the modest-sized screening room and gave articulate insights into how the film works.

Christian Bale, Edith Bowman, David O Russell, Charles Roven

Christian Bale, Edith Bowman, David O Russell, Charles Roven

DOR placed the emphasis firmly on exploring “What’s worth living for” / “what people live for”. He also talked in terms of wanting to “find a way of loving [Irving Rosenfeld]” (the protagonist, based on a real person called Len Something). He picked up on his authenticity/sincerity and joie de vivre. And from there looking at how various pairs, from Irving and Sydney (Amy Adams) to Irving and the mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), loved one another. So it was closer to Playbook than I had realised.

I asked one of the first questions – to Christian Bale. His Londonish accent (belying his Welsh roots) knocked my socks off. It must have already done the job on him as he was without socks and laces, reflecting a modest openness. He had mentioned that DOR’s way of directing gave him space and comfort to “try crazy stuff” as he played the scenes. Also David’s way of wielding a fluent and unpredictable camera meant the acting was whole body and exposed. So I asked, given this, ‘What crazy stuff did you try?’, probing for concrete examples. CB gave a long explanation, attentively directed at me in the second row, which made it clear that each take was deliberately different, a certain amount of improvisation or harking back to older versions of the script took place, and we ended up focused on the scene outside the Plaza Hotel in New York where Irving tries to lure Carmine back in. It was a very full and thoughtful answer (see beard-stroking below).

12christian-bale-american hustle

After the Q&A the distributor invited us into an adjacent rather red bar for drinks. I chatted with the MC, Edith Bowman, as I lay in wait. Then as Christian Bale entered I was obliged to ambush to see through the plan. I whipped out the Dark Knight comic, another Batman comic Enfant Terrible No.2 had given me (one of his most treasured) and a good black pen. Christian was very Christian about it as I explained it was my delivering on the request of a 14 year old, apple of my eye. Phase 2 complete.

We had a good chat about how the film played better for me second time/how you sometimes need to be in a receptive state (his observation); his accent and its origins; and finally about the nature of the autograph requester: Enfant Terrible No.2 said to me as we were planning and I was walking along Old Compton St on the phone to him that if I could only get one signed, Aurel’s (the first one, a birthday present for his best friend) was the important one. Now that’s what’s worth living for. Mission accomplished.

dark knight batman signed christian bale

I told you not to put metal in the science oven, what did you do that for?

Findus Keepers Eaters Weepers

Findus Keepers Eaters Weepers

Blue and Brassy

Edison plaque

American overstatement

On a hunt for NFL gear in NYC this morning for one of the Enfants Terribles, I walked past Macy’s and noticed this brass plaque. The exact wording it turns out is crucial. You leave with the impression that this is where the first movie was projected – “Here the motion picture began” is what misleads. But the truth is actually precisely (and narrowly) what it says below: it’s where Edison first projected a movie. It was put up by “The American Motion Picture Industry” where truth is not always at a premium.

Movies were first publicly projected 8 months earlier in Chicago at the Model Variety Theater. And they were first projected to a paying audience 5 months before in Paris at the Grand Café. In fact they’d already been publicly projected in New York before this date. I haven’t done much research but I dare say there are some other European claims to challenge these dates.

Edison had already charged members of the public to watch movies prior to this date but on peephole machines, not projected. On the date marked by this bold and brassy plaque the film was part of a vaudeville show and was simply three of his peephole films spliced together. So over-stated, over-charged and over here.

