Film Notes

Film Notes #4: The Offence (1972)

Sidney Lumet’s’ dark 1972 feature about a police interrogation forms the fourth instalment of my 30-day film program.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  • It must be a film I’ve already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on The Offence (1972) which I watched on a DVD on Saturday 18th March.

  • Connery was allowed make this film as part of the MGM deal for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1972)
  • Lumet keeps the visuals impressively dark – no obvious day-for-night stuff
  • Great visual motif of the circles of light at the beginning, only becomes clear once you’ve seen the film.
  • Drabness of suburban England is expertly evoked but it is never made clear where the action takes place.
  • The town remains nameless although exteriors were shot in Bracknell and interiors were filmed in Twickenham Studios.
  • Connery is very good indeed – it was a brave film for him to star in at this point in his career.
  • Scene at school near the beginning was shot at Wildridings, Bracknell.
  • Brilliantly effective visuals as the girl goes under the bridge.
  • Connery’s flat is at Point Royal, which is the same place that Jenny Agutter’s character lives in I START COUNTING (1969).
  • Audience are forced to work to see the details in certain scenes.
  • Trevor Howard is also a powerful presence as a senior police officer brought into to investigate Connery.
  • Ian Bannen is brilliant in what must have been a very difficult role to play.
  • Vivienne Merchant also gives a heartbreaking performance as Connery’s long suffering wife.
  • There is dialogue and physical action which even modern writers and directors would shy away from.
  • It is a rare film that deals with the emotional cost of policing, which is still a taboo subject in a world obsessed with the police procedural.
  • Clever flashback structure keeps us guessing but the reveal is disturbing because it doesn’t offer a conventional twist.

Amusing Technology

The 8 Billion Dollar iPod

Author Rob Reid recently gave a very funny TED speech on copyright.

It covered a remarkable new field of study ‘based on numbers from entertainment industry lawyers and lobbyists’.

> Rob Reid profile at TED
> Find out more about Copyright at Wikipedia

Film Notes

Film Notes #3: THX 1138 (1971)

George Lucas’ debut feature about a dystopian future society forms the third part of my 30-day film program.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on THX 1138 (1971) which I watched on a Blu-ray on Saturday 24th March.

[Warning! Spoilers ahead]

  • Begins with an old episode of Buck Rogers (!)
  • Titles going from top to bottom reflects the underground nature of the society in film – I can’t think of another film outside Gaspar Noe’s IRREVERSIBLE (2002) that uses this device and that film used it for the end credits
  • Widescreen lensing is impressive – it was shot using Techniscope, a cheaper alternative to 35mm anamorphic which Leone used on his Spaghetti Westerns
  • Sound design immediately apparent as a key part of the film
  • Phrase “consumption is being standardised” repeated over and over
  • Appropriate because the shopping mall
  • Walter Murch co-wrote the screenplay and was obviously closely involved in the sound design
  • What the hell is going with the lizard in the wires?!
  • Sense of despair reflective of the cultural malaise of the late 60s and early 70s
  • The idea of a controlling futuristic society was possibly a big influence on THE MATRIX (1999)
  • Did the hologram sex channel influence MINORITY REPORT (2002)?
  • When Duvall confesses about his room mate, it is almost like a Catholic confession or a session with a psychiatrist
  • The slogan “buy more” has a certain irony when it comes to the issue of Star Wars merchandising
  • Imaginative use of low budget sets
  • Futuristic officers seem to be influenced by the police who cracked skulls on campuses during the Vietnam
  • There is even a TV channel which shows officers beating someone – predicting the Rodney King incident by 20 years! That case also played a key role in TERMINATOR 2 (1991).
  • Issue of sedation prefigures the issue of antidepressants
  • The idea of workers trapped inside white anti-septic clothing is an effective idea
  • Widescreen compositions must have made this a nightmare to pan and scan
  • Pre-digital era effects are deeply impressive
  • The robot that Duvall is working on just before the mind block looks C-3PO from STAR WARS (1977)
  • A computerised industrial society where people are drones has chilling resonances with today’s inter generational struggle, which is also a theme of THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
  • Ironic that Donald Pleasance is in a film where everyone is bald.
  • Lucas was frustrated at how Duvall would get a scene in take one and Pleasance would take several. In a pre-digital world this was probably a nightmare for the chemistry of a particular scene and maybe led Lucas to pursue digital solutions
  • Nice touch that Duvall’s character is actually building the robotic officers who oppress him
  • The evils of bureaucracy is a persistent theme and the questioning of authority is essentially the whole point of the film.
  • Ironic that the McCarthy era America was paranoid about Communism and it became an oppressive state itself.
  • The ‘white prison’ is a very striking idea, later explored in Lecter’s jail cell in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER (1986) and then reversed in Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991).
  • It is also a highly effective ‘visual effect’ as it creates an illusion of depth – an optical trick that predates the use of green screen by 25 years
  • The voices possible influenced by 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
  • Couple’s love making being interrupted is symbolic of the sexual Puritanism and hypocrisy of the 1950s era which Lucas grew up in.
  • Approach to the issue of drugs is interesting. It goes for an Brave New World approach where drug taking is an oppressive and enforced act rather than a rebellious act. Philip K Dick also explored similar territory in A SCANNER DARKLY (2006).
  • Excellent use of locations and sets, augmented by Murch’s great sound design.
  • Lalo Schifrin’s score is very effective and moodier than his ones for DIRTY HARRY (1971) and the Mission Impossible.
  • In particular the car chase at the end is a masterful use of sound which makes the sequence feel bigger and more realistic
  • Cars are also important in AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) albeit in a wildly different context
  • The voices throughout are ‘comfortingly sinister’ which makes it an effective metaphor for communist regimes.
  • But it could also be seen as an indictment of 1950/60s capitalism which encouraged conformity
  • It could also be seen as obliquely referencing the Holocaust e.g. people as numbers and the enforced shaven heads
  • The closing sequence is actually very similar to THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998).
  • Final shot is hopeful for what some interpret as a bleak film.

Film Notes

Film Notes #2: Stagecoach (1939)

The 30-day film watching experiment continues with John Ford’s classic 1939 western.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Stagecoach (1939) which I watched on a DVD on Tuesday 13th March.

  • John Ford’s first sound western.
  • Apparently Orson Welles watched this 40 times whilst making CITIZEN KANE (1941).
  • Nominated for Best Picture in 1939.
  • Motley crew of people get on a stagecoach and journey across Apache territory.
  • Typical Ford use of real locations, especially Monument Valley.
  • Costumes are fantastic.
  • Acting a little (ahem) “of its time”.
  • John Wayne looks so young – our popular image of him is as an older man.
  • Banking commentary at 33 mins! (Occupy Wall Street by way of Monument Valley… )
  • The pompous banker is played by Henry Gatewood and the screenplay has the foresight to include the detail that he’s just embezzled some some assets.
  • Interesting camera positioning within a confined space – compare to THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) and CHILDREN OF MEN (2006).
  • Ford must have planned out his shots carefully.
  • According to Steven Spielberg, Ford never shot coverage, so the studio couldn’t edit in their preferred takes.
  • At one point (47 mins) a character actually says the words: “well I’ll be dog gone”.
  • Cast actually blend well together, newcomers to the film might be surprised it’s not an all Wayne affair.
  • Claire Trevor, John Carradine and Thomas Mitchell all excellent.
  • Claire Trevor’s character is a prostitute so notorious that local women have conspired to oust her from the town.
  • Quite a bit of smoking goes on e.g. Curley lighting his cigarette from the lamp and the Doc smoking his cigar.
  • Racial attitudes are more interesting than expected.
  • Although the Apaches are hostile, there is one scene in the Mexican fort which suggests racial tolerance where they talk of the wife’s Apache people.
  • The idea of an anti-hero prisoner on board may have influenced ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) and other films.
  • Climactic chase is actually exciting!
  • Replace the horses with helicopters and the chase is reminiscent of the helicopter attack on the village in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
  • Did RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) reference the Apache sliding under the coach in the scene where Indy slides beneath the truck?
  • The climax of MAD MAX 2 (1981) was also possibly influenced by this chase.
  • Blending of rear projection and location shooting is actually pretty good.
  • Foley of water splashing in the Doc’s face is one of the more notable sound effects.
  • The cavalry charge is signified by the bugle, an important sound effect that is blended in with the score.
  • Interesting that the Wayne character is a prisoner – somewhat against type.
  • Denouement sequence interesting as we see a criminal propose marriage to a prostitute. So much for 1930s morality!
  • Misleading ‘switch’ in who got shot in the final scene reminiscent of the climax of MINORITY REPORT (2002).
  • Closing dialogue (“Doc, I’ll buy you a drink”) is a bit like CASABLANCA (1942).
  • Claire Trevor is billed above John Wayne in the end credits.
  • Holds up very well as a classic Western.
  • I definitely need to get the Criterion Blu-ray of this – it has a load of interesting extras.


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 23rd March 2012


The Hunger Games (Lionsgate): Adapted from the series of bestselling books where a young girl (Jennifer Lawrence) joins a survival contest in order to save her community in a dystopian future. Directed by Gary Ross, it co-stars Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson. Set to be the first blockbuster of 2012, the built-in fanbase and brilliant marketing campaign could see it net a $125m opening weekend. [Nationwide / 12A]

Act of Valor (Momentum): A Navy Seal squad goes on a covert mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent, and in the process, takes down a complex web of terrorist cells determined to strike America at all costs. Directed by Josh Trank, and Alexander Asefa, the main selling point here is that it features real Navy Seals: Roselyn Sanchez, Mike McCoy, Charles Chiyangwa and Megan Hilty. [Nationwide / 15]

Wild Bill (The Works): Set in East London, the story revolves around Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles), a prisoner of eight years out on parole. Returning home, he finds his 15 and 11 year old sons, Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams) abandoned by their mother and living alone. Directed by Dexter Fletcher. [Nationwide / 15]


The Kid With A Bike (Artificial Eye): The latest film from the Dardennes Brothers is the story of a young boy abandoned by his father and left in a state-run youth institution. In a random act of kindness, the town hairdresser agrees to foster him on weekends. Stars Thomas Doret and Cécile De France. [Selected cinemas / 12A]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases

Digital Thoughts

The Death of 35mm Projection

The end of the analogue processes that have been with cinema since the 1890s is now in sight.

