DVD & Blu-ray dvd pick Film of the Week

DVD Pick: In Bruges

In Bruges is the tale of two Irish hit men named Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who have been sent to lie low in the Belgian city of Bruges.

There they have arguments with one another and upset all manner of people from the locals, US tourists and even the crime boss (Ralph Fiennes) who sent them there.

Written and directed by the playwright Martin McDonagh, who won an Oscar in 2006 for his short film Six Shooter, this is one of the most impressive debut features in recent memory.

Not only does it contain several memorable sequences, but it contains the sort of ballsy, politically incorrect humour absent from a lot of mainstream comedy movies.

It also features some excellent performances, most notably from the two leads. Gleeson is his usual dependable self whilst Farrell shows what a good actor he can be when released from the constraints of big budget Hollywood productions.

Ralph Fiennes also makes a startling impression in a menacing supporting role that owes more to his turn in Schindler’s List than some of his more recent performances.

If you are familiar with the sensibility of McDonagh’s plays, such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore, you will find much to feast on here – it feels like Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter remade by Quentin Tarantino.

It opened the Sundance Film Festival back in January and got a wider US release in February, with a UK opening following in April.

Although it had a relatively low budget, it still didn’t really get the attention it deserved, which may have been down to bad marketing (the US one sheet poster was horrible, with the UK one not much better) or maybe the title confused people.

But the DVD is an essential purchase as this is easily one of the best films to come put this year – smart, funny and superbly made.

The extras include:

  • Deleted and extended scenes: There is a generous amount of unused footage (11 deleted and 2 extended scenes), some of which are very funny, the highlight being the scene with Ralph Fiennes’ character on the train.
  • Gag reel: Perhaps less impressive is this gag reel which consists of the actors cracking up on set.
  • When in Bruges: A solid 13 minute making-of featurette featuring interviews with director Martin McDonagh and the main cast, exploring the ideas behind the film and the experience of making it.
  • Strange Bruges: This is a 7 minute feature the cast and director discussing the Belgian town where the film was set and made.
  • A Boat Trip Around Bruges: A 5 minute film about the history of Bruges filled with some nuggets of information and trivia.
  • F**king Bruges: A short feature in which the most prominent word in the script is repeated over and over again.

Watch the trailer here:

In Bruges is out now on DVD from Universal

> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> Listen to our review on our podcast back in April
> In Bruges at the IMDb
> Read other reviews of the film at Metacritic
> Find out more about Martin McDonagh at Wikipedia
> The Guardian profile Martin McDonagh
> The Times interview Colin Farrell and Martin McDonagh about the film

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week Reviews

DVD Pick: The Elephant Man (Special Edition)

The DVD highlight of the week is this special edition re-release of The Elephant Man – the superb 1980 period drama about the life of Joseph Merrick.

Based on the real story of a man so disfigured he was dubbed ‘the Elephant Man’, it explores how he was taken in by a doctor and his struggle to be recognised as a dignified human being in Victorian London.

Notable for being director David Lynch‘s second feature (after Eraserhead) it features a raft of excellent performances from the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon and Freddie Jones.

However, in the lead role John Hurt is mesmerising, despite being buried under a lot of (quite brilliant) make-up which took hours each day to apply.

Although he would go on to have considerable success as an actor – often in supporting roles – this perhaps remains his greatest screen performance.

It is also a moving study of an individual struggling to come to terms with deformity and being a social outcast.

Another interesting aspect of the film is that it was produced by Mel Brooks, who became instrumental in getting the film made after his wife Anne Bancroft gave him the script to read.

When viewed in the context of Lynch’s career it has may seem different to his darker films such as Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart or Mulholland Drive but it demonstrates his early skills as a filmmaker and his taste for the fringes of society.

The extras include the following:

  • Joseph Merrick – The Real Elephant Man: An highly informative 20 minute featurette on the real life of Merrick introduced by Jonathan Evans, an archivist of Royal London Hospital Museum. He describes the historical context but also explores the differences between the film and Merrick’s actual life. One of the most interesting snippets is that Merrick sought out his career in a freak show as a way to make money and that he was not such a victim as the film presents. It also speculates what disease Merrick was actually suffering from, a question that continues to baffle medical historians.
  • Interview with John Hurt: In a 20 minute interview, the actor describes various aspects of his experience playing the role: how he based his physical movements on a corkscrew; the unlikely success of the film in Japan; working with fellow actors Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, Michael Elphick and Hannah Gordon; the difficulty of the shoot, how he completed all of his work in between making Heaven’s Gate in two parts (he notes that the whole of The Elephant Man cost less than the prologue of Heaven’s Gate!); the studio exec who didn’t know how to sell the film and how he kept some of the props from the film.
  • Interview with David Lynch: Another revealing 20 minute interview, this time with director David Lynch. He reveals several things about working on the film such as: his struggles after Eraserhead when he couldn’t find financing for his own script called ‘Ronnie Rocket’; how the pitch for The Elephant Man immediately appealed to him; the initial resistance to the project from studios; how Anne Bancroft loved the script and gave it to her husband (and producer) Mel Brooks; how Brooks loved Eraserhead and supported Lynch throughout the production; the origins of the script; the ‘beyond-the-beyond great’ cast who Brooks helped recruit; the importance of veteran cinematographer Freddie Francis in shooting the film in black and white; the makeup for Merrick, which Lynch actually worked on in a garage Wembley for a time before makeup artist Chris Tucker took over; how Hurt underwent 6-8 hours of makeup every day to become Merrick; the importance of visiting an old Victorian hospital and how only wants to work on digital film.

It also contains the original theatrical trailer:

Overall the extras are very good without being spectacular but this remains an excellent film, well worth checking out if you don’t already own it.

> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> The Elephant Man at the IMDb
> Find out more about the real Joseph Merrick at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week Reviews

DVD Pick: I’m Not There

I’m Not There was an audacious and brilliantly executed examination of the life and music of Bob Dylan.

Writer-director Todd Haynes inverted the usual music biopic formula by having six different actors play a version of the enigmatic singer-songwriter.

Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere and Heath Ledger all play characters based on Dylan and the film is a patchwork of different stories based on chapters of his life.

Franklin is the young guitar player, Wishaw the budding poet, Bale the folk icon (and later the born again Christian), Blanchett the iconic 60s rock star, Gere the actor on a Western and Ledger the disillusioned 70s celebrity.

Although this approach might seem a little esoteric it has the effect of tapping right into the themes and brilliance of Dylan’s music, which is plastered all over the film.

The performances are excellent with Blanchett in particular standing out as arguably the most famous version of Dylan – the jaded, chain smoking iconoclast familiar to viewers of D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back.

Perhaps most poignant section, given his untimely death in January, is the section with Heath Ledger portraying the Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan. He again demonstrates what a fine actor he could be given the right role.

The soundtrack is also similarly inventive, with the likes of Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, The Hold Steady and Antony & The Johnsons all contributing cover versions of Dylan songs. It also features a previously unreleased Dylan recording of the title track ‘I’m Not There’.

The DVD includes over one hour of special features, including a tribute to the late Ledger, a conversation with the director and a look at the making of the soundtrack.

They include:

  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English DD5.1 Surround:
  • Introduction to the Film
  • Commentary by director/co-writer Todd Haynes
  • A Conversation with Todd Haynes (40:50mins)
  • Making the Soundtrack (20:15mins)
  • A Tribute to Heath Ledger (3:09mins)
  • Dylanography (Character galleries, discography, bibliography and chronology)

Check out the trailer here:

I’m Not There is out now on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment

> Buy I’m Not There on DVD from Amazon UK
> I’m Not There at the IMDb
> Reviews of I’m Not There at Metacritic
> SpoutBlog’s coverage of Todd Haynes discussing the film at the NY Film Festival
> Find out more about Bob Dylan’s life and music at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was one of the major cinematic achievements of the past year – a film of outstanding technique and extraordinary emotional depth.

It is adapted from the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French Elle magazine who’s privileged life came to a halt after a devastating stroke  left him with Locked-in Syndrome – a condition which meant he could only move his left eye.

The film documents his struggle in hospital as he gradually learns how to communicate by blinking to speech therapists as they recite the most used letters of the alphabet.

Director Julian Schnabel brought a sense of beauty and wonder to a difficult story and Ronald Harwood’s script found a clever way of dealing with the seemingly unfilmable aspects of the original book.

The way in which things are shot from the central character’s point of view is ingenious and also highly effective in conveying his condition.

Performances across the board are first rate, with Mathieu Amalric outstanding in the lead role and excellent support too from Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze and Max Von Sydow.

In a year of dark films, this was notable in that it found hope, humour and humanity amidst the terrible condition of its main character.

It didn’t really get the audience it deserved at cinemas, so it is essential viewing now if you missed it first time around.