Meanwhile back at home in London, I was thinking the other day about blue plaques because a newspaper story has been doing the rounds about how English Heritage, who now administer the blue plaque scheme, established in 1866 and believed to be the oldest of its kind in the world, are about to kill the blue plaque. The scheme was set up under the auspices of the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of the Arts, of which at one time I was a Fellow). The baton then passed to the London County Council and in due course to the Greater London Council. In 1986, English Heritage took up the responsibility. So the press stories recently suggested that the scheme was about to end but I suspect this was actually cack-handed PR on the part of English Heritage, crying wolf in the face of tight times and cuts. They have subsequently said they are just pausing the scheme to deal with a back-log and slow things down in these cash-starved times. What they have done in the process is drawn attention to the cost of what should at heart be a simple operation with expenditure limited to making a robust piece of blue ceramic, but no doubt there is some immense bureaucracy accreted around a simple idea designed to make a plain link between notable characters from the past and the buildings in which they lived, worked and died. As English Heritage summarises the 147 year old scheme with which it has been entrusted: “It is a uniquely successful means of connecting people and place.” I suspect if EH did pull the plug, we the public could do it for ourselves at a fraction of the cost and bring back a long tradition of public subscription in our country with the help of some open, sharing digital technology.

Any way, enough kvetching as they say around here (I’m writing this at 3rd Avenue and 24th Street), I’d like to draw attention to my favourite blue plaque. It’s high up on the wall of 22 Frith Street in London, above the Bar Italia, directly opposite Ronnie Scott’s jazz club – and it’s a model of British understatement:

British understatement

British understatement

So basically “Here Television began”.

If you go to Bletchley Park, or certainly this was the case about five to ten years ago, you could see the concrete base of the hut where the world’s first programmable computer was created by Alan Turing. The hut was knocked down some years ago. The spot is (or was) not specifically marked. I remember standing there and thinking if this was in the USA there would be something pretty significant to mark this stupendous happening. “Here Computing began.” Or at least “Here programmable Computing began.”

It was minus 13 the night I arrived here. As an Englishman in New York I might have said: “It’s a bit nippy”. But there’s a time for sang froid and a time for being big, bold and brassy…

Best of 2011

[a work in progress]

So no triple A rating makes him feel like this big?

Film:
Midnight in Paris

The Gold Rush with orchestral accompaniment (Festival Hall)

(2010 [reluctant] winner: Toy Story 3)
(2009 winner: Inglourious Basterds)

Actor:
Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris)
Runners-up: Ryan Gosling (Drive) and Michael Fassbinder (Shame)

(2010 winner: Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network))
(2009 winner: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds))

Actress:
Carey Mulligan (Shame)
runner-up: Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) [2012]

(2010 winner: Julianne Moore (The Kids Are Alright) )
(2009 winner: Carey Mulligan (An Education) )

Supporting Actor:
Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris)
Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)

(2010 winner: Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are Alright) )
(2009 winner: Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) )

Supporting Actress:
Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)

(2010 winner: Rebecca Hall (The Town) )
(2009 winner: Kristin Scott Thomas (Nowhere Boy) )

Director:
Woody Alllen (Midnight in Paris)

(2010 winner: Ben Affleck (The Town) )
(2009 winner: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) )

Script:
Woody Alllen (Midnight in Paris)

(2010 winner: The Social Network)
(2009 winner: The Hangover)

TV:
Hugh’s Fish Fight (Channel 4)

Gig:

Michael Franti & Spearhead – Bush Hall
Lisa Hannigan – Bush Hall
The Cure – Reflections – Albert Hall
Bob Dylan – The Feis – Finsbury Park (and Hothouse Flowers)
Mike Scott & The Waterboys – An Appointment with Mr Yeats – Barbican
Pharoah Saunders – Ronnie Scott’s
Sinead O’Connor – St Johns at Hackney church
Patti Smith – St Giles in the Field church
Gregory Porter – Stoke Newington Town Hall (BBC4 recording with Carole King)

(2010 winner: Gil Scott Heron – Somerset House
(2009 winner: Hothouse Flowers – Community hall, Baltimore, West Cork)

LP:
Johnny Boy Would Love This – various

(2010 winner: Praise & Blame – Tom Jones)
(2009 winner: Sea Sew – Lisa Hannigan)

Single:
Small Hours – Robert Smith
1960 What? – Gregory Porter {courtesy of Practical Psychologist}
Movin’ Down the Line- Raphael Saadiq {courtesy of Practical Psychologist}

(2010 winner: What good am I? – Tom Jones)
(2009 winner: Glass – Bat for Lashes)