Regular readers of this site will know that a revolution has been taking place in projection rooms around the world.

Over the last few years, multiplex and arthouse cinemas in the US and UK have been switching to digital projection rather than shining light through celluloid.

But because many audience members don’t notice a discernible difference, it perhaps gets less press coverage than it should.

Make no mistake we are now firmly in the digital era and the old analogue one is about to expire.

How soon?

Last November Fox Searchlight, one of the major suppliers to US independent cinemas, wrote a letter saying they would stop supplying 35mm prints ‘within 18 months’.

By my estimate, that’s a Spring 2013 deadline.

After that costs will exponentially rise as the ‘analogue film market’ (i.e. celluloid prints shipped to cinemas and threaded through a projector) will essentially expire, apart from a rarefied circle of specialised institutions.

But how long before the other major US indie distributors – such as Focus Features, Sony Pictures, The Weinstein Company – begin to stop sending out 35mm prints of their movies?

If they aren’t already, I suspect it will be sooner rather than later.

For the past several years the major studios have long wanted to make the jump to digital because of the cost savings.

Getting exhibitors on board was tricky as the digital upgrade was a costly process which still needed the battering ram of Avatar (2009) to convince sceptical cinemas.

Ironically, some independent chains embraced digital before multiplexes and helped form the DCI standard (Digital Cinema Initiatives).

Projection had to be at least 2K resolution, the file format was JPEG2000, and a key system was designed to prevent piracy by authenticating screenings to the projectors authorized to show it.

To help fund this transition the studios helped subsidise exhibitors with what is known as a Virtual Print Fee.

This made the transition smoother than it might have been and allowed them to make long term savings on shipping digital cinema prints (instead of cans of celluloid) and screening 3D movies.

Just because the air has seemingly come out of the 3D balloon doesn’t mean there is any rolling back the wider digital revolution.

The enormous success of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland – which both earned the bulk of their money in early 2010 – convinced studios that 3D was the future in which they could charge higher ticket prices.

That reality hasn’t come to pass mainly due to the inherent limitations of the current version of 3D (still too dim) but it was the tipping point which helped persuade reluctant exhibitors to adopt digital projection systems.

But it is not the multiplex chains who will be affected in the short term but independent cinemas, for if they can’t get access to archive film prints then they will go out of business.

This is why head of John Fithian, head of the umbrella group NATO (North American Theater Owners), said last year at CinemaCon:

“I believe that film prints could be unavailable as early as the end of 2013. Simply put, if you don’t make the decision to get on the digital train soon, you will be making the decision to get out of the business.”

In their 2007 study titled The Digital Dilemma, the Academy found the cost of storing 4K digital masters to be:

“enormously higher – 1100% higher – than the cost of storing film masters.”

This report was something John Bailey talked about when he spoke at CineGear Expo last year:

Earlier this January the Academy published the sequel, The Digital Dilemma 2.

If you care about the moving image on a cinema screen I would strongly advise you read it (click here to register and download a PDF).

In the 136 page report there is one sentence, among many, that sticks out:

“analog recordings made more than 100 years ago are more likely to survive than digital recordings made today.”

The paradox is that digital capture formats can become obsolete much sooner than celluloid prints.

This was an issue explored in depth by David Bordwell in his recent essay on films that are ‘born digital’ (i.e. shot on digital cameras), such as David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The digital future for both projection and capture is inevitable.

But has anyone grasped the archival consequences of a truly digital world?

> From Celluloid to Digital
David Bordwell on From Films to Files
> Ivan Radford on why there is life after 35mm

Film Notes

Film Notes #1: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been conducting an experiment in film watching.

The deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

I’m going to use Storify to curate interesting links about the film under discussion and embed them in the post.

Even though the first one is an 1980s John Hughes comedy, I think in the long run you’ll find the choices eclectic.

So, this is the inaugural Film Notes post about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), which I watched on a PVR on Tuesday 20th March, after recording it on Film4 on January 1st 2012.

What follows are my notes from that viewing session (there are spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film you’ll have to buy the DVD):

  • Good to watch an 80s comedy in 2:35 aspect ratio
  • Interesting use of sound to introduce the world of the film (e.g. Ferris’ mother saying his name before the opening shot)
  • One of the major themes of the film is the taboo subject that parents do actually prefer a sibling
  • Energetic use of music contrasts with the quiet of the opening scene
  • The original Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is the girl in the class who informs Ben Stein that Ferris is absent
  • Surreal device of talking to the camera with text on screen
  • What other teen movies include references to the ‘Laffer Curve’?
  • Ferris uses an IBM PC XT to hack into the school systems and later also uses it to draw.
  • Movie references to ALIEN (1979) and DIRTY HARRY (1971)
  • Ferris seems to be using the red bat phone from the Adam West TV series
  • Batman connection in that Nolan’s films use Chicago for Gotham and the Windy City is also the setting for Ferris’ day off
  • The idea of a lie about a dead parent an excuse for skipping school is also used in THE 400 BLOWS (1959)
  • Tension between Cameron and Ferris in the kitchen is very well written and played
  • Matthew Broderick has seemingly not aged since 1986
  • Nice touch that we never actually see Cameron’s parents, which makes the Ferrari sub-plot feel more important
  • Ferris is sort of a Bond figure: expert liar, computer expert, glamourous girlfriend, master of disguise,
  • Incest gag outside the school when Sloane kisses Ferris – maybe influenced by BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)?
  • Real location shooting, rather than green screen, which is actually used (or misused) in teen comedies
  • Guy at the garage looks suspicious and the reveal of his character is interesting.
  • Tension of Ferris’ mother coming home to check on him is very well done with inventive staging, sound design and music
  • What the hell is going on with the guys in the weird hats at the beginning of the Sears Tower sequence?
  • Unusually for a teen movie Ferris actually proposes to the female lead
  • The snooty (‘snotty’) waiter at the restaurant has gets his comeuppance in a very economical comedy scene
  • If there’s a moral lesson in the film it’s that a computer is better birthday present than a car
  • Scene where Ferris’ dad narrowly misses him in the restaurant is heavily stylised – almost as if Bunel did an 80s teen movie
  • Wrigley Field makes another appearance in the movies e.g. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) and THE NATURAL (1984)
  • Note the gag that Principal Rooney knows nothing about sport, as the cook deliberately says the Bears (football) are playing instead of the Cubs (baseball)
  • Slow motion Ferrari sequence doesn’t appear to be using the London Symphony Orchestra version of the STAR WARS (1977) theme.
  • Museum sequence has a definite Sofia Coppola vibe – you can see why it was used for a YouTube mash up
  • Scene where Ferris notices his Dad in the car is a good example of a ‘Texas Switch’ – an old Western trick of switching actors which is also used at the end of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
  • Did the float sequence get good production value out of a real parade?
  • John Hughes movies are filled with doubt about the future, reflecting the very real anxieties of teenage years. But he finds reassuring comedy in this.
  • Rooney’s middle fingered salute to the florist is comedy gold.
  • Notice how Jeannie’s emergency phone calls don’t have any reply audio
  • Cameron’s shock at the mileage on his Ferrari is depicted as a cut to black which is actually the inside of his mouth
  • Cameron flipping out in the pool is similar to a scene in THE DESCENDANTS (2011)
  • Charlie Sheen cameo (“are you in for drugs!”) actually prophetic about his later problems.
  • Great close up of Jeannie’s fist and the sound of the knuckles cracking is a good pay off to the gag that Sheen knows Ferris
  • Good tension as Cameron kicks the car – cutting, sound and dialogue all create the idea that the car is almost a living, breathing thing.
  • Cheesy 80s music used for Cameron and Mia Sara’s final scene
  • Her final line is “he’s going to marry me!” – maybe partly why it so popular with boys and girls
  • Ferris is celebrated for being a liar and Jeannie is punished for telling the truth
  • Interesting use of Steadicam and slow motion in the final chase sequence
  • Climax well handled – the love of a teenage sister trumps her jealousy
  • Good script pay-off with the baseball he caught at Wrigley Field to turn off the stereo
  • Final freeze frame of Ferris was used on some posters (I think)
  • Post-credits screen is a role reversal for the teacher – he has to endure the humiliation of a school bus ride (“Rooney eats it!”)
  • Playful final scene is Ferris telling the audience to stop watching – perfect for the VHS era where multiple viewings would reveal this.

DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 19th March 2012


Moneyball (Sony Pictures Home Ent.): Brad Pitt is outstanding as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in this adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book, which revolutionised US sport. Directed by Bennett Miller, it co-stars Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman. [Available on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon] [Read our full review here]

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (Paramount Home Entertainment): Animated version of Herge’s famous character which realises the first three books with motion capture animation. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it features the voices of Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig. [Available on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon] [Read our full review here]

The Devils (BFI Video): Vintage 1971 horror is finally released on DVD and is based partially on the Aldous Huxley book The Devils of Loudun and the The Devils by John Whiting. Directed by Ken Russell, it stars Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, it was banned in several countries and censorship problems resulted in long delays before it was available on home video.  [Available on DVD from Amazon]

Take Shelter (Universal Pictures): Highly accomplished second film from director Jeff Nichols about a man (Michael Shannon) plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions questions and facing the dilemma as whether to shelter his family from a coming storm. Co-starring Jessica Chastain and Kathy Baker, it features one of the best endings in years. [Buy on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

A Night to Remember (ITV DVD): A 1958 adaptation of Walter Lord‘s book recounting the final night of the RMS Titanic, adapted by Eric Ambler, directed by Roy Ward Baker. Long before James Cameron recreated the famous boat in the era of digital era with his 1997 blockbuster, this film used old school techniques to accurately create the sets, even using Titanic fourth officer Joseph Boxhall and ex-Cunard Commodore Harry Grattidge as technical advisors. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