Pathe have done a fine job on the DVD release which contains the following extras:

  • Feature commentary with director Julian Schnabel: An engaging and thoughtful commentary from Schnabel which manages to convey his ideas about the film without overdoing the anecdotes. The film clearly means a lot to him and his comments are enlightening about the real life Bauby and how the film was constructed.
  • Submerged: The Making of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (12 mins): This behind the scenes featurette contains interviews with the filmmakers and producers detailing their involvement and thoughts about the film.
  • Cinematic Vision (7 mins): Producers John Killick, Kathleen Kennedy and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski explain the experience of working with Schnabel.
  • Charlie Rose interviews Julian Schnabel (20 mins): A meaty interview which provides a decent overview of the story and how Schnabel ended up making the film.

Check out the trailer for the film here:

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is out now on DVD from Pathe

> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry
> Official site
> Read other reviews at Metacritic (it scores a highly impressive 92/100)
> Find out more about Jean-Dominique Bauby at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: Juno

One of the most surprising and charming hits of last year was Juno.

The title character is a teenage girl (Ellen Page) who has to deal with an unexpected pregnancy by her best friend (Michael Cera) and decides to give up the baby to an adoptive couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner).

It also stars J. K. Simmons as her father, Allison Janney as her stepmother and Olivia Thirlby as her best friend Leah.

Directed by Jason Reitman and scripted by Diablo Cody it was nominated for several Oscars (with Cody winning Best Original Screenplay) and went on to become Fox Searchlight‘s first film to gross over $100 million at the box office.

It stands up well on a second viewing and although the sharp and witty dialogue was probably what most people loved first time around, the emotional undercurrents and nuanced performances are what stand out when revisiting the film.

Fox have done a good job on the DVD with a solid transfer and some nice extras which include:

  • Audio Commentary with Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody: An excellent commentary from the director and screenwriter. They make a highly engaging pair as they reel off anecdotes about the production including bloopers (like the abortion clinic door and the wrong phone codes in the Pennysaver), ideas behind certain scenes, the actors on screen and the fact that the DJ Cut Chemist actually play’s Juno’s chemistry teacher.
  • Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary by Reitman & Cody): The deleted scenes are nearly all of the ‘I-can-see-why-they-were-deleted’ variety and often quite short, but there are a couple of notable sequences including an alternate montage of the film’s climax with a rockier music track.
  • Gag Reel: A collection of outtakes with a variety of actors corpsing.
  • Gag Take: An intriguing outtake of a scene in the shop where Rainn Wilson (who plays the guy behind the counter) gets into an argument with Reitman about how to hold shopping bags. It actually looks like a real on-set spat but given that it is called a ‘gag reel’ then maybe its some kind of joke. Ellen Page’s instant reaction to an insult is particularly funny.
  • Cast & Crew Jam: A weird motange of the cast and crew jamming with instruments.
  • Screen Tests: These are sometimes included on DVDs and in the case of this film are interesting raw versions of scenes from the film. The tests with Page and Cera stand out as you can see how they nailed their roles even at an early stage.
  • Featurettes: There are several mini-documentaries that focus on various aspects of the production including ‘Way Beyond Our Maturity Level: Juno-Leah-Bleeker’, ‘Diablo Cody is Totally Boss’, ‘Jason Reitman for Shizz’ and ‘Honest to Blog! Creating Juno’. All of them have some interesting parts but they tend to be the kind of EPK on set interviews that crop up on traditional ‘making of’ shows.

Here is a trailer for the film:

Juno is out on DVD today from Fox Home Entertainment

> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> Juno at the IMDb
> Read more reviews at Metacritic
> Official UK website

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

One of the most startling and accomplished films to come out in the last year was 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

This Romanian drama set in 1987 about a woman trying to get an illegal abortion scooped the Palme D’Or at Cannes last year and it was a surprising but worthy winner.

Although the subject matter might put some viewers off it is a truly remarkable film from director Cristian Mungiu that deserves a wider audience than just the arthouse circuit.

The achievement here is that it takes what appears to be a simple situation (the difficulty of abortion in Communist Romania) and manages to wring out the intense human emotions and drama that lie below.

From the young woman who is pregnant (Laura Vasiliu), her loyal friend (Anamaria Marinca) who helps her and the abortionist (Vlad Ivanov) who performs the operation, all are complicit in a highly dangerous situation.

What elevates it above many contemporary dramas is raw power of the narrative, the terrific lead performances from Marinca and Vasiliu and the clever cinematography from Oleg Mutu that utilises long takes that draws us deeper into the characters lives.

