Tag Archives: Flickering Myth

Arrietty


I knew very little about Japan’s prestigious Studio Ghibli prior to being asked to see Arrietty for Flickering Myth. For the uninitiated the Pixar comparison is helpful, if not altogether accurate. Like Pixar, Studio Ghibli makes successful and aesthetically stunning films, with strong storylines. In their respective
spheres both are admired for being at the cutting edge of animation. Both are
loved by critics and ordinary cinemagoers alike. Both have a reputation for
quality and crafting tales for children that will also delight adults. Both
know how to tug at the heartstrings of all ages.

However Studio Ghibli are the real artisans. As Pixar embraces new technologies for its summer release Cars 2, Arrietty is a showcase for breathtaking but traditional hand drawn animation. As Pixar was consumed by Disney and became increasingly mainstream, Studio Ghibli continued to ignore trivial concerns like profit and loss, in favour of meaning and beauty. Their attentions are always solely concentrated on the art of what they are doing. They have no
departments dedicated to marketing or merchandise. They plough everything,
including the financial security of the company, into every film they make.
They literally pour their hearts and souls into their stories, to say new and
surprising things with trusted techniques.

In the case of Arrietty, adapted from The Borrowers by Mary Norton (which has been transformed several times for British viewers), the messages are as adult as always. Perhaps the strong artistic integrity of the company is down to the fact that founder Hayao Miyazaki is still at the helm and his ideas shape Arrietty. According to the production notes he thought that the subject of borrowing “fits perfectly with the way things are today” and that the “era of mass consumption is coming to a close”.With the global recession combining with the effects of declining natural resources, pollution and global warming, “the idea of borrowing instead of buying shows very well the direction things are headed”.

There are also passages of dialogue in the film that reflect on
mortality and the extinction of wonderful species in their entirety. The Borrowers, essentially mini versions of ourselves, are clearly meant to enhance our feelings of empathy for creatures buffeted and threatened by the sheer scale of mankind.

Arrietty herself is a strong female protagonist, whose feminine and
childlike tendencies begin as weaknesses exposing her family’s secret
existence, but end the film as vindicated strengths. There are also firmly
implied sexual undertones to the friendship that develops between 14 year old Arrietty and the human boy that comes to live in the house The Borrowers shelter within. Unfortunately even to have a strong feminine lead remains bold by Hollywood standards, let alone tackling themes like extinction and the sexual development of childhood.

Aside from the serious substance weaved into the narrative though,
Arrietty is also simply a well executed and mesmerising 94 minutes. From the opening scene rich and vivid visuals combine with enchanting sounds to create a fairy tale world that anyone can enjoy, despite the doses of sobering realism. The posters plastered all over the Tube rightly hail this film as a “magical” experience. And it’s not often that word is accurate or justified when referring to anything other than the Harry Potter series.

Arrietty lives with her mother and father in their home beneath a large house in the suburbs of Tokyo, with a lush, green and overgrown garden sprawling all around it. They take what the human occupants of the house will not miss in order to live. A young boy (Sho) instructed to rest due to illness, is sent to live with his relative at the house, and her housekeeper Haru. Arrietty’s father takes her for her first borrowing early in the film, as she must soon learn how to fend for herself. However after successfully procuring a sugar cube, Arrietty
is seen by Sho in his bed and she drops it. Her family’s existence is plunged
into a state of constant apprehension because at least one human now knows
about them.

As well as drawing (haha) on a British story for inspiration, Arrietty also has a strong cast of British vocal talent for its UK release. Mark
Strong’s
distinctive voice gives life to Arrietty’s brave but conservative father Pod, even if his performance consists of little more than a series of wise, speculative or knowing grunts. He is a convincing mentor and it’s refreshing to see (or hear) him as something other than a sinister baddie. Elsewhere there are terrific comedic performances, considerably helped by the expressive animation, from Peep Show’s Olivia Colman as Arrietty’s
mother and Geraldine McEwan as anti-Borrower housekeeper Haru. Rising star of Atonement and Hanna Saoirse Ronan does a fantastic job
voicing Arrietty herself.

There is something British about Arrietty that goes beyond the source material or the vocal talent. Perhaps it’s the focus on the garden that accounts for the familiar but seductive flavour. The colours and textures are so wonderfully realised at times that you feel as if you are watching an exhibition of acclaimed paintings rather than a movie. The soundtrack to the film is touching, tapping in
sentimentally to the fantasy, and the sound effects too are superb, bringing
things back to reality with lifelike downpours of rain a sensual feast for the
ears as well as the eyes.