Snowtown (Revolver Entertainment): Grim but brilliantly made Australian drama about the notorious Snowtown killings. Directed by Justin Kurzel and written by Shaun Grant, it stars Daniel Henshall as John Bunting and Lucas Pittaway as James Vlassakis. [Buy it Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

Get Shorty (MGM Home Entertainment): Classy 1995 adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel about a loan shark (John Travolta) who travels to Hollywood were he encounters various characters played by Gene HackmanRene Russo and Danny DeVito (as a ‘two-time Academy nominee’ actor Martin Weir). Directed with a shrewd wit by Barry Sonnenfeld, who was once a DP for the Coen Brothers. [Buy it on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon UK]

Weekend (Peccadillo Pictures): This Nottingham-set romance about two people who meet and chat over the course of 24 hours was one of the low-budget indie breakthroughs of 2011. Directed by Andrew Haigh, it stars Tom Cullen and Chris New, featuring cinematography by Urszula Pontikos. [Buy it on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon UK]


1911 Revolution (Showbox Media Group) [Blu-ray / Ultimate Edition]
A Horrible Way to Die (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]
American Pie (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
American Pie 2 – Unseen (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
American Pie: The Threesome (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Box Set with Digital Copy]
American Pie: The Wedding Recut (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
City of Men (Miramax) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Kalifornia (MGM Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Machine Gun Preacher (Lionsgate UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]
One More – A Definitive History of UK Clubbing 1988-2008 (Odeon Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Our House (Miramax) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Resistance (Metrodome Distribution) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Smoke (Miramax) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Spaceballs (MGM Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Crossing Guard (Miramax) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Tower Heist (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Trespass (Lionsgate UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]

Recent DVD & Blu-ray picks
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011


Rare Dutch Documentary on Stanley Kubrick

Part of a Dutch documentary about Stanley Kubrick has surfaced last December on YouTube and offers tantalising glimpses into his working methods.

I’m guessing it would have been made and broadcast on Dutch TV as a tribute in the months after the director’s death in March 1999.

You can watch the 13 minute piece here:

Among the things it features are:

  • Rare footage of Kubrick talking to the press at the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) where he reveals production actually began in 1965
  • George Sluizer, director of The Vanishing (1988), with wise words about the genuine emotion in Kubrick’s films
  • Kubrick spent several hours on the phone to Sluizer trying to persuade him to edit digitally – this was the pre-Avid days of the late 1980s when he was using Montage to edit Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  • How Belgian director Harry Kümel, who made Daughters of Darkness (1971), met Kubrick and found him to be charming and open about the filmmaking process
  • Actress Johanna ter Steege describes Kubrick’s pre-production work on his abandoned adaptation of Louis Begley’s Wartime Lies
  • Malcolm McDowell at the Venice Film Festival in 1997 on how Kubrick encouraged Steven Berkoff to spit all over him on A Clockwork Orange (1971)

If you watch the documentaries Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001) on the most recent DVD and Blu-ray box sets of Kubrick’s work and Jon Ronson’s Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (2008), you’ll see a pattern emerge of great passion, technical obsession, restless curiosity and affable charm.

I love the fact that if you went into the St. Albans branch of Ryman‘s stationary store sometime in the 1990s you could bump in to one of the greatest directors in cinema history buying some ink and pens.

> Buy The Stanley Kubrick Blu-ray collection at Amazon UK
> More on Stanley Kubrick at Wikipedia


UK Film Releases: Friday 16th March 2012


21 Jump Street (Sony Pictures): Comedy based on the 80s TV show about an undercover police unit consisting of young looking officers infiltrating high schools to control youth crime. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, it stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. [Nationwide / 15]

We Bought A Zoo (20th Century Fox): A man (Matt Damon) and his family used their life savings to buy a dilapidated zoo, replete with 200 exotic animals facing destruction, in the English countryside. Directed by Cameron Crowe, it co-stars Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Peter Riegert, Elle Fanning and Angus Macfadyen. [Nationwide / PG]

Contraband (Universal Pictures): A security guard (Mark Wahlberg) and former alcohol smuggler (Caleb Landry Jones) on the Iceland-Netherlands route who is tempted back into illicit business. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, it co-stars Caleb Landry Jones, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster and Kate Beckinsale. [Nationwide / 15]

The Devil Inside (Paramount): Horror film about a woman who becomes involved in a series of exorcisms. Directed by William Brent Bell, it stars Fernanda Andrade and Simon Quarterman and is yet another found footage film. [Nationwide / 15]


In Darkness (Metrodome): Drama based on a true story in German Nazi-occupied Poland, the film tells of Leopold Socha, a sewer worker in the former Polish city of Lwów (now Lviv in Ukraine), who uses his knowledge of the city’s sewers system to shelter a group of Jews from the Nazi Germans. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, it stars Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Furmann and Agnieszka Grochowska. [Key Cities / 15]

Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (New Wave Films): Turkish drama based on the true experiences of one of the film’s writers, telling the story of a group of men who search for a dead body on the Anatolian steppe. Co-written and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, it won the Grand Prix at Cannes. [Key Cities ]

Bill Cunningham New York (Dogwoof): Documentary about one of the fashion world’s most influential photographers. Directed by Richard Press. [Key Cities / 12A]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases

Digital Interesting

Walter Murch on the Digital Revolution

The art and science of cinema is undergoing seismic changes as it completes the transition from analogue to digital.

Who better to guide us through this transition than legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch?

He recently discussed the evolution of film technology from 5.1 sound to Final Cut Pro with Lawrence Weschler at the Chicago Humanities Festival.

As an editor Murch’s career has straddled the transition from traditional celluloid to modern digital cinema.

But he is equally important as a sound designer, virtually inventing 5.1 surround sound with Coppola on Apocalypse Now.

You can watch the hour long discussion here:

Among the subjects they discussed were:

  • The episode of Clone Wars he recently directed
  • How THX 1138 (1971) began as a student project
  • The last completely analogue film he worked on was Fred Zinneman’s Julia (1977)
  • How the work print of Apocalypse Now (1979) weighed 7 tonnes
  • The link between information, energy and money
  • A truly brilliant comparison between the financial meltdown and cancer

> Walter Murch at Wikipedia
> Collected articles on Walter Murch at Film Sound
> From Celluloid to Digital

DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 12th March 2012


Jane Eyre (Universal Pictures): An exquisitely realised adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel injects new life into the much filmed text. Opening with a key flash-forward sequence, the story depicts the struggles of a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) in 19th century England as she survives a tough childhood, before eventually working at a country house owned by the moody Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Along the way Jane encounters an uncaring aunt (Sally Hawkins), a cruel teacher (Simon McBurney), a sympathetic parson (Jamie Bell) and an amiable housekeeper (Judi Dench). There is also the matter of her own emotions for her enigmatic new boss, who seems to be a personification the 20th century phrase “it’s complicated”. [Buy it on Blu-ray + DVD & Digital Copy] [Read our full review here]

This Is England ’88 (4DVD): The acclaimed spin-off  from the Shane Meadows film This Is England (2006), it is also a sequel to the 2010 series This Is England ’86. Also starring Thomas Turgoose as Shaun, Vicky McClure as Lol and Joe Gilgun as Woody, it picks up picks up the action in the Christmas of 1988. Lol is still struggling to cope with the events of 18 months ago and Woody is in self-imposed exile from the gang. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]


Birdsong: Part 1 (Universal/Playback) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Love Never Dies (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / with DVD – Double Play]
Monte Carlo (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Mother and Child (Verve Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
My Week With Marilyn (EV) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Special Forces (StudioCanal) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Straw Dogs (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Big Bang (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Bodyguard (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Help (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / Normal]
This Is England ’86/This Is England ’88 (4DVD) [Blu-ray / Normal]

Recent DVD & Blu-ray picks
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011


BBC 6 Music at 10

Radio station BBC 6 Music celebrates its 10th birthday this week.

Not a lot of people know this but I was present at the birth of the station in early March 2002.

If I remember correctly, the schedule for that opening week included:

Although it was only a minor job, it was my first official BBC work and was so happy I even emailed Jenny Abramsky, who was then head of BBC Radio.

I got this reply:

Reading this ten years later, it is striking how many things have changed in the past decade: the collapse 0f the ‘old’ music industry; the Hutton crisis; two wars; the extraordinary rise of Apple not just as the biggest music retailer on earth, but the most valuable one period; the London bombings; the financial meltdown, resulting recession and squeeze on public finances that indirectly led to the near-death of 6 Music itself.

It was an unwelcome birthday present to read on March 2nd 2010 that Director-General Mark Thompson wanted to shut it down, but a listener-fuelled campaign (with heavy use of social media) led to its survival.

The station had always suffered from lack of exposure rather than quality of output, so the resulting had the marvellous triple effect of boosting awareness, saving the station and  increasing the RAJAR figures by %50.

It really was just like a Frank Capra film.

Or an episode of The Thick of It, as this mash-up demonstrated:

In September 2010 I was also fortunate enough to be asked to do semi-regular film reviews for Nemone’s show, so even though it’s in an adjacent building, it felt like a return of sorts.

Mostly, I was just glad that the station had survived in an era when its hard to find decent music on the radio.

Presenters like Adam & Joe, Lauren Laverne, Jarvis Cocker and Huey Morgan have helped keep the original ethos of the station alive.

Even in a era of Spotify and YouTube, it is still important to have a curated music experience to guide you through what’s worth listening to.

Every time I go in to 6 Music I’m impressed at the quality of feedback via email and Twitter, and since I’m always being asked recommendations for films, here is a series of music and film playlists.

Each one consists of an individual film, album and song for every year of 6 Music’s existence.

The choices were prompted by a simple test of what came in to my head when I thought of the station.


