27 November, 2006

Torchwood in Good Episode Shock!




The country is recovering from the incredible news that an episode of Torchwood was not only good for Torchwood but a good episode of TV drama in general.

While the main influences of the episode, Greeks Bearing Gifts, seemed obvious (Buffy epi Earshot and Unbreakable), Toby Whithouse managed to craft something fairly original and entertaining as he focused on Toshiko's new friendship.

Reading the messageboards, the homosexual content of previous episodes seemed to generate as much anger as the awful writing. On that issue, I say it is RTD’s series and his sexuality is part of his writer’s voice (like all of us) and he can do what the frack he wants. No-one complains about Kay Mellor and her ‘obsession’ with heterosexuality.

However, in Whithouse’s episode, the homosexuality felt natural and normal not forced and exploitative as before. Previously, in a story context, you just didn’t believe it would or could happen with the characters while it was made to work in this episode because it was coming from emotion and a certain amount of psychological truth.

I do have a theory about actor/writers like Whithouse but I’d better wait until I’ve seen his fellow thesps Jaquetta May and Noel Clarke’s Torchwood episodes before I share it.

If you’re one of the millons who have abandoned the series (it's lost a third to half of its audience) then try and catch the BBC3 repeats or terrestrial premiere of this last one and see if you can see the difference.

26 November, 2006

British Independent Film Awards Announce Nominations

Drama Association of Wales - One Act Playwriting Competition




"The Drama Association of Wales launch their One Act Playwriting Competition 2007. The competition aims to encourage the writing of plays for amateur theatre in English and Welsh."

BBC Talent Competition: New TV Animators



BBC Talent have launched a new competition for budding animators which is for broadcast and not web-based as usual.

To enter you need to submit your short animation DVD, which must be no longer than 2 minutes in length, along with a completed entry form.


Deadline: 31 December 2006

Unsolicited Material Welcome

"The first of what will hopefully be an ongoing list of producers and production companies who encourage new writers and are open to unsolicited material in the UK."

24 November, 2006

Opening Weekend

Dhoom 2
Action thriller. Best friends take on international thief.
With Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan.

Writer: Vijay Krishna Acharya
Director: Sanjay Gadhvi

Official site

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Fated
British contemporary fairytale, about a statue of a woman that comes to life.
With Michael Angelis, Lee Boardman, Craig Charles, Katrine De Candole

Writer: Nicola Scott
Director: Nicola Scott

Official site

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Hollywoodland
Real-life crime story about famous fifties TV star.
With Ben Affleck and Adrien Brody.

Writer: Paul Bernbaum
Director: Allen Coulter

Paul Bernbaum interview 1
Paul Bernbaum interview 2
Paul Bernbaum interview 3

Official site

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Pan's Labyrinth

Fairy tale horror set in The Spanish civil war

Writer: Guillermo del Toro
Director: Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro Interview 1
Guillermo del Toro Interview 2
Guillermo del Toro Interview 3
Guillermo del Toro Interview 4
Guillermo del Toro Interview 5

Official site

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Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny

Comedy featuring spoof metal band.
With Jack Black and Kyle Gass

Writer: Jack Black, Kyle Gass, Liam Lynch
Director: Liam Lynch

Jack Black and Kyle Gass Interview 1
Jack Black and Kyle Gass Interview 2
Jack Black and Kyle Gass Interview 3

Official site

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The Rocket Post
British period drama based on a true story about a German trying to establish postal delivery by rocket in Scotland between the wars.
With Ulrich Thomsen

Writer: James MacInnes, William Morrissey
Director: Stephen Whittaker

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Something New
Drama about interracial romance.
With Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker.

Writer: Kriss Turner
Director: Sanaa Hamri

Official site

Sanaa Hamri interview

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Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

Crimbo comedy about the reluctant Father Christmas.
With Tim Allen and Martin Short

Writer: Ed Decter, John J Strauss
Director: Michael Lembeck

Official site

23 November, 2006

What the Papers Say

The Innocence Project
BBC1, Thursdays, 8:00pm




Kathryn Flett,
The Observer:


"There ought to be a law against this.

A recipe for drama: take one random murder conviction it is impossible to care very much about because we never got to know the victim or the perpetrator; blend with a bunch of smug young law students rooting out dull miscarriages of justice; whisk up some sexual chemistry between 'cool cute guy' and 'prissy uptight girl' (around which orbit 'nerd', 'feisty northern bird', 'babe' and 'bloke') and lace with exchanges such as ...