I stop a considerable way short of calling Arrietty a perfect film or even perfect animation. At times its art house leanings slow the pace to such an extent in the name of beauty that interest inevitably wanes despite the loveliness and splendour. Equally its high minded goals of making political points leads to some of the weakest and forced, as well as some of the strongest and deep, dialogue. Even in terms of originality it is lacking, given how dependent it is on a story already an entrenched part of British culture.

However overall Arrietty is a beguiling and beautiful film, with both a mind and a soul. Despite my reservations it was not pretentious or lecturing but enjoyable, engaging and yes, magical. No other film, animated or otherwise, will better capture the complex simplicity of childhood this year.

Page and Screen: In Praise of Rupert Grint


With the all conquering Harry Potter franchise drawing to a
close after a decade of record breaking box office figures and immeasurable
sales of merchandise and DVDs, reams are being written attempting to sum up the reasons for the worldwide phenomenon. Recipes for success are being compiled and suggested as Warner Brothers and other studios look for the “next Potter” to lure audiences consistently to cinemas on a huge scale. Children’s authors are being assessed and targeted as execs wonder where to find the next J.K. Rowling. Meanwhile the super rich writer has launched a new website to continue the Potter brand, “Pottermore”, and has revealed that she has waited, perhaps wisely, until after the last film to publish several projects she’s been working on for some time since finishing The Deathly Hallows.

Some say that Rowling’s immense imagination and wonderful
writing accounts for the success of the films. The sheer detail of the books
helped create a wizarding universe that went beyond the plots. However up and
down the country it’s easy to find English teachers, experts and ordinary
readers that will think little of Rowling’s talent. Of course she clearly has
an ability to create worlds and engaging plots but she is also reliant on
influences and is far from a genius writer. Whilst I was sucked in by the books
after reading them, unlike my school friends I only embraced The Philosopher’s
Stone after seeing the film version, which convinced me Harry Potter wasn’t as
childish as it sounded.

Perhaps the fact that Warner Brothers conceded artistic
control to British based Heyman Productions ensured the appealing flavour of
the series? There are no doubt many different reasons for the spellbinding
effect Hogwarts has had on box offices internationally, but as someone who has
grown up in the eye of a decade long magical storm, the Harry Potter films
transcend the usual critical criteria. As rankings of the films appear all over
the web, I have found myself reflecting on the franchise as a whole.

If I had to pick out one key reason for its success it would be the way the films have matured with their audience. Those behind the films deserve some credit for this but if anything they haven’t lived up to the darker depths of the books, until the final film if you believe the early reports from critics. It was Rowling’s
masterstroke to pen seven stories that evolved in tone as well as plot. However
watching the films has delivered the genuinely unique experience of seeing three
child actors grow into young and talented adults, which mirrors the maturing
mood of the stories.

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson tend to hog the headlines.
He has become a leading man and she has gone from prissy bookworm to stunning, sexy and intelligent model, capable of juggling a demanding degree from a top university with filming and an increasingly diverse career. Recently though, as Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 premiered in Trafalgar Square, the newspapers reserved special mention for the huge cheer that greeted Rupert Grint.

Grint has always been more than the long suffering ginger
one. In the early films, when Radcliffe was excruciatingly awful at times in
the lead role, Grint provided much needed comic relief and more, with a skill
beyond his years. Respected film veteran John Hurt dubbed him a “born actor”
and allegedly directors beyond Potter, such as Martin Scorsese, have predicted
a bright future for him. In this early screen test, Grint is the clearly the
most expressive of the famous trio, inhabiting his role even when he doesn’t
have lines to read, unlike the blank faced Radcliffe and two dimensional
Watson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDMm4NQPEgs&feature=player_detailpage#t=477s

But then a combination of the stresses of the lifestyle change and scripts that let his character down reduced Grint to a predictable and subdued comic presence during the films in the middle of the series. Radcliffe and Watson both grew in
confidence to take on more integral and convincing roles in the drama. The
final film ought to have plenty of opportunities for Grint to go out with a
bang big enough to showcase his true talent though, with the
will-they-won’t-they romantic chemistry between Ron and Hermione finally coming to a head and several dramatic moments to sink his acting chops into. Grint has certainly demonstrated his promise elsewhere with performances in Driving Lessons alongside Julie Walters and wild teen drama Cherrybomb.