  1. Adaptation (Dir. Spike Jonze, 2002)
  2. The Station Agent (Dir. Thomas McCarthy, 2003)
  3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Dir. Michel Gondry, 2004)
  4. The Constant Gardner (Dir. Fernando Meirelles, 2005)
  5. Children of Men (Dir. Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
  6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Dir. Julian Schnabel, 2007)
  7. Son of Rambow (Dir. Garth Jennings, 2008)
  8. A Prophet (Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2009)
  9. Exit Through The Gift Shop (Dir. Banksy, 2010)
  10. The Interrupters (Dir. Steve James, 2011)


  1. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
  2. The Postal ServiceGive Up (2003)
  3. Arcade FireFuneral (2004)
  4. M83Before the Dawn Heals Us (2005)
  5. The KnifeSilent Shout (2006)
  6. LCD SoundsystemSound of Silver (2007)
  7. PortisheadThird (2008)
  8. PhoenixWolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)
  9. The NationalHigh Violet (2010)
  10. The Black KeysEl Camino (2011)


  1. NYC by Interpol (2002)
  2. Such Great Heights by The Postal Service (2003)
  3. Naked As We Came by Iron and Wine (2004)
  4. Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun by M83 (2005)
  5. Silent Shout by The Knife (2006)
  6. Australia by The Shins (2007)
  7. Time To Pretend by MGMT (2008)
  8. Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear (2009)
  9. Not in Love by Crystal Castles feat. Robert Smith (2010)
  10. Lonely Boy by The Black Keys (2011)

Happy Birthday 6 Music!

> BBC 6 Music
> More information about the station at Wikipedia
> Observer article on 6 Music at 10


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 9th March 2012


John Carter (Walt Disney): Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs Former Confederate captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is mysteriously transported to Mars (“Barsoom“) where he becomes part of a conflict between the various nations of the planet, whose leaders include Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Directed by Andrew Stanton, it stars co-stars Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds and Dominic West. [Nationwide / 12A]

The Raven (Universal): A fictionalized account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack), in which the writer is in pursuit of a serial killer whose murders mirror those in his stories. Directed by James McTeigue, it co-stars Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

Bel Ami (StudioCanal): A chronicle of a young man (Robert Pattinson) and rise to power in Paris via his manipulation of the city’s most influential and wealthy women (Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci). Period drama directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, it is based on the French novel of the same name by Guy de Maupassant. [Nationwide / 15]


Trishna (Artificial Eye): Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, set in contemporary India, it is about a young woman (Freida Pinto) who meets a wealthy young British businessman Jay Singh (Riz Ahmed) who has come to India to work in his father’s hotel business. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, it marks his third Hardy adaptation after Jude (1995) and The Claim (2000). [Key Cities / 15]

A Man’s Story (Trinity Filmed Entertainment): Documentary film covering the last 12 years of designer Ozwald Boateng’s life. Directed by Varon Bonicos. [Key cities]

Cleanskin (Warner Bros): UK terrorist thriller, about a terrorist (Abhin Galeya) and the agent hunting him (Sean Bean). Directed by Hadi Hajaig, it co-stars Charlotte Rampling, James Fox, Tuppence Middleton, Shivani Ghai and Michelle Ryan. [Selected cinemas / 15]

The Decoy Bride (CinemaNX): When the world’s media descend on the remote Scottish island where a Hollywood actress is attempting to get married, a local girl is hired as a decoy bride to put the paparazzi off the scent. Director by Sheree Folkson, it stars David Tennant, Kelly MacDonald, Alice Eve, Michael Urie, Sally Phillips, Federico Castelluccio [Limited release / 12A]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases

News Thoughts

Women on Film

It’s International Women’s Day today (Thursday 8th March), so here’s some of my favourite examples of inspiring female movie characters ranging from silent pioneers to animated superheroes.

This PBS special on Mary Pickford shows how she became one of the biggest stars of the silent era before being one of the founders of United Artists:

Several generations of female icons in one scene: Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and Anne Baxter in All About Eve (1950):

A strikingly different kind of performance was given by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman’s classic Persona (1966).

A few years later, Bergman would a film about the relationship between three sisters, played by Harriet AnderssonKari Sylwan and Ingrid Thulin, in Cries and Whispers (1973).

Ripley’s last stand in Alien (1979) was not just a key scene for Sigourney Weaver but showed that female characters could survive without the  help of men (interestingly the ship’s computer is called Mother):

Ripley’s Last Stand
Alien at

Obsession isn’t always a bad thing in a young journalist…:

Future News People
Broadcast News at

…especially if they grow up to be TV producers like Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News (1987):

Then there’s the moving scene of female friendship in Babette’s Feast (1987) and cooking for a real reason – not just because men want their food on the table:

Anyone who has put up with sexist ‘banter’ in the workplace will appreciate this scene from Working Girl (1988) as Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) gets revenge on her boss (Oliver Platt) who has tricked her into a date with his boorish colleague (Kevin Spacey):

Concerned about Hollywood’s reluctance to create female superheroes?

Pixar and director Brad Bird did their bit with The Incredibles (2004):

Any others you want to add?

> International Women’s Day
> More female performances at Movie Clips
> IMDb list of female icons

Festivals News

Sundance London 2012 Lineup

The line-up for the inaugural Sundance London festival was announced today with 14 films having their UK premiere, after showing at the US festival back in January.

Sundance founder Robert Redford has said:

“I welcome the opportunity to see how people in the UK experience these films. While they are American productions they speak to universal experiences and global challenges. Sundance London also is the perfect opportunity to continue our long-time commitment to growing a broader international community around new voices and new perspectives.”

Director of the festival John Cooper has also said:

“Sundance London grew out of our desire to help American independent filmmakers expand their reach, and we are happy that these 14 filmmakers are joining us on this adventure. Their participation has helped us to not only create a programme for Sundance London that reflects the diversity of our film festival in Park City, but also that helps build an enduring legacy of American stories that speak to international audiences.”

In addition to the films, Sundance London will host live music performances and events each evening, including an Opening Night event An Evening With Robert Redford And T Bone Burnett, Placebo in concert and Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird performing Maxinquaye.

There will also be panels, a short film programme, special events and additional music performers.

Programme information and ticket packages are available from the official wbsite at and individual tickets will go on sale in early April.


  • 2 Days in New York (Director: Julie Delpy, Screenwriters: Julie Delpy, Alexia Landeau): Marion has broken up with Jack and now lives in New York with their child. A visit from her family, the different cultural background of her new boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend who her sister is now dating, and her upcoming photo exhibition make for an explosive mix. Cast: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon.
  • Chasing Ice (Director: Jeff Orlowski): Science, spectacle and human passion mix in this stunningly cinematic portrait as National Geographic photographer James Balog captures time-lapse photography of glaciers over several years providing tangible visual evidence of climate change. Winner of the Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival
  • Filly Brown (Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, Screenwriter: Youssef Delara): A Hip Hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music. Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.
  • Finding North (Directors: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush): A crisis of hunger looms in America and is not limited to the poverty stricken and uneducated. Can a return to policies of the 1970s save our future? Features interviews with activists including Witness to Hunger’s Mariana Chilton, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and Academy Award®-winning actor Jeff Bridges, as well as original music by T Bone Burnett & The Civil Wars.
  • For Ellen (Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim): A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva and Shay Mandigo.
  • The House I Live In (Director: Eugene Jarecki): For over 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet, drugs are cheaper, purer and more available today than ever. Where did we go wrong and what is the path toward healing? Winner of the Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival
  • Liberal Arts (Director and screenwriter: Josh Radnor): Bookish and newly single Jesse Fisher returns to his alma mater for his favorite professor’s retirement dinner. A chance meeting with Zibby – a precocious classical music-loving sophomore – awakens in him long-dormant feelings of possibility and connection. Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser.
  • LUV (Director: Sheldon Candis, Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson): An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.
  • Nobody Walks (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young): Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal LA family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk. Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Director and screenwriter: Terence Nance): A quixotic young man humorously courses live action and various animated landscapes as he tries to understand himself after a mystery girl stands him up. Cast: Terence Nance, Namik Minter, Chanelle Pearson.
  • The Queen of Versailles (Director: Lauren Greenfield) — Jackie and David were triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot palace inspired by Versailles – when their timeshare empire falters due to the economic crisis. Their story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream. Winner of the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (Director: Colin Trevorrow, Screenwriter: Derek Connolly) — A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni. Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • Shut Up and Play the Hits (Directors: Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace): A film that follows LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy over a crucial 48-hour period, from the day of their final gig at Madison Square Garden to the morning after, the official end of one of the best live bands in the world.
  • Under African Skies (Director: Joe Berlinger): Paul Simon returns to South Africa to explore the incredible journey of his historic Graceland album, including the political backlash he sparked for allegedly breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa, designed to end Apartheid.

>; Sundance London
>; Connect with them on Facebook ( and Twitter (@sundancefestUK)
>; More on the history of the Sundance Film Festival and The O2 at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 5th March 2012


The Ides of March (Entertainment One): Adapted from Beau Williams’ stage play Farragut North, the basic story is a cocktail loosely inspired by the skulduggery of recent US presidential primaries. It focuses on a young, ambitious strategist (Ryan Gosling) who is assisting his campaign boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in getting an inspirational Democratic candidate (George Clooney) elected. With the Republican field bare, the primary takes on extra significance, especially when a rival campaign manager (Paul Giamatti), a journalist (Marisa Tomei) and an intern (Evan Rachel Wood) start to pose ethical and moral dilemmas. With a script credited to Williams, Clooney and Grant Heslov, it seems to be a deliberate attempt to apply the weary but wise tone of classic 1970s cinema to recent times. Clooney’s approach as director draws on the best work of Alan Pakula and Sidney Lumet, with moral ambiguity, composed framing and a considered use of long takes all adding to the atmosphere. [Read our full review here] [Buy on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

Contagion (Warner Home Video): Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest is an all-star disaster movie that follows a global killer virus – think Traffic, only with disease. When Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a Hong Kong business trip to suburban Minneapolis, her husband (Matt Damon) is alarmed when she falls ill. When the virus spreads, the response team at the Center for Disease Control (Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle) and the World Health Organization (Marion Cotillard) have to stop it spreading, whilst a Bay Area blogger Jude Law keeps ahead of the news media. Managing to avoid most horror/sci-fi clichés, Soderbergh channels to spirit of 1970s films like Earthquake, whilst updating it for out similarly bleak age. The script by Scott Z Burns is alarmingly plausible, drawing on the recent SAARS scare, whilst Soderbergh handles the global locations with such an assured touch, most people probably won’t notice. [Buy on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