Cool Guy: 'I thought parole wasn't conditional on admitting guilt?'
Feisty Bird: 'Oh he's Category B. Parole's only available to category C inmates!'
CG: 'How do you get reclassified?'
FB: 'By demonstrating a readiness, by addressing the enormity of his offence and expressing contrition!'

... while cleverly attempting to disguise the teeth-grinding tedium of it all by having 'Feisty' deliver her lines in a tight top, tighter jeans and accessorised by a raised eyebrow, as if to say: 'I may look like I'm auditioning for The X Factor but in my spare time I read great big boring books!'

After several hours overheating, courtesy of the BBC1 Drama pressure cooker, these wilting ingredients will somehow combine to form a new primetime TV series, entitled The Innocence Project, which is as blandly forgettable as at least half a dozen or so other legal procedurals. Tired of my weary 'recipe' metaphor yet? Yeah, well I only used it to make you feel as annoyed and bored as I felt about 15 minutes into The Innocence Project.

I appreciate that 8pm is a tricky slot for drama, characterised mostly by what has to be left out rather than by what can be let in, but surely the 'no-swearing, no-bottoms' clause needn't automatically equate to the punkily nihilistic 'no plot, no plausibility, no point, no hope, no future ...', even if it necessarily feels a bit like a waiting-room for something at 9pm (in this case The State Within).

8pm: home of the soap and docusoap; the place for panto-villainry, stuff with speed cameras, bad holidays, animals, gardens, property, Trevor McDonald, and of course the 'News Where You Are (You Sad Little Regional Souls, You)'. It's a slot I mostly ignore in the real world (I'll eat dinner and read the paper instead, occasionally keeping half an eye on a C4 miserydoc) but on balance I'd probably rather BBC1 brought back Davina than gave us Hollyoaks with A-levels.

Would law students even watch The Innocence Project? Nah, too busy being called to the bar. But if they're smart they'd be better off catching up with This Life, currently re-running on BBC2 and looking in surprisingly good shape after 10 years."


Gareth McLean,
The Guardian:


“Get past the inappropriately jaunty titles and the incredibly annoying music and there's the prospect of a good drama here. A team of aesthetically pleasing law students rectify miscarriages of justice under the tutelage of handsome Lloyd Owen. A tad self-conscious and laboured - its homages to the walking-and-talking of The West Wing are a little irksome - but it's nevertheless slick and watchable. Whether audiences will stray from their diet of the whodunnit to this whodidntdoit, we shall see.”


Strictly Confidential
ITV1, Thursdays, 9:00pm




Ian Johns,
The Times:


“Ah, what an emotional tangled web Kay Mellor loves to weave. In her new series Strictly Confidential (ITV1), the author of Band of Gold, Fat Friends and the recent vet melodrama The Chase (no, I can’t remember much about that one, either), gave us the emotional hang-ups of a sex therapist, Linda, and her clients. Linda was desperate to have a baby but her husband was infertile (cue first ad break after this revelation), so she approached her married brother-in-law colleague to be a sperm donor. From all the knowing looks, you knew she still fancied him from their student days. What’s more, Linda was an adviser to a lesbian CID officer and seemed over-eager to head to a crime scene whenever she was summoned.

Mellor loved to mix up the babies, bodies and bonking. The result was an odd bumptious broodiness. The clients’ problems didn’t prompt a serious examination of sexual desire and anxiety but became an excuse to intermingle the farce of a mother smothering with affection her virgin-bride daughter and the steadily darker story of a sex-addicted sales manager.

Frank sex talk and breathy bare clinches shot in the borrowed bronzed glow of Basic Instinct ensured its post-watershed slot. Instead of Sharon Stone with an ice pick, we had the manager ending up as the possible second victim of a serial killer who’s into auto-erotic asphyxiation. And if you don’t know what that is, you’ve obviously managed to avoid every other sex documentary on Channel 4.

Having graduated from Coronation Street to become Ray Winstone’s sidekick in Vincent, Suranne Jones took the lead as Linda but wasn’t given much to do except look feisty and concerned where required. But then the actors might have been wondering what kind of drama they were in.

It kicked off as another of Mellor’s “earthy” ensemble pieces in which everyone has quips such as: “He’s like a public toilet, vacant and full of s***”, then went all Lynda La Plante and suggested it might turn into Priapic Subject. One moment someone was remarking that “I’ve been treating him for retarded ejaculation. He’s been coming for months”, the next Linda was throwing up near a trussed-up corpse. So far this series needs a shrink rather than a sex therapist to sort out its multiple personalities.”