We’ve been through a lot with Harry, Hermione and Ron and
got to know not only them, but a little of the actors that portray them, on the
way to their final showdown with Lord Voldemort. Harry Potter will always be a
great deal more than just a shadow hanging over the careers of Radcliffe,
Watson and Grint. They will all try to shake it off and it will be remarkable
if any of them completely succeed. I for one though have a feeling that out of
all of them it is Rupert Grint we are still yet to see the best of. He was a
lovable Ron but as someone else we haven’t heard of yet he is going to blow us
away.

DVD Review: Resurrected


Director Paul Greengrass is best known for making the
frenetic and bruising style of the Bourne movies his own. But his 1989 feature
film debut, based on the true story of a Falklands soldier returning from the
dead, is a world away from the all action thrillers starring A-Lister Matt
Damon he helms these days.  It begins in a very British village church and comes complete with the trappings of northern rural life, from family drama to pints down the pub.

The intrigue of Resurrected rests on the fact that we are
never quite sure whether its protagonist, Kevin Deakin (David Thewlis),
deserted his regiment during the final battle of the 1982 conflict with
Argentina. At the beginning of the film his story sounds suspicious and the
army give him a grilling. But Kevin is then rapidly whisked home to a jubilant
childhood community and family. The tabloids swing between hailing him a hero
and cruelly insinuating cowardice. When Kevin returns to barracks his fellow
soldiers are encouraged to torment him by telly veteran Christopher Fulford’s
Slaven, who is concealing his own demons and flashbacks. Kevin’s girlfriend
struggles to deal with his changed personality.

This is a touching film with warm as well as tense and
menacing moments. Kevin’s parents are capably played by Tom Bell and Rita
Tushingham, and I found the scenes with his younger brother, who likes to play
with guns and remain fiercely loyal to his role model, especially poignant. It
skims over some big themes like institutionalised bullying, love and loss. Most
of all it does a good job of subtly portraying the horrific uncertainty of war
and the further agony of being an outcast from the home you spent so long
craving.

The best reasons to get hold of the DVD of Resurrected though are the enlightening and fascinating interviews with both Greengrass and Thewlis that put the film in the context of their successful careers. For both
men it was their first feature film. Greengrass resembles a bespectacled wizard
as he explains the origins of his love for cinema and storytelling, and the
route he took to the influence and acclaim he commands today. Thewlis details
how his experiences on the set of Resurrected helped him develop into the
admirable actor he has become, with starring roles in the soon to end Harry
Potter franchise amongst other blockbusters.

Greengrass admits he would have changed aspects of Resurrected
if he made it today despite being proud of it as his first film. There are
indeed moments where the inexperience shows, particularly in the cliché
flashback battle scenes. However there are also glimpses of his later genius.
Thewlis describes how, because of the film’s small budget, a scene in which
Kevin returns on a plane had to be shot ad hoc in a real airport, with the crew
simply running up the stairs of a recently landed plane once the passengers had
disembarked. This foreshadows the brilliance of sequences like the suspenseful
standoff in The Bourne Ultimatum at Waterloo station, which Greengrass filmed on the move, in real crowds, at the busy terminal. Such realism continues to make his films tremendously gripping.

Resurrected is an able drama examining the effects of war but it is a must have purchase for fans of Paul Greengrass and David Thewlis.

Page and Screen: The Big Sleep


Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel The Big Sleep, the first to star PI Philip Marlowe, was ready made for the big screen. It had a zippy, twisting and engrossing plot, propelled at pace by short, sharp chapters that feel like scenes from a movie. It is full of characters that are enigmatic, living in the shadowy underworld of Los Angeles, but they all jump out of the page at you because they are so flawed and real. Appropriately, the whole thing plays out in and around Hollywood. And perhaps best of all, Chandler’s dialogue is quick and witty, containing cool and sophisticated one liners that are easy to transplant straight from a book to a script.

The classic film version, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and directed by Howard Hawks, was released in 1946, just seven years after the original novel. Its place amongst other classics in a widely recognised Hollywood hall of fame is justified. It adds elements the novel was missing and brings screen legends like Bogart and Bacall together to successfully bring the charismatic Marlowe and feisty Vivian Rutledge to life. But it is also a largely faithful adaptation and owes its source material a huge debt.