Anonymous (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The very idea of Roland Emmerich making a movie about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is enough to spark laughter, but the end result is a handsomely staged period piece. The premise revolves around Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) and the conceit that he not only wrote the plays of Shakespeare, but did so as part of an elaborate political conspiracy involving Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (Sebastian Reid). The blizzard of stories that accompanied its cinema release centred around the authorship question and Sony Pictures staged a deeply misguided marketing campaign, baiting those upset with the premise. Not that it worked as early audiences seemed to have more problems with the ambitious jigsaw puzzle script, which cleverly mirrors the themes of Shakespeare’s plays. [Read our full review here] [Buy on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]


American Evil (Metrodome Distribution) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Columbus Circle (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Deviation (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Dinosaur Jr: Live at 9:30 Club – In the Hands of the Fans (Wienerworld) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Dracula Prince of Darkness (StudioCanal) [Blu-ray / with DVD – Double Play]
Game of Thrones: Series 1 (Warner Home Video/HBO) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Immortals (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Nurse Jackie: Season 3 (Lionsgate UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Sket (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Rum Diary (EV) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Tomboy (Peccadillo Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Urban Explorers (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]

Recent DVD & Blu-ray picks
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 2nd March 2012


This Means War (20th Century Fox): Two CIA operatives (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) wage an ‘epic battle’ against one another after they both fall in love with the same woman (Reese Witherspoon). Directed by McG. [Nationwide / 12A]

Wanderlust (Universal): Comedy about a married couple (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) who try to escape the trappings of modern society by joining a free-wheeling commune. Directed by David Wain, it co-stars Justin Theroux, Ken Marino, Malin Akerman and Lauren Ambrose. [Nationwide / 15]

Project X (Warner Bros.): Comedy about 3 teenagers who throw a birthday party to make a name for themselves, but as the night progresses, things spiral out of control. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh, it stars Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown. [Nationwide / 18]

Hunky Dory (E1 Films): Drama about the trials and tribulations of an idealistic drama teacher (Minnie Driver) as she tries to put on the end of year show. Directed by Marc Evans, it co-stars Aneurin Barnard and George Mackay. [Nationwide]


Michael (Artificial Eye): Acclaimed Austrian drama loosely inspired by the Fritzl case. Directed by Markus Schleinzer, it stars Michael Fuith, Christine Kain, Gisella Salcher, Ursula Strauss and Victor Tremmel. [Key cities / 18]

Carancho (Axiom Films): Argentinian crime drama about an ambulance chasing lawyer (Ricardo Darín) and a doctor (Martina Gusman) he meets. Directed by Pablo Trapero. [Key cities / 15]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases


Autism and the Movies

Do the recent spate of movies dealing with autism and Asberger’s syndrome present a shift in a wider understanding of the condition?

Wikipedia define it:

Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.

NHS Direct say:

Autism and Asperger syndrome are both part of a range of related developmental disorders known as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). They begin in childhood and persist through adulthood.

ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are grouped into three broad categories, described below.

  • Problems and difficulties with social interaction, such as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people’s emotions and feelings.
  • Impaired language and communication skills, such as delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly.
  • Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour. This includes making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting. The child develops set routines of behaviour, which can upset the child if the routines are broken.

Last Friday, actor Brian Cox was on The Review Show on BBC2 as a panellist to preview the films up for consideration this year.

He vigorously defended Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which features a central character with the condition.

As I wrote last week, Stephen Daldry’s film was the subject of an unusual amount of venom from some critics.

It is fair enough to criticise the film (and I would echo some of those criticisms) but was there something revealing in the more negative reviews?

Many seemed to focus on the central character’s condition as “annoying”, which could have been reflective of a lack of understanding and tolerance regarding the condition of autism and Asperger’s.

One person who can’t be accused of ignorance is David Mamet, who wrote an interesting chapter about it in his 2007 book, Bambi vs Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business.

He makes the claim that it may have played a key role in the shaping of Hollywood:

I think it not impossible that Asberger’s syndrome helped make the movie business.

The symptoms of the developmental disorder include early precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information, a lack of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or indifference to social norms, high intelligence, and difficulty with transitions, married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutia of the task at hand.

This sounds to me like a job description for a movie director.

He goes on to say:

Let me also note that Asberger’s syndrome has it’s highest prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants. For those who have not been paying attention, this group constitutes, and has constituted since its earliest days, the bulk of America’s movie directors and studio heads.

Referencing Neal Gabler’s book An Empire of Their Own, he points out the fact that key early Jewish pioneers of Hollywood – Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Joseph Schenck, William Fox and Carl Laemmle – all came from an area of Europe within a 200 mile radius of Warsaw.

Mamet goes on to note that many prominent Jewish directors share this Eastern European lineage, from Joseph Von Sternberg right through to Steven Spielberg.

In 1999, just a few months after Kubrick’s death, Spielberg gave a lengthy and fascinating interview about his friend, in which he talked about his mastery of technique:

“Nobody could shoot a movie better than Stanley Kubrick in history”

In their book Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or a Curse?, Viktoria Lyons and Dr. Michael Fitzgerald have a whole chapter exploring the notion as to whether or not Kubrick had Asberger’s.

They note his obsessive interest in photography, all aspects of the filmmaking process and exhaustive research.

(It is also worth noting that Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell and Patricia Highsmith also appear in the book as case studies)

In a comment on a blog about Kubrick’s Napolean project, for which he conducted industrial amounts of research but never actually made, someone says the key may lie in his films:

“The best evidence for Kubrick being an Asperger is not perfectionism,it is the recurring themes of his films.
Aspies see themselves, or think the world sees them as robots, computers, or aliens. In A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the main character is a robot who thinks he is human. HAL, in 2001 is also a piece of artificial intelligence, a human-like computer. The definition of “A Clockwork Orange” in the first page of the book “a clockwork orange-meaning that he has the appearance of an organism but is in fact only a clockwork toy”

His preference for enormous numbers of repeated takes might also indicate something: a simple line by Scatman Crothers in The Shining (1980) was reputedly shot 148 times, a record for the most takes of a single scene.

But that attention to detail and exhaustive research pays off in the final films, even if they took a number of years to be fully recognised for what they are.

Asberger’s was the subject of Adam (2009), a drama about a young man (Hugh Dancy) and his relationship with his new neighbour (Rose Byrne), which won the Alfred P. Sloan prize at the Sundance festival – an award that acknowledges films that focus on science and technology.

In the film Dancy’s condition and interest in science, specifically the cosmos, is presented with tact and sensitivity.

All of which is a welcome contrast to the ‘mad scientist’ archetype that’s been so pervasive in pop culture since the “It’s alive!” scene from Frankenstein (1931):

Given that scientists in are usually the most sane and rational people whose discoveries and inventions have helped save countless lives, it begs the question as to why this notion persists.

The irony is even richer if we accept Mamet’s theory about Hollywood’s founders – a system created by people who may have had Asberger’s, actually perpetuates the stigma surrounding it.

Films like Rain Main (1988) seem to be the exception that proves the rule and even that film’s legacy is still debated.

But could that be about to change?

David Fincher – like Kubrick, a meticulous director of rare talent – has recently been attracted to projects with two lead characters who appear to show traces of Asberger’s and autism.

Animal welfare expert and autism advocate Temple Grandin recently talked to George Stroumboulopoulos about the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010):

(For anyone doubting the accuracy of the book or film check out this interview with Aaron Sorkin, this one with producer Scott Rudin, this intriguing Quora thread and this /Film article here).

Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is another computer hacker with limited social skills, but her character is arguably a key reason why the book caught on in the way that it did.

Not only does it reverse the gender stereotype seen so often in Hollywood – e.g. man saves ‘the damsel in distress’ – but it possibly reflects a generation of women not only comfortable with computers, but capable of using them as a tool to fight their various battles.

In the same way that Zuckerberg uses his coding skills to outwit the entitled Winklevoss twins, Salander utilises her hacking skills to get revenge on various sleazy and sexist men.

Let’s not forget that the original title of Steig Larrson’s novel was “Men Who Hate Women” and that the female protagonist was partly inspired by the author witnessing the gang rape of a girl, which led to his lifelong hatred of violent abuse against women.

Her position as an outsider is thus cemented by her endurance of abuse as well as her distant personality – the fact that her character has resonated so strongly in pop culture, surely suggests something about the sexism and intolerance that is still prevalent in the modern world.

On the official site for the original Scandinavian production, there is even a whole section devoted to whether or not the character has Asberger’s, but it isn’t presented necessarily as a flaw – it is just who she is and in some ways works to her advantage.

After all, she is described by her employer (Goran Visnic) in Fincher’s film as “one of the best investigators” he has but “different”.

She is the latest in a long line of obsessive loners in Fincher films: there is the disillusioned, library-dwelling cop in Seven (1995), the coldly distant financier in The Game (1997), the split-personality at the heart of Fight Club (1999), the determined mother in Panic Room (2002), the outsider-cartoonist in Zodiac (2007) or the old-man-getting-younger in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

All feature some special gift, which can often be both a blessing and a curse.

If this sounds like a superhero movie, you might be interested to know that Fincher was offered the first Spider-Man movie but this extract from a Q&A session at the BFI Southbank in Febraury 2009 reveals why that never happened:

Q4: You’ve made films where improbable things look realistic. Did you ever consider making a superhero movie or fantasy, where things are bit more difficult to make believable?

Fincher: I was asked if I might be interested in the first Spider-Man, and I went in and told them what I might be interested in doing, and they hated it. No, I’m not interested in doing “A Superhero”. The thing I liked about Spider-Man was I liked the idea of a teenager, the notion of this moment in time when you’re so vulnerable yet completely invulnerable. But I wasn’t interested in the genesis, I just couldn’t shoot somebody being bitten by a radioactive spider – just couldn’t sleep knowing I’d done that. [audience laughs]

But if you think about it, The Social Network is a kind of superhero movie where geeky outsiders (like Peter Parker or the X-Men) use their special talents to create something bigger than themselves – its just in this case its a website that connects millions of people rather than a symbolic crimefighter.