Although it is only his second film, director Mungiu has scored a major achievement and created a film that explores the terrible dilemas facing people in a particularly dark corner of Europe’s recent past.

Artificial Eye have done an excellent job with the extras, most of them interesting and insightful.

They include:

  • Featurette – The Romanian Tour: A featurette that shows the filmmaker’s taking a mobile projection unit on a 30 day tour across Romania in order to give people the chance to see the film in a country with only 50 cinemas.
  • Cristian Mungiu Interview: In two informative interviews, the director discusses the development of the script and why his desire to achieve a sense of authenticity in every scene. Some of the shots are discussed alongside alternative takes in specific scenes, the social and historical context, the locations and the reactions to the film.
  • Interview with Anamaria Marinca: The lead actress discusses her background, how she got the part and the input she had into the script.
  • Interview with Oleg Mutu: The cinematographer talks about the lighting and the effects he was trying to achieve in the film.
  • Alternative / Deleted Scenes: Two alternative endings are included, each of them going beyond where the final cut of the film. Another deleted scene with Gabita is included and they are shown in a good quality, letterbox format.

This is one of the best films of the year and an essential purchase for any discerning viewer.

Here is the trailer:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is out now on DVD from Artificial Eye

> Buy the DVD at Amazon
> 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days at the IMDb
> Official website
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic
> Screen shots from DVD Beaver

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: My Kid Could Paint That

My Kid Could Paint That is a documentary that follows a young girl named Marla Olmstead, who gains fame as a child prodigy who can seemingly paint abstract art.

By the age of four, critics were comparing Marla’s work with Jackson Pollock’s and sales of her paintings were reaching $300,000.

But after 2005 profile by ‘60 Minutes‘ suggested that Marla had help from her parents – in particular her father – the story became more complex. Was Marla a genuine child prodigy or the innocent victim of a hoax?

Directed by Amir Bar-Lev (who made 2000’s Fighter) it is a fascinating film that deals with a number of interlocking subjects such as childhood, the nature of art and the mystery of authorship.

The DVD has a number of extras that help flesh out the mysteries of this intriguing tale including:

  • Filmmaker Commentary
  • ‘Back to Binghamton’ – a mini-doc with Director Amir Bar-Lev that includes follow-up interviews, Sundance Q & A, Binghamton Q & A, deleted scenes, etc.
  • ‘Kimmelman on Art’ – a mini-doc with the New York Times art critic

The film is out now on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Watch the trailer here:

> Buy the film from Amazon UK
> Official site
> My Kid Could Paint That at the IMDB

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: Bonnie and Clyde

Warner Bros have finally got around to issuing a proper special edition of Bonnie and Clyde, the landmark gangster film that signalled the rise of New Hollywood.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow – the notorious bank robbers who cut a swathe through the US during the Great Depression.

A notable supporting cast includes Gene Hackman as Clyde’s brother Buck and Estelle Parsons as his wife Blanche.

Although only partly based on the historical truth, director Arthur Penn and screenwriter Robert Benton created a film that ushered in a new era of mainstream filmmaking with a groundbreaking approach to morality, sex and violence.

At the time the film was hugely controversial for its graphic violence – it was one of the first to make heavy use of squibs – but in time would be seen as a turning point for mainstream films that followed, such as The French Connection and The Godfather.

Penn and Benton were heavily influenced by French New Wave directors like Francois Truffaut, who strangely enough was offered the chance to direct it before passing on it.

The film stands up well today and now has a decent set of extras to cmplement it. They include:

  • Revolution! The Making of Bonnie and Clyde. A behind the secen doc consisting of three sections:
    • Bonnie and Clyde’s Gang (22 minutes)
    • The Reality and Myth of Bonnie and Clyde (24 minutes)
    • Releasing Bonnie and Clyde (18 minutes)
  • Love and Death: A History Channel documentary that explores the real life Bonnie and Clyde (43:13)
  • Warren Beatty Wardrobe Tests (07:39)
  • Two deleted scenes:
    • The Road To Mineola (2:06)
    • Outlaws (3:17)
  • Teaser and Theatrical Trailer

Check out the original trailer here:

Bonnie and Clyde is released today on DVD from Warner Home Video

> Buy Bonnie and Clyde from Amazon UK
> Bonnie and Clyde at the IMDb
> Reviews of Bonnie and Clyde at Metacritic

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week Reviews

DVD Pick: Breach

Breach DVD coverBreach sadly didn’t find the audiences it deserved at the cinema but is a well crafted and compelling spy drama.