What is the general story of The Big Sleep then? It is too complicated to properly explain briefly. Chandler’s original plot negotiated a weaving path between webs of blackmail, secrets and lies, fuelled by Hollywood excess. Essentially Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood who has two “wild” daughters, Carmen (Martha Vickers) and Vivien (Bacall), each with their own scandalous weaknesses. Carmen is being blackmailed by a dodgy bookseller doing something illegal on the side and Vivien’s estranged husband, who the General was fond of, has gone missing. Marlowe quickly unravels the blackmail but bigger problems continually turn up, leading him further and further into a tough investigation of gangsters, gambling and girls.

Elements of the original plot seem even more complicated on film because of the need to tone down Chandler’s frank portrayal of sex and drugs. For example Carmen is blackmailed because of naked pictures of herself but in the film she is wearing some kind of Oriental robe. Carmen’s attempts to seduce Marlowe, and therefore her dangerous nature, are also less overt in the film.

The best lines of dialogue are lifted completely unaltered from Chandler’s prose. There are far too many to quote. Almost all the dialogue in the book is slick and crucial to the irresistible noir style. The film’s script, by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman, sticks as close as possible to the novel’s dialogue as well as its intricate plot and is consequently one of the best and most quotable in cinematic history, line for line.

The character of Marlowe comes to life because of his smooth talking street smarts. But this doesn’t mean that other characters are deprived of scene stealing lines. Even minor characters, such as a girl working in a fake bookshop called Agnes, get the odd gem. When Marlowe disarms her and asks “Did I hurt you much?” she shoots back “You and every other man in my life.”

Not all of the novel’s charisma could make it from the page to the screen. Despite an excellent performance from Bogart, accurately portraying Marlowe’s mannerisms and speech as the reader imagines them, it’s impossible to transfer the brilliance of his first person narration. Chandler gives Marlowe an incredibly strong voice and not all of the great lines in the book are spoken.

Marlowe’s nature as a detective means that he rapidly describes his surroundings vividly and unavoidably the film lacks the colour of these delicious chapter set ups, because it is in black and white. Marlowe also internally sums up other characters. We cannot see these first impressions on film. Despite the glamour of Bacall and the other actresses in the production, we’re denied such delicious and spot on imagery of the women as this; “she gave me one of those smiles the lips have forgotten before they reach the eyes”. No actress could express such subtlety. In the book we also learn a little more about Marlowe’s own state of mind and emotions, again through wonderful writing; “I was as empty of life as a scarecrow’s pockets”.

One of the changes the filmmakers did make was to intensify the relationship between Bogart’s Marlowe and Bacall’s Mrs Rutledge. The plot remains essentially the same, with some scenes tweaked and others, like a fairly pivotal one towards the end, omitted altogether and explained elsewhere. However Bacall’s character appears more often than she does in the book. The change in her character was probably for commercial as well as narrative reasons. Cinema audiences wanted to see a love story between their two big stars, not an unorthodox, cold and professional Detective teasing but ultimately knocking back a beautiful lady, as Marlowe does in the book.

Indeed the inclusion of the love story does fundamentally change Marlowe’s character in some ways. He is robbed of an ingredient of his allure as he is no longer a troubled but brilliant and determined loner when he admits that he loves Vivien. But it makes The Big Sleep work better as a standalone story and is considerably more satisfying than the end to the novel, which explains things but doesn’t exactly resolve them.

It is inevitable that the adaptation has its differences to the source material. And it is also essential that changes were made. I may miss Marlowe’s narration from the page and even the excitement of Chandler’s written action, compared to the film’s set pieces which are over in a flash. But the film gives me the unrivalled onscreen chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, which sheds light on and makes the most of the flirtatious relationship from the page.  It might even reveal new truths in Chandler’s story, whilst lacking others. Overall though it’s clear that both the novel and the movie are sublime; clever and gripping, sophisticated and cool. Entertainment at its best.

Doug Liman joins list of directors linked to The Wolverine


Following the departure of Darren Aronofsky from the director’s chair due to personal reasons, the scramble continues to find someone to helm work-in-progress The Wolverine. Rumours swirl online about a possible shortlist of people the producers would be happy to work with. Names like James Mangold, Mark Romanek and Justin Lin, who is also attached to the likes of Terminator 5 and Fast and Furious 6, are all in the mix. The latest candidate to emerge is Jumper’s Doug Liman.