If you want to take that analogy further, Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, depicts Jewish outsiders working during the ‘Golden Age‘ of comics, which is loosely inspired by the lives of real people including Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Like Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin falling out over Facebook, Spiderman creators Lee and Steve Ditko had some disagreement over the character who would become famous – essentially, Lee did the writing whilst Ditko did the drawing.

People I discussed The Social Network with seemed divided about the central character: older viewers perceived him as a jerk who betrayed his friends, whilst younger one saw him as a hero for sticking it to the privileged Harvard elite and building a website that has become a huge part of their lives.

In fact, the film works as a brilliant metaphor for Hollywood itself – brilliant Jewish upstarts defy the East coast establishment (represented by the Winklevoss twins) to find their nirvana on the West Coast (Silicon Valley).

Although many see the final scene as a Rosebud-style comeuppance for Zuckerberg, they seem to forget the small matter of him not only becoming a billionaire, but having an unusual amount of control of the company he founded.

The geek really does inherit the earth.

The photo the Zuckerberg character he keeps refreshing is that of a former girlfriend played by Rooney Mara, the very same actress who plays Lisbeth Salander, reinforcing the connection between the films.

Mara was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and was on the red carpet last Sunday.

It was the very same carpet where Sacha Baron Cohen poured ‘the ashes of Kim Jong Il’ over Ryan Seacrest (a stunt which spread like wildfire on Twitter and already has 7.2 million views on YouTube):

What does this have to do with Asberger’s or autism?

Sacha’s brother is Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and director of the University’s Autism Research Centre.

Wikipedia have more details:

He is best known for his work on autism, including his early theory that autism involves degrees of “mind-blindness” (or delays in the development of theory of mind); and his later theory that autism is an extreme form of the “male brain”, which involved a re-conceptualisation of typical psychological sex differences in terms of empathizing–systemizing theory.

Here he is giving a lecture in Stockholm:

In a recent interview with the broswer he was asked about books and films he’d recommend.

Among his choices were The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time by Mark Haddon, the 2003 bestseller which featured a narrator with Asberger’s, and Werner Herzog’s film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974).

The central character is famous in Germany for being – as the title might suggest – one of those real-life enigmas who has inspired endless debate.

He appeared in a Nuremberg village in 1828 with no language, he was taken in by the local doctor who tried to help assimilate him to normal society.

Part of the fascination with central character and Herzog’s film are the underlying questions it throws up, but Baron-Cohen thinks it is significant for other reasons:

Kaspar Hauser might be the first well-documented case of autism in literature, or even in history.

Some people wonder whether autism is just a modern phenomenon, but here we have a very early account. The film (and the original book) raises very similar issues to those raised in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and shares a main character who is somehow detached from humanity.

Like The Curious Incident, Kaspar Hauser also suffered neglect and abuse (of a different kind – he was reportedly chained up and isolated for the first 17 years of his life), so this by no means represents autism.

Indeed, it could be more similar to the case of Genie, a so-called feral child who was also reared in isolation and never properly developed language or social skills.

It taps into the same fascination that anthropologists have with other cultures, but in this case it is a fascination with someone who is not part of any culture.

There’s a sort of mirroring that goes on, because the character is so detached he is observing other people. Some people with Asperger syndrome describe themselves as feeling as though they came from another planet: they watch human interaction and they don’t quite understand it. They don’t feel that they can participate in it.

Baron-Cohen has hit on something here about autism and the power of cinema.

It is a medium which presents us with an immersive ‘second reality’ on screen and that rare chance to escape from our sense of self (as long as the film isn’t really bad).

‘Escapism’ is often used as a derogatory term for disposable entertainment, but surely any film that achieves a sense of escape from ourselves is successful on some level.

For people suffering from a sense that they can’t participate in ‘normal society’ (which by they way, isn’t so normal these days), it may come as a welcome relief.

The spectrum of autism – of which Asberger’s is a part – is something that the mainstream media and general public finds hard to grapple with.

Perhaps because the stereotypes perpetuated and recycled through the media, only increase the social taboo, prevent discussion and increase the sense of isolation.

But it is heartening to know that one of the UK’s leading experts finds something of real value in a Herzog movie.

The German auteur has carved out a unique career in both features and documentaries, and Kaspar Hauser was his international breakthrough – it is ironic that a film about isolation should connect internationally.

Perhaps the recent spate of films dealing with autism can have a similar connection, not just with people who have the condition but with the wider public too.

Asberger’s and autism is much more than the ‘annoying kid’ in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close or Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant in Rain Main (1988).

It may be embedded in the very DNA of Hollywood and some cinemas greatest filmmakers.

>; More on Asberger’s Syndrome at Wikipedia
>; Extremely Loud and Autism
>; Review of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
>; Wrong Planet on ‘Asberger’s Movies’

DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 27th February 2012


The Conformist (Arrow Video): Bernardo Bertolucci’s adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel is a dazzling exploration of his country’s facist past. When an Italian bureaucrat (Jean-Louis Trintignant) becomes an assassin for Mussolini‘s secret police, we see his troubled past in flashback, as he attempts to kill a former mentor now living in Paris. A landmark in cinematography, Vittorio Storaro’s compositions and lighting are some of the best of the 1970s and not only proved influential but led to work with directors such as Coppola (Apocalypse Now) and Beatty (Reds). A haunting portrait of Europe in the 1930s under the spell of Facism. [Buy the Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray from Amazon UK]

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Artificial Eye): Lynne Ramsay’s return to films after nine years is a dazzling adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is a bold and unsettling drama that borders on horror. Depicting the anxieties of a middle class American mother (Tilda Swinton) it charts her disturbing relationship with her son  over a number of years: the young toddler (Rocky Duer), the creepy 6-8 year old (Jasper Newell) and the malevolent teenager (Ezra Miller). Brilliant audio-visual design and a predictably great performance from Swinton are just some of the highlights, as the film homes in with laser-like precision on the darkest fears of motherhood. [Buy the Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK] [Read our full review]

The Mizoguchi Collection (Artificial Eye): A Blu-ray release a box set with four films by Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi, renowned for his renowned for his carefully constructed takes and emotional purity. It contains the following films:

[Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD box set]


In Time (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Mr Popper’s Penguins (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) (Blu-ray / Normal)
Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Sleeping Beauty (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Front Line (Showbox Media Group) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Scorpion King 3 – Battle for Redemption (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Three Musketeers (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / Normal]

Recent DVD & Blu-ray picks
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011


Inspirational Movie Music

What is the secret of inspirational movie music?

By inspirational, I mean the kind of music traditionally used to salute artists who have inspired audiences and other artists.

Watching the Oscars last night, this struck me during the In Memoriam sequence and the ‘what-do-movies-mean-to-you’ segments.

Part of the reason cinema has traditionally been a superior medium to television is the immersive experience in an auditorium.

It accentuates not only the sound design of the film but also the musical choices of the director.

Although the effect is reduced at home in front of your TV (or computer) the same principles are at work.

But how do they work?

Composer Hans Zimmer briefly touches upon the subject in this interview about his early career, when he discusses the rise of MTV, how he got his break in Hollywood [interview starts about 0:30]:

When we listen to music our brains instantly detect a mood, which makes it appear effortless or easy.

But is actually precisely the opposite, as the composer or director are always skating on very thin ice as they risk the danger of sentimental cliche at any moment.

Such a moment can ruin a sequence, which is especially apparent in a film when the final audio and visual mix blends so many key elements together.

I’ve written before about frequently used trailer cues and, though they often get overused, there is a reason they were popular in the first place.

What’s interesting is that these pieces of music don’t necessarily have to be in great movies.

Last night I saw this tweet about music that was playing during one of the Oscar montages:

Although I saw Hoffa (1992) when it came out, for some reason it rarely gets played on UK television.

I remember it as an interesting, rather than a great movie, but listening to David Newman‘s score again I realised that there was something about it that fits neatly into a tribute segment.

His brother Thomas Newman is also a noted film composer and he too had a piece of music used in a montage last night.

It was from Meet Joe Black (1998) – a passion project for director Martin Brest that is now remembered as a costly 3-hour indulgence.

But although it is by no means a masterpiece, Thomas Newman’s score is magical, hitting emotional buttons all over the place.

Likewise, I’ve heard cues from Newman’s scores for Road to Perdition (2002) and Finding Nemo (2003) crop up on television, often in factual programming that needs a bit of a musical lift, which have his signature blend of melodies and instrumentation.

Similarly Carter Burwell’s main theme for Miller’s Crossing (1990) is another piece of music that provokes an instant mood, which is probably why it was used on the trailer for The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Although it didn’t do that film’s theatrical prospects much good – it was only later that it became a hit on VHS and TV – you can see the marketing folk at Castle Rock chose it.

Then there are pieces of film music that live in through influence.

One of the most indelible scores of the last twenty years is Hans Zimmer’s work for Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998).

The track ‘Journey to the Line’ somehow manages to capture the epic dread, excitement and adrenaline rush of men about to kill each other.

But like a lot of music used in Malick movies, somehow goes beyond that to a state of ecstasy that is hard to pin down.

Not only have I heard it pop up on television occasionally, but Harry Escott’s opening musical theme to Shame (2011) appears to be heavily influenced by it. (It also features in the trailer).

Zimmer repeated the soaring strings – albeit with a heavy does of electronic elements – for his remarkable score to Inception (2010).

You can see why Nolan – a huge Malick fan – went to the same man who composed that poetic war movie.

The combination of strings, brass and slow-burn build up pays off brilliantly.

Which brings us back to last night’s Oscars ceremony as another piece of music used in the montage ‘what-makes-movies-great’ segments was Mychael Danna’s score to Moneyball (2011).

Not only was this my personal favourite of last year, I suspect that it is going to become a fixture with TV companies looking to add inspiration to their coverage of the forthcoming Olympics or various other supporting events.

Not only does it sound like a cross between Philip Glass and the aforementioned Thomas Newman, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of overkill.

As a commenter on YouTube puts it:

“the progression and growing intensity in this piece rouse feelings of tremendous achievement, glorious victory, energized accomplishment…”

Which is ironic because Moneyball reflects the bitter-sweet nature of Billy Beane‘s career – whilst his ideas conquered Major League Baseball, his team did not.