Book:
The Sisters Brothers – Patrick de Witt

(2010 winner: Freedom – Jonathan Franzen)
(2009 winner: The Great Lover – Jill Dawson)

Art:
Angelheaded Hipsters – Allen Ginsberg (National Theatre)

(2010 winner: Paul Nash – The Elements – Dulwich Picture Gallery)
(2009 winner: Dream – Jaume Plensa)

Play:
Frankenstein (NT)

(2010 winner: Jerusalem)
(2009 winner: August: Osage County)

Sports event:
Ireland beating Australia in the Rugby World Cup
Ireland beating England in The 6 Nations lead by Brian O’Driscoll

Website:
Instagram
(2009 winner: Posterous)

Saddest loss:
Gil Scott Heron

Fine FIN

Best of 2010
Best of 2009

Best of 2010

[this is a work in progress]

Fruitful collaboration

Film: (a poor year,  no real top-notch classics in live action)
1. Toy Story 3

2. The Town
Inception
The Kids Are Alright
True Grit
Tamara Drewe
Lebanon
The Secret in their Eyes
It’s a Wonderful Life (Christmas Eve at The Phoenix)

(The King’s Speech) [2011]

(2009 winner: Inglourious Basterds )

Actor:
Ben Affleck – The Town
Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network
Jeff Bridges – True Grit
(2009 winner: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) )

Actress:
Julianne Moore – The Kids Are Alright
Annette Bening – The Kids Are Alright
Lesley Manville – Another Year
Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit
(2009 winner: Carey Mulligan (An Education) )

Supporting Actor:
Mark Ruffalo – The Kids Are Alright
(2009 winner: Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) )

Supporting Actress:
Rebecca Hall – The Town
(2009 winner: Kristin Scott Thomas (Nowhere Boy))

Director:
1. Ben Affleck – The Town
Samuel Maoz – Lebanon
(2009 winner: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) )

Script:
The Social Network
(2009 winner: The Hangover)

TV:
The Trip (BBC2)

The Art of Cornwall (BBC4)

Gig:
Corinne Bailey Rae – Somerset House
Gil Scott Heron – Somerset House
Songwriters’ Circle recording at Bush Theatre, Shepherds Bush – Loudon Wainright, Richard Thompson, Suzanne Vega
(2009 winner: Hothouse Flowers – Community hall, Baltimore, West Cork)

LP:
Praise & Blame – Tom Jones
I’m New Here – Gil Scott Heron
(2009 winner: Sea Sew – Lisa Hannigan)

Single:
What good am I? – Tom Jones
Laura Marling – Devil’s Spoke
(2009 winner: Glass – Bat for Lashes)

Book:
Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
A Crisis of Brilliance – David Haycock
(2009 winner: The Great Lover – Jill Dawson)

Art:
Paul Nash – The Elements – Dulwich Picture Gallery
(2009 winner: Dream – Jaume Plensa)

Play:
Jerusalem – Jez Butterworth with Mark Rylance (Apollo)

(2009 winner: August: Osage County (NT))

Sports event:
1. Spurs victory over Inter Milan at White Hart Lane with Gareth Bale on fire
Watching Saracens from the bench vs Leicester Tigers
(2009 winner: Ireland winning the 6 Nations)

Website:
?
(2009 winner: Posterous)

Saddest loss:
see Farewell 2010

Best of 2009

Best of British – Top British films of the last 25 years

Mike Leigh's Naked

Mike Leigh's Naked (ooh matron!)