Whilst Jumper, starring the consistently awful Hayden Christensen, was pretty much universally panned by critics, Liman has proved himself capable of good action in the past with The Bourne Identity, the hard hitting opener to the Bourne franchise. Recently Liman’s suspenseful political thriller Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, divided some critics but scored a healthy 80% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Whoever takes charge of the project will be aiming to surpass the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in terms of quality. Opportunities were wasted to properly explore Wolverine’s background in this film, despite an abundance of source material to work with, leaving fans and critics alike feeling letdown. Nevertheless it was a reasonable box office hit, laying the foundations for a sequel and potentially lucrative spin-off franchise.

The plot for The Wolverine is known to be based on a substantial story from the comics set in Japan, during which our wild hero falls in love. The script is believed to have the potential to better the first film but it’s generally accepted that the new directors in the frame are inferior to Aronofsky, and what he would have brought to a mainstream picture. Liman’s mention in particular has sparked a far from positive reaction from fans.

Film news: Dark Peter Pan reimagining to star Eckhart and Bean


Longstanding big names Aaron Eckhart and Sean Bean are to add clout to the cast of a modern retelling of children’s classic Peter Pan. They’ve both joined a project to be directed by Ben Hibon, with the working title Pan, which is set to turn the traditional fantasy tale of Neverland on its head.

Evil pirate Hook will be transformed into a troubled, disturbed and obsessed police detective searching for a childlike kidnapper with a knack for both snatching and dispatching little ones. Hapless sidekick Smee is a chief detective and Hook’s only friend on the force, with innocent Wendy a traumatised survivor keen to help find the criminal.

The role of Wendy will be played by AnnaSophia Robb (Race to Witch Mountain/Jumper). Eckhart will take the key role of Hook and Bean that of sympathetic Smee. Director Hibon, who masterminded the creation of the universally praised animation sequence in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, will be tasked with bringing an interesting idea to life, that’s been simmering in the development stages for a long time. According to Empire Magazine the film, once the property of New Line, is being promoted at Cannes by Essential Entertainment with October the target for the start of principal photography.

It might be important for those behind Pan to get their skates on, given that Peter Pan Begins with Channing Tatum is also in the pipeline. This would be a reinterpreted origin story for J.M Barrie’s character, with Hook rumoured to be Pan’s brother. I know which vision of the iconic story I’d rather see successfully realised.

Hibon’s concise storytelling ability and visual flair are evident from his brief touches to the Harry Potter franchise, so he could have exactly the right capabilities to pull off a tantalising and ambitious concept. Eckhart has played a determined and stressed lawman before in global phenomenon The Dark Knight and certainly has the acting chops to be a good, well meaning Hook. The dependency of the film on Robb’s role as Wendy will be interesting, given her less inspiring CV.

Let’s hope this is a clever new slant on the fairytale that does get the backing it needs to grow up and leave Neverland for theatres.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: going, going gone?


The only Chitty Chitty Bang Bang capable of getting you to the shops is to be sold by a Holywood memorabilia company. Unlike the vehicle from the film it won’t let you fly to Tesco in style for your groceries, and the amount of room in the eccentric interior is questionable, but you could, in theory, chug along slowly to anywhere you like in a piece of cinematic history.

Of all the cars associated with the fictional creations of Ian Fleming, James Bond’s Bentleys or Aston Martins, or even Goldfinger’s gold plated Rolls Royce, are more likely to tempt your casual film fan. But for some who love Chitty as if she were a childhood friend or those who swoon over Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder, there might be no better slice of the past than this unique auction piece. A reporter for the BBC’s Breakfast programme got the chance to take the Chitty for a test drive and was quick to praise Van Dyke for making it all look so easy, whilst simultaneously singing along to that catchy and memorable theme tune.

The version up for sale was assembled in England prior to production of the 1968 film, but it has a Ford V6 engine and automatic gearbox. Various salvaged parts and splashes of colour adorn the car and its wood panelling, helping to create its famously happy image. Van Dyke’s portrayal of the slightly bonkers inventor and the other performances did the rest.

 The charismatic producer behind the Bond films, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, was responsible for bringing Fleming’s children book to life on the big screen. Roald Dahl, the architect of so many characters in the collective conscience of childhood, wrote the script, with the Sherman Brothers supplying the songs.

In an interview with the New York Times, Pierre Picton, who doubled for Van Dyke during shooting and owner of the available Chitty ever since, admitted that the car suffered from heavy steering now and again. But he had faith that this wouldn’t damage his hopes for a “retirement nest egg”. He said he was missing her already.