It is based on the real life story of Eric O’Neill, a young FBI agent working under Robert Hanssen, who was an agent convicted of spying for the Russians in 2001.

Starring Ryan Phillippe as O’Neill, Chris Cooper as Hanssen and co-starring Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Caroline Dhavernas and Kathleen Quinlan it was written and directed by Billy Ray, who also made the similarly under-rated Shattered Glass in 2003.

The highlight here is the terrific central performance from Chris Cooper, who gives a haunting turn as the enigmatic traitor. He skilfully teases out the contradictions at the heart of Hanssen’s life: why would a religious patriot who railed against the godless Soviet Union then sell secrets to them?

In certain respects, this is the polar opposite of the Bourne and Bond spy movies. Instead of gunfights and chases, it focuses of the sobre reality of law enforcement –  a world where beaureacratic infighting slowly grinds agents down. A pre-9/11 environment where a clever man like Hanssen could deceive his unwitting colleagues.

The story itself is quite incredible – the film opens with real footage of then Attorney General John Ashcroft describing a “serious breach in the security of the United States“. It was was one of the most embarrassing episodes in the history of US intelligence and Hanssen only escaped execution by co-operating with the FBI. He is currently serving a life sentence in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day at the Supermax Federal Penitentiary in Colorado.

The extras aren’t extensive but have some good insights into the events surrounding the film. They include:

  • A commentary by writer/director Billy Ray and Eric O’Neill
  • 8 deleted scenes and alternate scenes with optional commentary by Billy Ray and editor Jeffrey Ford
  • Featurette: Breaching the Truth (10 mins 49 secs)
  • Featurette: Anatomy of a Character Brought to You by Volkswagon (6 mins 47 secs)
  • The Mole: A PBS programme from 2001 about Hanssen’s career and arrest (19 mins 21 secs)

Check out the trailer here:

> Buy Breach on DVD from Amazon UK
> Official site for Breach
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic
> Find out more about Robert Hanssen at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Essential Films Film of the Week Interviews

Interview: Stuart Cooper on Overlord

Overlord on DVDIn 1975 director Stuart Cooper made Overlord – a drama about a soldier in the run up to the D-Day landings.

What makes the film unique is that it was filmed with the help of the Imperial War Museum and uses documentary footage from their vast archive, set against the central narrative.

Starring Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball and Julie Neesam it is now being re-released on DVD after showing to great acclaim at the Telluride Film Festvial in 2006 and a short run at the ICA in London last month.

It was then that I spoke with Stuart Cooper about the film and you can listen to the interview here:

To download this as a podcast via iTunes just click the image below:

Overlord is out now on DVD from Metrodome

> Download this interview as an MP3 file
> Buy Overlord on DVD from Amazon UK
> An article by Stuart Cooper in The Guardian about the re-release of Overlord
> Roger Ebert reviews the film in 2006
> Various reviews of Overlord at Metacritic

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: Once

Once is out now on DVDOne of the most delightful and surprising films to come out last year was Once, the charming tale of the relationship between a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) and a Czech girl (Marketa Irglova) he meets on the street.

Featuring songs by Hansard and Irglova, it is a music film without being a musical and was a big hit at Sundance back in January 2007.

So much so in fact that Fox Searchlight released it to rave reviews and the film won a lot of fans, including none other than Steven Spielberg who said:

“A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year.”

It recently won an Oscar for Best Original Song with Falling Slowly:

It also provided one of the most memorable moments of Sunday’s ceremony as host Jon Stewart allowed Marketa Irglova to come back on stage to finish her speech:

I spoke with the director John Carney about the film when it got released here back in October, which you can listen to here:


Once is out now on DVD

> Buy Once on DVD from Amazon UK
> Read reviews for Once at Metacritic
> Download the interview with director John Carney as an MP3 file

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton on DVDThis week sees the release of Michael Clayton on DVD in the UK.

Although it got a lot of award nominations and critical praise, this brilliant legal thriller didn’t quite do the box office business it deserved in the US or over here.

Despite the presence of A-lister George Clooney and some fantastic performances from superb supporting cast (including the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack) I think some people mistook it for some kind of John Grisham-style pot boiler.

In truth, it is a glorious throwback to 70s style conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View and All the President’s Men, as writer-director Tony Gilroy explores the dark side of corporate America and the moral dilemas of those trapped in that world.

Clooney plays the title character, a fixer at a prestigious New York law firm who is facing a personal and professional crisis.

