Thursday, October 26, 2006




A PRESTIGIOUS EVENT
I went to see The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s latest film, at a press screening at the Vue Cinema Leicester Square on Monday night with Dave Baillie. Reuniting Nolan with Christian Bale and Michael Caine from Batman Begins, The Prestige is based on a Christopher Priest novel of the same name, about two rival magicians in London at the end of the Victorian period. Nolan has proven himself to be one of the most inventive directors of the last decade, with Memento, Batman Begins and Insomnia all displaying a cinematic faculty of the highest order. It looks like The Prestige completes my hat trick of superb cinema in the second half of this year (we’ll discount All The King’s Men :) ). From the opening reel, you know that the film is going to stimulate your imagination. Nolan has created a beautiful and intelligent movie here, with an interesting chemistry between Christian Bale and rival Hugh Jackman. Bale is better suited here to the material than he was in Batman Begins (and we don’t have to suffer his stilted American accent either: he does broad Cockney pretty well for a bloke from Wales) and Jackman mirrors Bale’s obsession to find the perfect magic trick with rare pizzazz. Caine lends a certain gravitas to the proceedings too: again, he looks much more at ease here than he did in Batman Begins. The only bum note in The Prestige is David Bowie, who plays Serb-American inventor Nikola Tesla as if he’s just popped in from Calcutta. Bowie can’t act: people should stop trying to give him parts. He was awful in Labyrinth, Absolute Beginners and The Hunger and he’s certainly not going to be winning any awards for his embarrassing turn here. But it’s not enough to condemn the film. Andy Serkis plays Tesla’s associate and he is very impressive, showing that he is an actor in his right, not just a talented vocal and motion capture performer. Nolan has created such a distinctive feel of time and place in The Prestige that it’s staggering (but not surprising in this age of digital set trickery) that none of the film was shot in Blighty but the scenes set in London were actually filmed in Los Angeles. It’s interesting that The Prestige, like The Departed and Children of Men, echoes 1970s filmmaking at its core, probably the most groundbreaking decade for film since the medium began over a century ago. There is a fantastical element to the film at its heart but to avoid spoiling the viewer’s pleasure, I’m not going to go into any specifics except to say that when they come, they are magnificent and spellbinding. A special mention must go to the sound on this film, which is electric. The Prestige is a virtuoso film, deserving of many critical accolades and awards and in some ways, surpasses what Nolan achieved on Memento. It’s a film that should be remembered for decades to come…
Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, by Bill Willingham and various artists, published by Vertigo/ DC Comics, is a 144 page hardcover spinning out of the popular ongoing series. It’s funny: the initial conceit (fairytale characters trapped in the real world) has begun to wear very thin in the regular title but here it just leaps off the page. The story structure in the hardcover is simple: Snow White, during a visit to the Arabian Fables world, is captured and forced by the Sultan of that place to tell him a different tale each night, in a bid to stave off her execution. So it’s basically Willingham’s take on Arabian Nights but it works extremely well. He’s assisted by an impressive range of artists here, including Fables cover artist James Jean, who acquits himself admirably here, Mark Buckingham, who shows a deftness for painting, Charles Vess and Michael Kaluta, who jointly illustrate the text portions of the book and whose styles marry effortlessly and elegantly, and Brian Bolland, whose 2 pager is brief but still fun. In Fables: 10001 Nights of Snowfall, Willingham has put together an entertaining yarn for adults that holds the reader’s attention throughout. At £12.99 or $19.99 for you colonials, it’s a hardcover that warrants the format, for a change…
Pride of Baghdad, by Brian Vaughan and Niko Henrichon is another hardcover from Vertigo/DC Comics that came out in September and shows that Vaughan is actually pretty versatile as a writer. Aided by Henrichon’s stunning visuals, this poignant story of a group of lions who escape from the Baghad Zoo during the war makes the anthropomorphism work to its advantage. It’s a clever, sophisticated graphic novel that pulls no punches and warrants a larger audience. Vertigo should be applauded for publishing books like this and 1001 Nights of Snowfall
www.theprestige.com
www.vertigocomics.com

Monday, October 16, 2006





DEARLY DEPARTED
It's been another hectic week. The Mervyn Peake piece got shunted back at least a week in TIME so hopefully it'll appear next week. I went to COMICA's Lost Girls Q&A with Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie interviewed by comedian Stewart Lee at the Logan Hall as part of the COMICA festival. It was a fun evening although I still haven't picked up a copy of Lost Girls (I can't buy it over here but I had the chance to buy one in San Diego back in July). Dave Baillie was there as was my mate Andy, my other mate Andy Winter and a few other people.
I also went to see The Departed on Saturday afternoon at the Vue in Islington. I am a massive Scorsese fan (Goodfellas is one of my favourite films ever) but I've been disappointed with, ooh, the last ten years or so of his output. Casino was the last great film the director made. But he's made a return to form with The Departed: it's a fantastic movie. A remake of Hong Kong action thriller Infernal Affairs, which to my embarrassment, I haven't seen, The Departed switches the plot from Hong Kong to Boston, where Jack Nicholson plays Irish mob kingpin Frank Costello and Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are two sides of the same mirror. Nicholson is magnificent, at his demonic best here and Damon and DiCaprio are electric on the screen too. Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin all bolster an exceptional ensemble cast and the Scorsese directorial magic is very much in evidence here on the screen. I always knew DiCaprio was a solid actor but here he is much more and the interplay between him and Damon, even though they don't meet until right at the end, is brilliantly realised. Scorsese, Damon, Nicholson and DiCaprio deserve Oscar nods for next year, there's no doubt about that.
Having seen two great films in succession (Children of Men and this), I'm hoping that The Prestige, Chris Nolan's latest effort, will complete the hat trick. I'll let you know in two weeks…
Here's a photo I took at the Moore thing of Moore with Chris Staros, a photo I took the same day looking from Waterloo to Westminster Bridge and the top of the Mason's Temple on Great Queen Street.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

