Paul – A fresh and close-up perspective on cinema


Where is the optimum position to sit in the cinema? Actually that question is better put as, where is your favourite place to sit? For we probably all have differing, individual preferences. There are those that like to sit at the back of everything; the bus, the classroom, the theatre. There are those of a nervous disposition who like to have their seats adjacent to the aisle. Personally I prefer to sit against the wall in the upper middle section, usually away from others with a decent sightline, like the lonely uninteresting enigma I am.

But then perhaps where you sit also depends on the company you’re keeping that evening. If you’re on a hot date, somewhere close to invisible in the depths of darkness at the back, but within thrilling proximity of the projector, is a must. If you’re on a cooler date a discrete but ordinary and satisfactory view is preferable. With friends you want to bag a whole row for yourselves and avoid separation.

I’m the sort of person that requires exceptional circumstances to tolerate lateness. If I’m in charge of some sort of trip my contingent will be there early, with time to spare. I’m only late if I’m not bothered about said event, or if I’m trying to appear nonchalant and lose track of time. My point is that I’ve never timed my arrival badly enough to have to sit in the very front row of the cinema.

Arriving to see Paul it seemed my friends and I had plumped for this unknown space, the very front row, in order to give the appearance of being social. Of course it’s not as if, as decent human beings, we were going to have satisfactory conversations in the middle of a film, but that’s beside the point. Half way through the trailers however a handful loped away from the group for better seats. Leaving me in the front row, with others too embarrassed to surrender and back out of a commitment. Great.

I was thus anticipating a couple of hours of awkward discomfort, followed by a sleepless night due to chronic neck pain. And months of costly chiropractic bills. Which result in my financial ruin. I would drop out of university due to the endless agony and money worries. I’d then lose my car and find myself marooned at home. Scratching my constantly irritated neck in the shower I would slip, crack my head open and start losing unhealthy amounts of blood. I’d manage to drag myself to where my car used to be, but then remember I didn’t have one and die in a messy heap on the drive. All because I sat in the very front row; repeatedly contorting my neck and twisting my head from side to side, as if I were watching tennis, in order to see what was going on in a scene.

Before the end of the trailers though, I was beginning to view my predicament as an exciting opportunity for fresh perspective on the movie experience. Firstly there was extensive, ample leg room. I nudged a friend and performed erratic, normally dangerous, kicking movements in the air to demonstrate this. Perhaps what truly opened my eyes to the perks of the front row however was the trailer to Your Highness. Yes it looked like it might have the potential to be an amusing spoof, but more importantly Natalie Portman’s scantily clad features were rendered larger than life. I mean it was better than 3D.

When Paul the alien first appeared he loomed out of the screen at me. Even prior to this as loveable duo Pegg and Frost wandered in awe around a Comic convention, my proximity meant I felt as part of the crowd as they did. In the opening scene the alien crash landing seemed to happen right in front of my face, maybe because it literally did. The money ploughed into 3D is all well and good; but why not just make wider cinema screens with one endless front row, for the truly interactive experience?

Despite my obvious fascination with the novelty of my viewing position, I eventually lost myself in the film and forgot my surroundings. Because Paul is good enough to lose yourself in. I was really surprised by how much I liked it. Most critics have concluded it’s a poor offering from Pegg and Frost, far inferior to Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. Many thought that the marrying of American and British humour was uneasy and un-funny. I would agree that Hot Fuzz and Shaun are better films. But Paul is the most accessible movie this British comedy duo has ever made. It’s warm and affectionate and very, very funny at times.

I thought that far from hindering the film, the mix of American acting talent and humour with British comedy and perspective, gave this film something different, compared to the likes of Fuzz and Shaun. One minute you’d have a very British joke about tea, followed by some edgier comedy about creationism or physical, bumbling stuff from the pursuing FBI agents. None of it was groundbreaking but I laughed out loud several times. And there are some lovely touches for fans of sci-fi, with the appearance of a certain Ms Weaver and a recurring joke about the three tits given to a monster by Pegg’s illustrator.

There’s also a recurring gag about Pegg and Frost’s characters being a gay couple, which is nothing new to us Brits. Whilst this is predictable and not greatly funny, I didn’t find it an annoying recurrence but an endearing one. And if Paul has predictable moments it makes up for them with some really surprising twists at the end, even if they come alongside things you’ll see coming a mile off.