When one of his bosses (Tom Wilkinson) has an embarrasing breakdown in the middle of a huge class-action lawsuit involving a giant corporation, Michael is sent to sort things out. But he soon discovers that things are not what they seem.

Check out the trailer here:

Also, this interview Clooney did with Charlie Rose is interesting:


> Buy Michael Clayton on DVD from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry for Michael Clayton
> More reviews of Michael Clayton at Metacritic

Cinema Film of the Week Interviews

John Carney on Once

John Carney - Director of OnceThe new film Once is out at UK cinemas this weekend and I recently spoke to director John Carney about the film.

It is a charming tale of the relationship between a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) and a Czech girl (Marketa Irglova) he meets on the street.

Featuring a lot of songs by Hansard and Irglova, it is a music film without being a musical and was a big hit at Sundance back in January.

So much so in fact that Fox Searchlight released it and the film won a lot of fans, including none other than Steven Spielberg who said:

“A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year.”

I spoke with John about the making of the film and the success it has enjoyed over the last few months.

Listen to the interview here:


To download this as a podcast via iTunes just click the image below:

is out now at selected UK cinemas

> Download this interview as an MP3
> Get local showtimes for Once via Google Movies
> Check out reviews of the film at Metacritic

Cinema Film of the Week

This is England

Shane Meadows again proves that he is one of the most exciting directors working in British cinema with this tale of a skinhead gang in the early 1980s.

This is England posterWhen a young boy named Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is picked on at school he joins a skinhead gang where he finds friendship and a new sense of identity. As the gang is gradually taken over by more racist members, he starts to learn harsh lessons about his new friends.

Set amidst the backdrop of the Falklands War in the early 1980s, it manages to make some powerful parallels to the present day whilst brilliantly recreating the period itself with a varied, affecting soundtrack and a telling eye for detail.

It also features some truly remarkable performances. In the lead role of Shaun, young Thomas Turgoose gives an impressively mature turn that never slips in to sentimentality. As Combo, Stephen Graham is scarily convincing, giving a brilliantly intense performance as the racist leader of the gang.

A lot of British films get stuck in the dim drawing rooms of Merchant-Ivory or the phoney gangster chic of Guy Ritchie, so it is a joy to see a British filmmaker retain his own voice like this. A deeply moving rites-of-passage story, it also reconfirms Meadows as one of the most accomplished and distinctive directors currently working.

> Visit the official site
> IMDb entry for This is England
> Excellent Shane Meadows fansite with a lot of detail on This is England
> Mark Kermode interviews Shane Meadows for The Culture Show on BBC2
> Buy the wonderful soundtrack at Amazon UK
> Jon Savage with an interesting Sight and Sound article on the film

Cinema Film of the Week Reviews

Half Nelson

A sharply observed drama about an unlikely friendship is a remarkably assured piece featuring two superb lead performances.

Half Nelson PosterWhen Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) an idealistic teacher at an inner-city high school is caught smoking crack by one of his pupils named Drey (Shareeka Epps), they form an unexpected bond that highlights the challenges each face in their lives.

By day Dan is a teacher who likes to inspire his students with his theories about history, whilst by night he indulges in booze and drugs. Drey, meanwhile has her own problems. A typical latchkey kid, she has a brother in jail for drug dealing and one of his associates, Frank (Anthony Mackie), seems keen for her to join the trade.

What is interesting about Half Nelson is that it skilfully avoids the cliches that often afflict films set in a school. Director Ryan Fleck and his co-screenwriter Anna Boden have crafted an subtle but often witty picture that manages to cover a lot of intellectual and emotional ground whilst never slipping in to easy sentimentality or pretentious navel gazing.

The characters are beautifully drawn as their qualities are often juxtaposed against with their more obvious flaws and the performances that bring them to life are terrific. Gosling has rightly received a lot of plaudits for his portrayal of a disillusioned liberal who is struggling to cope with his life, but Epps also deserves equal praise for her unaffected but captivating turn.

The title alludes to a suffocating wrestling move (as well as a great Miles Davis track) and as the story progresses both Dan and Drey have to deal with their own problems. The fact that the film ends up being inspirational and deeply engaging whilst offering no easy conclusions is a tribute to the skill of all those involved in bringing it to the screen.

> Check out the official website
> Read more reviews of Half Nelson at Metacritic
> IMDb entry for Half Nelson
> Get show times for your local cinema
> Listen to Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden discuss the film in the FILMdetail Interview