THE PEAKE OF HIS POWERS
It's been a very interesting year in terms of work for me. I've had a second feature in T2 in The Times, a piece in Variety, I've cracked Empire and the end of this month, my Robert Mcginnis feature will run in Saga Magazine. I can now add Time Magazine to my list. I've been working as a copy editor at the London office on contract since September but, from time to time, the editors ask for feature ideas. So on a whim, after seeing a link on Paul Gravett's website to a Mervyn (Gormenghast) Peake exhibition at a gallery in St James's, I pitched a feature that would tie in with the exhibition and coffee table book, The Man and His Art, just published by Peter Owen, but would also act as a profile of the man. Surprisingly, Time went for it and so it will be published in the European version of the magazine out Monday 16th October. I never realised how talented Peake was until I began researching this piece. I knew he drew as well as wrote but not the breadth of his ability. The exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery on Ryder Street, SW1, displays his Bleak House character portraits, which sadly were never published and a cornucopia of his work: from pencil sketches to briliantly realised ink art. The book is magnificent too: with contributions from creators like writer Michael Moorcock, who was friendly with Peake and his wife Maeve Gilmore, cartoonist Chris Riddell and awardwinning fantasy artist John Howe, you begin to understand the profound influence this man has had on writers, artists and creators around the world. If you get the chance, check out the exhibition…
On the same day, I stuck my head into 24 Hour Comic Day, which was taking place at the ICA on The Mall. Part of Paul Gravett's COMICA festival, this was raising money for Childline UK, a very worthwhile cause indeed. My friend Dave Baillie was taking part, which was the main reason I came along. This year's Comica has a very diverse and impressive line-up with people like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Ben Katchor, Scott McCloud, Marjane Satrapi, Guy Delisle and more. It's become one of the regular fixtures of the culture year in London…

www.paulgravett.com/comica/comica06/comica06.htm
www.chrisbeetles.com
www.peterowen.com
www.amazon.co.uk/Mervyn-Peake-Man-His-Art/dp/0720612845/sr=8-3/qid=1160318085/ref=sr_1_3/202-2996967-7078236?ie=UTF8&s=books

Monday, October 02, 2006







KUBERT, PENN AND CUARON
Joe Kubert is a phenomenally talented man. He's worked in the comic industry for seven decades now. I've always enjoyed his work: he's a rare visual stylist. So when Dark Horse announced that they were reissuing the work he did in DC's Tarzan title in the 1970s in hardcover, I couldn't wait to reread them. I had read some of the stories when I was a kid but hadn't seen them in years. And they're definitely worth the wait: Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years Volumes One to Three take the iconic character of the Lord of The Jungle and imbue him with a kineticism and an energy that is rarely seen in comics these days. Kubert was the writer, artist and editor on this run and his lean, savage Tarzan is a wonder to behold. I'm not going to single out a particular story here, although the six part 'The Return of Tarzan' in Volume Two is especially magnificent, but recommend that anyone who enjoys classic storytelling and entertaining yarns with exceptional artwork should sprint to their local comic shop and pick these three volumes up. What's amazing is that Kubert still displays the same passion with his work now as Sgt Rock: The Prophecy proved, which was published earlier this year.

I went to see two films this past week, one at a press screening and the other as a member of the public. The film I saw at the Sony screening cinema on Wednesday evening was All The King's Men, a remake of the 1949 film of the same name with a very impressive cast headed by Sean Penn. Penn is usually excellent so I had high hopes for this and the cast also included such luminaries as Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini and Jude Law. Unfortunately, after an hour and ten minutes, myself and my mate Andy couldn't take any more and decided to walk out early. I've never walked out of a press screening before, although sometimes I've been sorely tempted. So what was wrong with All The King's Men? Penn was electric on screen as ever but the film was let down by many other factors which outweighed his performance: the script was horribly telegraphed and hackneyed, giving Penn, who plays Willie Stark, a man who became governor of Louisiana in the 1940s, no decent material to play with. But more than that, the rest of the cast stank: Anthony Hopkins appears to forget that he is meant to be a judge from the Deep South and sounds as if he's just popped in from Cardiff, Jude Law shows why pretty much every film he's ever been in deserves to flop and James Gandolfini has the worse Southern accent I've ever heard (he appears to think that mumbling in a New Jersey drawl is enough). The director, Steven Zaillian,adapted Schindler's List so he's obviously got some talent but All The King's Men is truly awful: the worst film that Penn's been in since We're No Angels back in 1989…

The other film that I saw was Children of Men, directed by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, at the Odeon Swiss Cottage on Saturday. Based on a novel by crime writer PD James, Children of Men is a dystopian film that deals with England of 2027, a world where humans can't procreate and the UK is the only country that hasn't exploded into chaos. After years of being force fed sci fi films with a purely American focus, it's refreshing to see a movie that's set over here. Cuaron, a Mexican director, brings a unique perspective here and the film is very much in the vein of classic 70s sci fi like Invasion of The Body Snatchers and Soylent Green. He has realised a brutal but believable future view of this country, assisted by a fantastic cast that includes Clive Owen, Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Unlike All The King's Men, Cuaron isn't afraid of dispatching cast members who in other films would survive to the final reel. He has also created a wonderful, off-kilter environment and there are moments which are truly harrowing here. Children of Men deserves an Oscar nod for directing and cinematography…

www.darkhorse.com

www.childrenofmen.net