What about Paul himself then? Even for me, from my close up vantage point, the CGI looked pretty believable and flawless. I actually preferred Seth Rogen’s voice to Seth Rogen’s voice plus his body. As funny as he is he can also be irritating. I loved the concept of an alien influencing and absorbing our culture and it allowed lots of sci-fi related, more sophisticated gags alongside the obvious visual ones. Paul even mimics Rose hilariously from Titanic as Pegg draws him.  I found Frost’s standard performance of a pathetic loser more touching in Paul than any other Pegg/Frost film, because of the way he can bond with both Rogen’s voice and the CGI Paul’s mannerisms. Pegg was the most impressive thing about the recent Burke and Hare, but here his acting is rather one dimensional and generic.

A supporting cast of Yanks including Jason Bateman and Glee’s Jane Lynch add flavour to the mix. But overall Paul is rather simple. This doesn’t make it bad. There is great to joy be found in the comic delivery of Pegg and Frost, and the fusing of thoroughly British funnies with American reactions in an American setting. The final, ordinary line of the film, hilariously delivered by Frost, sums up Paul: “That was good wasn’t it”.

Bond’s first lady Judi to return


Judi Dench has confirmed to reporters at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards, where she bagged an award, that Daniel Craig’s James Bond will be getting his number one girl back in the forthcoming adventure. She confirmed her involvement after the film was officially announced earlier this month. Pressed for any inside news at all about the production, the chief of MI6 remained characteristically secretive. All she would say was how excited she was to be working with Daniel Craig again, and Sam Mendes, who has directed her in theatre.

This will be Dench’s seventh Bond film as his severe, disapproving boss, M. Prior to her appointment for Pierce Brosnan’s 1995 debut, Goldeneye, M had always been a man. Producers, writers and directors all grappled with the idea of M as a woman. Perhaps ultimately the decision was made because no man could live up to the figure of Bernard Lee, who simply became the embodiment of Fleming’s creation of M in the first eleven Bond movies.

Since her first moments on screen, reprimanding Bond’s bravado and warning she’ll only use the 00 section sparingly, Dench appears to have justified the filmmaker’s decision and won over fans. Producer Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Cubby, said of Dench’s casting:

“Our instinct was if we were going to cast M as a woman, we needed to find an actress who could be totally believable and not cartoonish. Our fear was that it would be laughable and the big thing was to get someone of the calibre of Judi Dench to play the role. And because M is the only authoritative figure in Bond’s life, the casting of a woman as M gave the relationship a whole new dimension.”

Dench’s opening scene with Brosnan in Goldeneye left the audience in no doubt that a female M was not laughable, at least in itself. The script was wise not to gloss over the fact as if nothing had happened, with Bond’s teasing lines humorously, but brutally knocked back by M: “If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong”. She also tells Bond he’s a “relic of the Cold War”.

Director Martin Campbell was aware of the pros of having Dench as M. He was told by studio head John Calley prior to Goldeneye, after floating the prospect of a female M, that “You need a star! You need someone with incredible screen presence, how about Judi Dench?” Campbell was so impressed with her performance in his first film that there was no question of dropping her, despite the complete reboot of the franchise, when he helmed Daniel Craig’s first outing Casino Royale in 2006. Costume designer for that film, Lindy Hemming, hailed Dench as a “brilliant piece of casting” and reveals in The Art of Bond by Laurent Bouzereau, that they made M’s costume “a bit more sexy” for Craig’s first film. Bond changes with the times and by this stage, not only was it modern for women to be in positions of power, but it was the norm for them to be expressive and natural in these roles.

What more can be done with Dench’s character though? Even Daniel Craig is slowly outgrowing the franchise, so surely Dench cannot stay in the role indefinitely? This could even be her last film. Glowing comments about her performances as M, like those above, make it difficult to consider replacing her though. Would M become a man again, played by an actor of similar clout? In The World is Not Enough, Pierce Brosnan, according to director Michael Apted, repeatedly asked for M’s role to be “beefed up” to give him more screen time with Judi. This led to the ambitious plot of M being kidnapped by terrorist Renard, played by Robert Carlyle. If M were to leave, she’d need a suitably huge story.