In fact, his turning down the chance to manage the Boston Red Sox in 2002 – on the brink of their fairytale redemption in the 2004 World Series – gives the film a fascinating ‘if only’ quality.

But then that is arguably a strength of the film is that it focuses on the power of ideas (specifically on-base percentage) rather than luck or phoney sports movie clichés.

The score reflects this by always holding back on a big flourish – some of the pieces are under 2 minutes – so maybe that’s partly what’s so effective about it.

In his fascinating book Music and the Mind, Anthony Storr says:

“Absence of external association makes music unique among the arts”

Whilst this is true of music generally, it does not apply to film music as it is precisely about the external association of sounds with the image we see on screen.

There are differences between music specifically scored for a film and use of pre-existing pieces (maybe the subject of another post) but it the question still remains as to why it affects our emotions in this way.

It is hard to write down or even talk about the precise effect film music has on us, so I asked Twitter users earlier what music they found ‘inspirational’ (not a perfect word, but it is indicative of a certain mood) and they suggested the following.

Kelli Marshall suggested the opening theme to Chariots of Fire (1981) – note the mix of 80s synths, classical piano and the serious amount of smoking in the video.

Another user suggested:

‘most of Sergio Leone’s films’

Can you imagine the climax from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) without Ennio Morricone’s iconic score?

[Spoiler alert, obviously]

It is worth noting that this is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite movie scene of all time, which is interesting that such a master of dialogue should fall for a wordless sequence – but then maybe that’s what he admires about it.

What would be you inspirational music of choice?

>; Film Music at Wikipedia
>; Frequently Used Trailer Cues
>; Buy Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr from Amazon UK

Awards Season News

84th Academy Awards: Winners

The Artist won five awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, (Michael Hazanavicius) and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).

Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) was awarded Best Actress, whilst in the supporting categories Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Octavia Spencer (The Help) won for their respective roles.

Hugo was the big winner in the technical categories, winning Cinematography, Sound Editing and Mixing, Art Direction and Visual Effects.

The Artist also became the the first silent film to win Best Picture since Wings (1927), which won the same prize at the very first Academy Awards.

So in a year that has seen great changes as cinema shifts from celluloid to digital, there was something appropriate in the big winners being tributes to the silent era and one of its true pioneers, Georges Méliès.


Official Oscar site
> Explore the 84th Academy Awards in depth at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Final Predictions

  • Best Picture: THE ARTIST
  • Best Director: MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS – The Artist
  • Best Actor: JEAN DUJARDIN – The Artist
  • Best Actress: VIOLA DAVIS – The Help
  • Best Supporting Actor: CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER – Beginners
  • Best Supporting Actress: OCTAVIA SPENCER – The Help
  • Best Original Screenplay: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Woody Allen
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: THE DESCENDANTS – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash from The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
  • Best Animated Feature: RANGO
  • Best Art Direction: HUGO – Dante Ferretti
  • Best Cinematography: THE TREE OF LIFE – Emmanuel Lubezki
  • Best Costume Design: THE ARTIST – Mark Bridges
  • Best Documentary Feature: PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY
  • Best Documentary Short Subject: SAVING FACE
  • Best Film Editing: THE ARTIST – Annie-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • Best Foreign Language Film: A SEPARATION
  • Best Makeup: THE IRON LADY
  • Best Original Score: THE ARTIST – Ludovic Bource
  • Best Original Song: THE MUPPETS – Man or Muppet
  • Best Live Action Short Film: TUBA ATLANTIC
  • Best Sound Editing: HUGO – Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • Best Sound Mixing: HUGO – Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • Best Visual Effects: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, and Daniel Barrett
Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Best Picture


This category is the only one in which every member of the Academy is eligible to nominate and vote on the final ballot.

It is the final award given out during the ceremony and since 1951, is collected by the film’s producers.

At the 1st Academy Awards there was no ‘Best Picture’ award, but instead it was split between ‘Outstanding Production’ (won by Wings) and Artistic Quality (won by Sunrise).

It was the following year that the Academy instituted Best Production and decided to honour Wings, which is the reason it is  is often listed as the winner of the first Best Picture award.

From 1944 until 2008, the Academy the Academy nominated five films for Best Picture until they expanded it to ten films from 2009-10.

This year saw more changes to the category when it was announced that the number of nominees would vary between five and ten films, provided that the film earned 5% of first-place votes during the nomination process.

Part of the reason for these changes was anxiety about declining ratings of the ceremony, which is actually a big deal because that’s where the Academy make most of their money but whether these changes have made any difference is an open question.

With that in mind, here are this year’s Best Picture nominees and their listed producers.

THE ARTIST – Thomas Langmann

Back in May the idea of a silent, black and white French film winning Best Picture seemed highly unlikely. But Harvey Weinstein returned to the Oscar game last year with a vengeance and returned to the kind of feelgood ‘underdog’ period film of his Miramax days.

It also happens to be brilliantly made and utterly delightful. Against all odds, since early September it has been the unlikely frontrunner.

THE DESCENDANTS – Jim Burke, Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne

For a long time it seemed the closest rival to The Artist, Alexander Payne’s bittersweet comedy-drama. Despite only one Best Picture winner (Slumdog Millionaire) Fox Searchlight have a formiddable awards machine.

With an acclaimed premiere at Telluride, it seemed they had a strong contender for Best Picture, but the momentum of The Artist has proved irresistible for voters.


Uber-producer Scott Rudin was screened two films late in the awards season game and this adaptation  of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel got a critical hammering. Why then was it nominated for Best Picture?

I’m guessing that it moved some Academy voters before the negative reviews came out and Max Von Sydow’s character has become a kind of avatar for older viewers as they try to process the genuine horrors of 9/11.

THE HELP – Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Baranathan

The sleeper hit of the summer obviously appealed to the tastes of certain Academy members. Despite the lingering controversy over its depiction of race, it could still see two actresses (Viola Davis and Octavia) pick up awards.

This is the kind of film which benefitted enormously from being released over the summer when it stood out against more commercial fare. With the log jam of Autumn and Winter, will awards contenders be tempted to follow its example?

HUGO – Graham King and Martin Scorsese

It has the most nominations (11), but Hugo’s best shot is in the technical categories. Scorsese’s 3D love letter to cinema has many intriguing parallels with The Artist, but it was caught up in the Thanksgiving weekend crush and faltered at the box office.

However, it may come to be seen as an important film in years to come as the high priest of celluloid (Scorsese) uses the latest digital tools (ARRI Alexa camera on a Cameron-Pace 3D rig) to craft a tribute to the medium we love.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum

When Woody Allen’s latest film was heralded at Cannes it seemed like it was a case of Fracophile love for the director. But this really was a delightful return to form, if not quite the career heights of the late 1970s and 80s.

Given his prodiguous and patchy output over the last decade (when some of his films have failed to secure UK theatrical distribution) it was a welcome return to the kind of smart fantasy/comedy of Zelig (1983) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985).

MONEYBALL – Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, and Brad Pitt

When Sony gradually realised how this movie was playing  given this a big push all season and it is a remarkable film pulled out of the ashes of a previously cancelled production. In any other year Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller would be strong contenders.

But whilst the filmmaking is impeccable, the subtle themes and execution probably meant it didn’t satisfy Academy voters looking for a more triumphalist sports movie. In the same way Billy Beane’s theories had a major influence on baseball, hopefully it can inspire other major studios to take more chances.

THE TREE OF LIFE – Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill, and Bill Pohlad

Possibly the greatest film of the bunch, it divided audiences (but not critics) who were freaked out by the ambition and the little matter of a creation sequence, which actually makes perfect sense in the context of the film. The old guard of the Academy really came through for Malick here just by nominating this film, showing the respect and awe he inspires in voters. It won’t win but the fact that this film even got made in 2011 is a miracle.

WAR HORSE – Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy

As soon as this went into production in 2010 it was an immediate contender for this year. The pedigree of Spielberg, the high calibre of his regular collaborators, period setting and the emotional vibes all seemed tailor made for the Academy.

But it doesn’t always work out and despite the strong box office this didn’t garner many heavyweight nominations and the lack of a Best Director nod was noticeable.

Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Picture at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Best Director


At the 1st Academy Awards there were two directing awards – one for drama and the other for comedy – but the latter was was eliminated the following year.

Only twice has it been awarded to a co-directing team, rather than to an individual director: Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise for West Side Story (1961) and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men (2007).

WOODY ALLEN – Midnight in Paris


TERRENCE MALICK – The Tree of Life

ALEXANDER PAYNE – The Descendants


Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Director at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Best Actor



GEORGE CLOONEY – The Descendants


GARY OLDMAN – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

BRAD PITT – Moneyball

Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Actor at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Best Actress


GLENN CLOSE – Albert Nobbs


ROONEY MARA – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

MERYL STREEP – The Iron Lady

MICHELLE WILLIAMS – My Week With Marilyn

Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Actress at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor


Like the Supporting Actress category, it wasn’t until the 8th Academy Awards ceremony (1935), that this category came into being as the Best Actor award covered all actors, be they supporting or lead.

After complaints that it was leading actors were unfairly favoured the current system was introduced at the 9th Academy Awards ceremony (1936), when Walter Brennan won for Come and Get It.

KENNETH BRANAGH – My Week With Marilyn

JONAH HILL – Moneyball

NICK NOLTE – Warrior


MAX VON SYDOW – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Supporting Actor at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress


It wasn’t until the 9th Academy Awards ceremony (1936) that this award was given and the first recipient was Gale Sondergaard for her performance in Anthony Adverse.

Until the 8th Academy Awards (1935), nominations for the Best Actress award included all actresses, whether the performance was a leading or supporting one.



MELISSA McCARTHY – Bridesmaids

JANET McTEER – Albert Nobbs


Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Supporting Actress at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Original Screenplay


This category was created in 1940 as a separate writing award when Preston Sturges won for The Great McGinty and in 1957 the two categories were combined to reward only the screenplay.

In 2002, the name was altered from “Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen)” to “Writing (Original Screenplay)”

Woody Allen is nominated this year and is the screenwriter with the most nominations in this category (15).






Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Adapted Screenplay at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Adapted Screenplay


This award is given to the writer(s) of a screenplay adapted from another source, which often means a novel, play, short story, or piece of journalism.

Of the two screenplay categories this is the oldest, with the first winner in 1927 being Benjamin Glazer for adapting Austin Strong’s play Seventh Heaven for the screen.

Traditionally movies have always been an adapted art form (i.e. based on another source) so it was not until  1940 that a separate writing award was created for Best Story, then in 1957 those two categories were combined to reward the screenplay.






Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Adapted Screenplay at Wikipedia


Indiewire Distribution Panel 2011

Last summer indieWIRE hosted a panel discussion in New York on how film distribution has changed since the site launched in 1996.

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief Dana Harris, the following people were involved:

Amongst the topics they talk about, include:

  • How the speed of release has changed
  • The death of regional film critics
  • How critical influence is now in the hands of a small group of critics (e.g. NY Times, Ebert, David Germain of the AP)
  • The inflation of theatrical ticket prices
  • How Secrets and Lies and Breaking the Waves would never make today the money they did back in 1996
  • How genuine indie movies like Exit Through The Gift Shop have to be more aggressive with advance screenings
  • A bad review in the Village Voice follows you to 17 other cities as they syndicate their reviews
  • Insidious cost $800,000 to make but by directly engaging the horror audience (e.g. filmmaker Q&As and horror websites) it lasted 14 weeks in its theatrical run.
  • How TV sales for foreign films are non-existent now
  • The role of Netflix
  • Tablets as TVs
  • DVD is disappearing quicker than streaming is filling the void
  • How the interface of systems like VOD systems like iTunes and Netflix is a huge issue
  • The problem of VOD tracking numbers, compared to VHS and theatrical (a paradox which show how dominant players like to keep data to themselves)
  • How Bingham Ray was asked to ‘bump up’ the sales figures of an early Jim Carrey film (!)
  • How does an older audience more comfortable with print media cope with the death
  • Younger audiences not wanting to pay for films like The Human Centipede or Black Dynamite
  • How getting out of the house for a communal experience is what is going to keep cinema alive
  • ‘Eventising’ (e.g. live Q&As beamed by satellite across the country)
  •  How younger musicians are wanting to compose music for silent films
  • The rise and fall of the indie bubble coinciding with indieWIRE’s existence
  • How now is a time when “anything is possible and nothing works” (a quote from Richard Lorber)
  • The ever changing distribution landscape

> What indieWIRE looked like in 1996
> More on film distribution at Wikipedia


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 24th February 2012


Safe House (Universal): When a group of villains destroy a CIA-operated safe house, the facility’s young house-sitter (Ryan Reynolds) must work to move the criminal (Denzel Washington) who’s being hidden there to another secure location. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. [Nationwide]

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (20th Century Fox): A story set in Bangalore and centered around the workers and residents at Dunroamin, a home for the elderly. Directed by John Madden, it stars Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Dev Patel and Tom Wilkinson. [Nationwide]

One For the Money (Entertainment): Comedy-thriller about an unemployed lingerie buyer (Katherine Heigl), who convinces her cousin to give her a shot as a bounty hunter. Her first assignment is to track down a former cop on the run for murder – who turns out to be the same man who broke her heart years before. Directed by Julie Anne Robinson, it co-stars Debbie Reynolds. [Nationwide]


Black Gold (Warner Bros): Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centers on a young Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father and modern, liberal father-in-law. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, it stars Mark Strong and Tahar Rahim. [Selected cinemas]

Rampart (Studiocanal UK): Set in Los Angeles during the early 1990s, veteran police officer Dave Brown Woody Harrelson) works to take care of his family, and struggles for his own survival. Directed by Jean-Pierre Ameris, it co-stars Ben Foster and Sigourney Weaver. [Selected cinemas]

Red Dog (G2 Pictures): Family film based on a true story about a dog and his how he affects a town in Western Australia. Directed by Kriv Stenders, it stars Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor and John Batchelor. [Selected cinemas]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Sound Mixing


As this category is closely connected to Sound Editing it is worth checking the nominees there, as they duplicate each other with the exception of Moneyball.

This award generally given to the production sound mixers and re-recording mixers of the winning film.

Normally the engineer will mix 4 main elements: speech (dialogue, ADRvoice-overs etc.), ambiencesound effects and music.






Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Sound Mixing at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Sound Editing


The question that often comes up every year is ‘what is the difference between sound editing and sound mixing’?

In the modern era, sound editing refers to the creation of the overall sound-scape of the film, whilst sound mixing is blending of these elements together to create the final sound mix.

The award is usually received by the Supervising Sound Editors of the film, sometimes accompanied by the sound designers.

As sound in movies has evolved, so has this award, which dates back to 1963.

From that year until 2000, it was adjusted for the sound design of the winning movie, so Best Sound Effects (1963–1967, 1975), Sound Effects Editing (1977, 1981–1999) and  Sound Editing (1979, 2000–present).

The sound mixing category is the one that dates back to the early years of the Oscars.

What’s interesting about sound this year is that some of the nominees (notably Transformers 3 and War Horse) have taken advantage of Dolby’s new 7.1 surround sound.






Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Sound Editing at Wikipedia


The Orson Welles Shakespeare Collection

Audio of Orson Welles performing Shakespeare on the radio between 1936 and 1946 has surfaced online.

Before he went on to make Citizen Kane (1941), Welles made a name for himself on radio with various broadcasts, including his infamous version of War of the Worlds in 1938.

Now thanks to the Internet Archive, have a listen to or download Welles perform in Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Richard II and King Lear.

You can download them as MP3 files by clicking on the links below:

You can also listen to his 1 hour version of Dracula by clicking here.

Orson Welles at Wikipedia
The Mercury Theater

Behind The Scenes Interesting

The Making of Husbands

An old BBC documentary shows how John Cassavetes made his low budget film Husbands (1970).

Although slightly more expensive than his first four films – Shadows (1959), Too Late Blues (1961), A Child is Waiting (1963) and Faces (1968) – it is a fascinating insight into how independent films were made before the Sundance revolution.

During this period of directing he was better known as an actor in films such as Don Siegel’s The Killers (1964), Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Roman Polanski‘s Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

But he was using this acting money to self-finance his films as a director – often shooting scenes in his own home – and even forming as a company to handle foreign distribution.

Husbands saw him star alongside Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara as a trio of married men who go on a spree around New York and London, after the funeral of one of their close friends.

This BBC documentary probably aired on BBC1 around the UK release.

Note the following:

  • The incredibly posh BBC presenter
  • The light handheld cameras
  • Use of real locations
  • The improvised dolly on the back of a car
  • How Cassevetes works his actors
  • Use of long lenses
  • The ‘problem’ of a professional crew
  • Working with ‘no story’
  • The hose down at (what is presumably) Heathrow airport
  • Cassevetes getting frustrated with his crew
  • The sheer amount of smoking that goes on
  • Filming at Bank Station on the London Underground
  • Cassavetes saying: “Actors will put their money where their mouth is. Directors won’t”

> Husbands at the IMDb and Wikipedia
> Ray Carney’s links on Cassevetes
> Article on the making of Husbands
> Ben Gazzara (1930-2012) – including video of a memorable chat show appearance
> More on Independent film at Wikipedia


Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Cinematography


Easily the most interesting technical category this year, as the nominees reflect old school 35mm (War Horse, The Tree of Life), colour celluloid transformed to B&W with digital post-production tools (The Artist), digital 3D (Hugo) and 2D digital (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

When this award began, for the first four years the cinematographer was not named and it wasn’t until 1931 that the current system came in, whereby individuals are listed alongside a film.

When The Garden of Allah (1936, A Star is Born (1937) and Sweethearts (1938) became the first colour films to win Special Achievement Oscars from 1939 until 1966, the award was split between black-and-white and colour.

Since then, the only black-and-white film to win is Schindler’s List (1993).






Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Cinematography at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Film Editing


This award began in 1934 and is closely watched because it is often seen as good indicator for Best Picture.

That’s because since 1981 every Best Picture nominee has also been nominated for editing, and nearly two thirds of the eventual Best Picture winners have also won the award for editing.

The nominations are voted on by members of the Editing Branch, which in 2008 consisted of 233 members.

Academy Rules state:

  1. A Reminder List of all eligible motion pictures shall be sent with a nominations ballot to all members of the Film Editors Branch, who shall vote in the order of their preference for not more than five productions.
  2. The five productions receiving the highest number of votes shall become the nominations for final voting for the Film Editing award.
  3. …only film editors who hold principal position credit(s) shall be considered eligible for the Film Editing award.
  4. Final voting for the Film Editing award shall be restricted to active and life Academy members.
  5. Only the principal, “above the line” editor(s) as listed in the film’s credits are named on the award; additional editors, supervising editors, etc. are not generally eligible.

Intriguingly, this is the reverse of the BAFTA voting system where the winner is selected by members of the equivalent editing  branch (or ‘chapter’ as it called in the UK).






Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Editing at Wikipedia

Festivals Interesting

The Future of Cinema Panel at VIFF 2011

A panel last September at the Vancouver Film Festival raised some interesting points about the digital revolution affecting cinema.

The panel included: film critic David Bordwell; producer Simon Field; film critic and TIFF programmer Andréa Picard; film critic and Vancity program coordinator Tom Charity; and the director of VIFF, Alan Franey.

The discuss the following topics:

  • The imminent death of 35mm prints and what that means
  • The possible future of film festivals in the digital age
  • Whether celluloid is like vinyl
  • Parallels with the music business
  • Torrenting and the problems it poses
  • The quality of projection
  • The importance of festivals in developing a more rounded appreciation of the medium
  • Failure of film education to expose students to new forms of cinema
  • The serious problem of preserving digitally native films (Bordwell’s blog post is here)
  • Higher frame-rates
  • The projection difference between digital (pixels) and celluloid (molecules)
  • Challenges facing festivals in appealing to the next generation
  • A new generation of critics emerging online
  • The responsibility festivals have to cinema history
  •  How hard social times might be good for filmmakers

[via Film Studies for Free]

> Vancouver Film Festival on Vimeo
> From Celluloid to Digital