Sunday, March 18, 2012

Last Wednesday I went to a talk put on by D&AD (Design & At Direction) at the Mermaid Theatre in Blackfriars in the City of London. The talk was part of D&AD's fiftieth anniversary celebrations and had Sir Alan Parker, Lord Puttnam and Bob Gill discussing the advertising industry in the early sixties and seventies. It's always interesting to watch creative people who were pivotal talking about their work and the field they operate in. It's easy to forget that both Parker and Puttnam had a long career in advertising before they moved to film and I admit I didn't know a lot about designer Bob Gill, who joined them at this event. The talk offered a snapshot of a key period in British advertising, when the industry went from being a very staid place to arguably one of the world leaders in the field. Interviewer for the talk, journalist Tom Sutcliffe, kept things moving in a well-organized way and the three subjects were good value to watch. D&AD do put on very interesting and well-managed events and this one was well worth visiting…

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Monday, March 12, 2012

This year, Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation John Carter Warlord of Mars celebrates its centenary and after decades of waiting, audiences get to see this on the big screen. John Carter, directed by Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo) is Disney's adaptation of Burroughs' pulp creation. Taylor Kitsch plays the eponymous hero, a former Confederate soldier who finds himself on Mars via a mysterious cave in the south of the USA. He is transported to Mars (or Barsoom as the natives call it) and thrown into a planetwide conflagration. He is found initially by the Tharks, giant four-armed warlike creatures, but soon comes into contact with the humans from the city of Helium, led by Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds), who are under siege by Sab Than and his flying ships and mystical weapons. The story of John Carter Warlord of Mars is a classic pulp tale, one that reflects all of the obsessions and fascinations of the day and Stanton and co could have updated it to make it seem more relevant to a modern-day audience. But this would have betrayed the source material, making arbitrary decisions for pure box-office reasons. The makers have thrown in a bit of intertextual plot that involves the author Burroughs himself for a modern audience, which works pretty well. The film isn't perfect by any means: sometimes the script is a bit dodgy and the dialogue isn't always spot on. But John Carter mostly works as a Saturday afternoon serial movie, a fun and enjoyable bit of undemanding fluff with some impressive visuals. Stanton and Weta excel here with their creation of the Tharks and the scenes where Carter is captured and eventually freed by them are among the strongest here. Willem Dafoe as the chief of the Tharks, Tars Tarkas, has such a powerful and distinctive voice (the Tharks are computer-generated) that he lends the role real emotion. Taylor Kitsch as Carter does work as an action hero, coming across as a very likeable central character and Lynn Collins as the gorgeous princess Dejah Thoris comes close to bringing Burroughs' image to life on screen. Mark Strong as the villain of the piece (there's a surprise) chews the scenery with suitable aplomb and the rest of the mainly British cast acquit themselves decently. John Carter is reminiscent of 1980's Flash Gordon, which isn't surprising considering that Gordon and Buck Rogers were influenced by Burroughs and Carter. Despite its flaws, John Carter is an entertaining sci fi yarn with heart and feels faithful to the original material. Hopefully it will do well enough at the tills to ensure a return visit…

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

The last couple of weeks have been crazily busy but I said I would put something up about my Gosh exhibition, which opens today. It's a selection of 16 images taken over the last few years of subjects like Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, Grant Morrison and more. As well as seeing the photos in a huge format up on the walls at Gosh, you can also pick up a book to commemorate the exhibition, Portraits, which retails at £9.99. And prints are available of all 15 shots. If you go to Gosh, you can leave your name and details on a sign up sheet. So here's four shots that will be up there and the book cover…

So feel free to pop by tonight, 10th March, or if you can't make it, it'll be on until 29th March.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

StudioCanal are always issuing interesting films on Blu-Ray and Dracula, Prince of Darkness is no exception. The second Hammer Dracula film, this 1966 classic directed by Terence Fisher, sees the dark lord resurrected after his seeming destruction by Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and lures four unsuspecting visitors to his castle. Even if you haven't seen the film, you know it's not going to end well for them. Christopher Lee as Dracula looks effective as ever and what makes it even more powerful and suitably gothic is that Dracula doesn't speak for the entirety of the film, merely brooding when he's on screen. Usually when old films make their way onto Blu-ray, there is no improvement in quality. But with Dracula, Prince of Darkness, the picture looks sharper and cleaner than it did on DVD. Support on screen from Father Shandor (Andrew Keir) and the shapely Helen Kent (played by Barbara Shelley) is solid and Fisher moves the action along nicely, packing in quite a lot into the 90 minute running time. Dracula, Prince of Darkness is a horror classic and it deserves a Blu-ray release. StudioCanal have done a very nice job of bringing it to this format and should be applauded…

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