Monday, March 29, 2010





THREE FOR TUESDAY

The last couple of weeks have been pretty frenetic. Unfortunately the year-long contract of work I thought I had has ended prematurely now so I'm left having to go back to hustle for freelance work. I have seen three very different films at screenings, all at Paramount's screening room at their London office at Golden Square, so I thought I'd review them in this latest entry. The first film I caught was Centurion, directed by Neil Marshall, a low-budget British film that shows a Roman legion fighting for their lives against a group of Picts in Scotland in the second century AD. Centurion as a film is a bit of a throwback to the sort of movies we used to make over here in the Seventies: it's shot in a gritty and very violent fashion. But I'm not criticising it for that: Marshall really uses the English and Scottish settings in a beautiful but rugged way and the action barrels along in an appealing fashion. Michael Fassbender, from the awful Inglorious Basterds, plays Quintus Dias, the Roman soldier who takes up with General Virilus (Dominic West from The Wire) and his Ninth Legion to try to crush the Picts only to find that they have them outnumbered in territory that they know like the back of their hand. West is good value on screen as is David Morrissey and Fassbender makes a good fist of it here too. Whilst its historical accuracy is questionable, Centurion is an enjoyable action yarn with a solid cast and interesting direction...

How To Train Your Dragon is a 3-D animated film from Dreamworks about a teenage viking, Hiccup, in a fictional village who is no good at traditional viking arts like fighting and pillaging who becomes friendly with an injured dragon, which is when his luck begins to change. With the voice talents of Craig Ferguson and the ubiquitous Gerard Butler, this is a very likeable kids film that uses the 3-D to its full effect with some magnificent visual set-pieces. Admittedly the plot, that the dragons attacking the vikings are just misunderstood, is rather predictable but Butler and Ferguson are good choices for the voices and there are some nice touches like the slightly Japanese look of the dragon that Hiccup befriends. Most importantly, How To Train Your Dragon doesn't outstay its welcome and holds the viewer's attention during its running time. It's the perfect Easter holiday treat for children...
Finally, Agora is the new film by director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others, The Sea Inside). It's a visually lavish affair about female philosophy professor Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) who finds herself caught in the middle of a turbulent period in Alexandria, Egypt during the fourth century AD while it was a Roman protectorate. Unfortunately, while it looks fantastic, capturing the feel of an ancient city effortlessly, Agora is let down by wooden acting (Weisz is particularly guilty of this here), a poor script and a plot that really doesn't amount to anything in the end. The points it attempts to make about the friction between the Christians, Jews and the Pagans in the city are serious but they are so mishandled dramatically that it all feels like a BBC2 drama with all the money thrown at the production side. It's a film that's been hanging around for a while and, when you watch it, you can see why it's been hard for it to find a slot. As a period film, Centurion works better than Agora because it does what it set out to do. File under curio...

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Friday, March 12, 2010



ISLAND STRIFE

Martin Scorsese is a director responsible for one of my favourite films of all time, Goodfellas. While his output has been up and down for the last couple of decades, his films are still nearly always worth watching. Shutter Island is an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same name. His work has been adapted to the big screen before (Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone) and it is because his writing is so filmable that his books keep getting optioned. Shutter Island is set in the Fifties and starts with Leonardo DiCaprio as Marshall Teddy Daniels investigating the escape of a prisoner from secure hospital Ashville, located on an island in the Atlantic Ocean near Boston. Accompanied by his partner Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo), he encounters enigmatic head doctor Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who appears to be hiding something. In fact, you are thrown off-balance from the start: this is the first case that Aule has worked with Daniels and at times his partner seems like the only person Daniels can trust. Scorsese and his regular collaborator Dante Ferretti have done a great job of creating a place rife with paranoia and terror. Some critics have had a pop at Scorsese because Shutter Island is a deliberate pastiche of many of the director's favourite film noirs but this is not something I had a problem with. Also, it's a bit rich that when Tarantino does something similar in his clumsy but almost unversally feted Inglorious Basterds, he is celebrated but apparently that's not acceptable with Shutter island. While not a movie classic like Goodfellas or Casino, this film is still the director's best in some time with another magnificent performance from DiCaprio and solid support from people like Rufalo and Kingsley. Admittedly, the twist at the end, which I won't spoil here, is foreshadowed throughout the script but the journey is enjoyable enough for this not to matter. If you enjoy the sort of films that Shutter Island tips its hat to (North By Northwest, Spellbound, Out of The Past) and want to kill two hours with a solid movie, you could do worse than check out this film…

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Monday, March 08, 2010


























PICTURING THE COUNTRY

So as promised, because I've not posted much in the last couple of weeks, here is a selection of photos I took first at Warwick Castle, which is an amazing place, then at Stonehenge and at the Long Barrow at West Kennet in Wiltshire. Stonehenge was alright but it was mobbed with tourists but the Long Barrow at West Kennet was amazing. Situated opposite the manmade Silbury Hill on the A4 in Wiltshire a little bit west of Marlborough, the Long Barrow was first used around 3500 BC and then sealed up in 2200 BC. It's on an amazing high point at the top of a hill there and you get some pretty amazing views. The light was pretty good too as I was up there late afternoon with that fantastic late winter light. So here's a selection of my shots…

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

IT'S BEEN A WHILE
The new job has kept me busier than I thought it would, so I haven't posted here in a bit. Assuming my regulars haven't died of boredom, I'll be putting some photo-related posts up between now and Sunday night. Might have good news on another book project which would see me and Gary revisit similar ground to Studio Space next year. This month also sees another Megazine feature out (American Vampire), a piece on Turf for The Word and two things in Sci Fi Now (Miyazaki Q&A and Turf news item). It's gone from famine to feast...

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