My response to today’s Observer Film Magazine list of ‘The Best British Films 1984-2009′

My 15 favourite home-grown films of the last quarter century (in no particular order) are:

  • In Bruges [not in The Observer list, made by FilmFour, a cracking script by Martin McDonagh]
  • 24 Hour Party People [I'm not a huge fan of Steve Coogan but he's brilliant in this #24 of 25]
  • Venus [Peter O'Toole and Leslie Phillips make a great double act, not in The Observer list]
  • The Remains of the Day [deeply moving performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, not in The Observer list]
  • A Room with a View [perfectly executed film of its type, not in The Observer list]
  • Naked [the fruit of David Thewlis' creativity #14]
  • The Hours [Nicole Kidman shines among a host of brilliant actresses, not in The Observer list]
  • The Constant Gardener [another powerful Ralph Fiennes performance, not in The Observer list]
  • Last Resort [Pawel Pawlikowski bursts onto the British scene, not in The Observer list]
  • Hunger [a bold, fresh artist's film from (the other) Steve McQueen but not an arty one #16]
  • Chaplin [captures something of the greatest film-maker of all time, not in The Observer list]
  • Secrets & Lies [a culmination of Mike Leigh's approach #3]
  • In the Name of the Father [powerful acting spearheaded by Daniel Day-Lewis, not in The Observer list]
  • A Month in the Country [a gentle, bucolic one - not in The Observer list]
  • Defence of the Realm [a top-class thriller shot by Roger Deakins, not in The Observer list]
  • The Commitments [energised by the powerful lungs of Andrew Strong, not in The Observer list]

Bubbling under: Borat, Howard’s End, High Hopes, Shadowlands, Johnny English, East is East, The Bounty, Son of Rambow, Billy Elliot

venusI enjoyed flicking through the pages of today’s Observer Film Magazine, The Nation’s Choice, focused on contemporary British cinema as I supped my Cullen Skink outside a pub on the Shore of Leith, winding down from the manic activity of the Edinburgh Television Festival, said soup surely worthy of sitting alongside Tarmac and Lino as a GSI (Great Scottish Invention). [It would have been fun to check out the online discussion the mag urges us to visit but after ten minutes searching for it on The Guardian/Observer site I gave up.]

Leafing through I realised this has been a fairly significant part of my life over the years, despite being more focused on telly – from the photo of my old flat-mate Emer McCourt alongside #21, Ken Loach’s Riff-Raff, to Loach’s producer Rebecca O’Brien who sat at the table I hosted at the TV BAFTAs a couple of years ago; from Mike Leigh who I met at Dick Pope‘s around the time my first son was born (the same son who three years later slammed a heavy glass door onto the renowned director in a Crouch End shop) to Dick himself, one of my first bosses at Solus, who shot #3 Secrets and Lies (and much of Leigh’s oeuvre besides); from Ben Gibson, Director of the London Film School, with whom I was involved trying to set up a South African film/tv scholarship to Ewen Bremner, featured in both #1 Trainspotting and #14 the marvellous Naked, who I met when he was making a training film early in his career (written by John Mole and, unbeknownst to the casual viewer, based on Beowolf).

Beyond this punctuation of connections though is the steady presence of Channel 4, FilmFour, More 4, Britdoc (the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation) – in particular, my esteemed colleague Tessa Ross whose fingerprints are on so many of the films (from Billy Elliot to #9 Slumdog Millionaire), dubbed recently the Mother of British Film-making. Choose Life is engraved on the glass doors of Channel 4′s Glasgow office in recognition of the Channel’s role in bringing the landmark movie that is Trainspotting to life. #11 Touching the Void was commissioned out of Peter Dale’s More4. #16 Hunger was patiently nurtured by my much missed colleague Jan Younghusband in Channel 4 Arts (her ex-husband Peter Chelsom made Hear My Song, which starred my friend Adrian Dunbar and whose script crossed my desk at Solus (and still sits in my bookcase) on its way to Roger Deakins, another of my bosses at Solus – the kind of thing which links the Channel 4 nexus and my pre-C4 web of experiences). The next generation is represented by Mat Whitecross, whose film Moving to Mars is being broadcast on More4 in November and was part-financed by Britdoc, run with flair by former C4 fellow Commissioning Editor Jess Search. I haven’t worked it out exactly but I’d say well over 30% of the Top 25 has FilmFour/Channel 4  input. Stephen Frears’ big break with #5 My Beautiful Launderette. From #17 Shane Meadow’s This is England to #10 Four Weddings and a Funeral, the full gamut. What an incredible record and a significant contribution to the last quarter century of British cinema.

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