Bond needs a proper adventure and challenge anyway, after the gap between the disappointing Quantum of Solace and the as yet untitled, Bond 23, due to start filming later this year for a 2012 release. Casino Royale made it clear the best stories come when built upon Fleming’s original tales in a modern context. One tantalising, but difficult to execute, story never realised by filmmakers is a brainwashed Bond attempting to assassinate M. This comes from Fleming’s final Bond book, The Man with The Golden Gun, and was never used in the drastically altered film of the same name. This set-piece in the novel is the highlight of an otherwise disappointing final bow for the literary 007. It would need revamping, rooted as it is in the Cold War era of Soviet mind tricks, but you get the feeling a gritty, deluded Bond storyline would suit Daniel Craig’s hungrier acting abilities down to the ground if properly set-up. It could also be fantastic and bold on film. But the problem for the franchise would be how could Bond continue as 007 after being demoralised and duped into trying to kill his own boss?

Whatever the script writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan come up with, the trend has been more and more M in recent years. I look forward to some frosty and prickly dialogue in Bond 23.

Tamara Drewe


Consensus = broad unanimity; general or widespread agreement among all the members of a group

It probably should have occurred to me prior to seeing the new Stephen Frears film Tamara Drewe, an adaptation of the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds that used to appear regularly in the Guardian, that a critical consensus had been reached around it for good reason. However being the ambitious, aspiring writer that I am I was determined to try and look at the film from an original angle and make a startling first impression upon all of you learned readers, dazzling you with my astute, perfectly phrased observations.

The fact is though that Tamara Drewe is an entertaining, funny film set amongst an odd-ball, insular, middle class group in colourfully shot rural Dorset. It is as well acted, skilfully adapted and playfully directed as other commentators have said. It successfully fuses together a mixture of witty dialogue and slapstick comedy moments, of rounded characters and flat cartoon caricatures, to produce a cocktail of laughs, gasps, snorts and intrigue. In my experience it is rare for a cinema to be filled with the sounds of infectious, genuine laughter for more than a handful of moments in a film, and Tamara Drewe certainly achieved this. Add in the elements of sex, youthful dreams and a tragically amusing, climatic finale and Tamara Drewe is certainly the light-hearted country romp the reviews proclaim it to be.

Perhaps though I am too quick to conform to the praise. Granted it took just seconds for the audience to erupt into laughter, prompted by the frenzied internal monologue of the northern lesbian crime writer contrasted with the preceding lustful chick-lit, but I must bear in mind the bias of my fellow cinema goers and indeed myself. You see I watched Tamara Drewe from within the confines of its rural setting. My friends and I flapped as we recognised locations; a local train station dressed up as “Hadditon” Junction, Larmer Tree gardens where a music festival took place that I myself attended earlier this summer. I and the other yokels around me may have been more susceptible to the heightened version of rural reality presented here, as it mischievously sketched familiar aspects of our everyday lives. We all knew a version of the village big shot, so arrogantly portrayed by the excellent Roger Allam, the devoted door mat wife played by the always brilliant Tamsin Grieg and knew the tedium felt by the young tearaways who end up meddling catastrophically in that closed middle class world of privilege and pleasure.

Indeed the funniest moments of the film are provided by the characters that are outsiders from the interlocking middle class, English world, namely the American Glen (or was it Greg? Roger Allam’s character never knew or cared) and the pair of adolescent girls pining over a rock star and longing for events or anything at all to simply “happen” in their village nestled in the “arsehole of nowhere”. I am not familiar with the original graphic novel but my friend assured me the script captured its essence and I was impressed with Moira Buffini’s mastery of each individual character’s idiolect. From the American academic Glen to the teenage pair gossiping in the dreary bus shelter, Buffini captures an individual voice that allows the actors to deliver believable, funny performances. Only Tamara’s long term love interest Andy Cobb, played by Luke Evans, fails to come to life as a character, fulfilling the typical role of muscular, loyal, hard done by simple soul only, with a questionable accent. Dominic Cooper’s rock n roll drummer may be crudely drawn at times, but he brings an addictive charisma to the role.

Buffini’s script not only successfully creates this vivid little world of bright characters but for the most part builds well to an at once dramatic, tragic and hilarious finale. At times the plot sags so that the laughs gave way to yawns, but these moments in which the pace slackens reflect the drudgery of life the film is depicting as well as cleverly lulling you, priming you for the next wave of gags and allowing the giggles to flow all the more easily. As someone who longs to write for a living I also appreciated the themes of truth and deception in both writing and life, and the perils of compromising for your dreams, for celebrity status. The American academic is quick to correct Hallam’s character; a writer of trashy airport fiction by his own admission, that writing is about truth and not lies. But Tamara Drewe shows us that the reality of life is deception and differing perceptions and that the best stories are bundles of these lies, frankly depicted as Tamara describes her own antics in an irresistible “brutally candid” style.