Lucy Mangan,
The Guardian:


“Strictly Confidential (ITV1) was a production of the Lancashire mafia. This means it was written by Kay Mellor (writer of Fat Friends, Band of Gold and Playing the Field), half the cast are former Coronation Street stars and anyone who doesn't learn her lines properly gets a clip round the ear wi' a battered clog and a whippet's head left in her bed.

Suranne Jones (formerly Karen McDonald of blessed Street memory, wife of Steve and terror of the north-west) is Linda, a psychosexual therapist married to Richard. He runs corporate activity weekends but it turns out this is the least of their problems. Among the biggest is overcoming some of the clunkiest exchanges ever written. For example, Claudie, one of their weekend participants, asks Linda if her husband is the father of her children (eh?). No, mutters Linda, said children were just part of a script they use for corporate-activity purposes. A look of intense pain comes over Linda's face. "I want kids," she announces to Claudie, a perfect stranger hardly looking for in-depth info on the state of a new acquaintance's reproductive system but unfortunately finding herself at the epicentre of an exposition earthquake. "It just hasn't happened yet."

Linda works with Greg, Richard's brother, at the sex-therapy clinic ("It was Greg you first had the hots for, wasn't it?" says her friend, a line measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale). He has two children and a pregnant wife. Not only that, but they all have an annoying habit of arranging themselves into a backlit family tableau whenever Auntie Linda comes to visit, thus causing her intense pain again, especially when Richard reveals himself to be infertile. Ever the optimist, he reckons that at least this will mean they can keep the house tidy and go on more holidays. Linda remains firmly of the opinion that she would rather have a baby than a fortnight in Fuengirola and thinks they should ask Greg to contribute the necessary instead.

In Mellorian dramas, the women are always the prime movers. Perhaps, as Alan Bennett once surmised, it is the result of growing up in homes where men weren't allowed to speak. "I just don't have their voices in my head," he explained. It seems a pleasingly logical progression that the bulk of the men in this latest offering have been reduced to the status of mere sperm donors.

While Richard is mulling this over, Linda is called to the aid of Angie, a policewoman played by Eva Pope (formerly barmaid Tanya Pooley at the Rovers Return), who is investigating a suspected death by auto-erotic asphyxiation. Angie is a lesbian and we think she fancies Linda. I would have thought there were rules against roping in anyone you've got the hots for to help you with a murder investigation instead of, say, some kind of trained forensic team, but maybe they have a more robust approach to evidential matters in these parts.

In the meantime, we meet some of Linda and Greg's patients. Tiffany (Candice from you-know- where) has vaginismus, which means that her nether regions are virtually indistinguishable from a bulldog clip, and her new husband is starting to tense up quite considerably, too. This is solved by Tiffany forcing her mother to return her door key. No, me neither. Something to do with growing up, I think.

Claudie is a sex addict. At first it looks like a happy ending for her when she meets a rich man suffering from retarded ejaculation, which ensures they can go at it all night long. But then he buys her a stallion, which she decides, while symbolically neat, is in practice useless, and so dumps him for thoughtless gift-giving. I think the moral is that slags have feelings too. Soon she is swinging from a light-fitting with a hanky in her mouth and Sapphocop is beginning to suspect skulduggery.

Richard agrees that Greg can donate sperm to Linda. Greg professes himself keen to do so. The three inform his wife of the idea. I confess I am not quite sure of the polite way to go about asking a woman if she minds her husband ejaculating into a cup for the purposes of sister-in-law impregnation, but I think they could have used something more in the way of delicate preamble. If she refuses, I predict unsanctioned sperm donation using traditional methodology. Greg, I urge you to call Steve McDonald before you embark on such an undertaking. Few emerge unscathed.”

The State Within
BBC1, Thursdays, 9:00pm



Ian Johns,
The Times:


"Life with too much diplomatic baggage

My attitude to television thrillers is like that of a constantly betrayed lover. I’d like to trust again — to fall in love, even — but I’ve been let down so often that it’s hard to drop the defences down. At the same time, my expectations are so low that if the small talk is passable and I’m not immediately asked to strain my credulity, I think it might be worth having another go. My faith was restored by Paul Abbott’s State of Play three years ago so I was willing to cast a sympathetic eye over Lizzie Mickery and Dan Percival’s thriller The State Within (BBC One).

Jason Isaacs starred as Mark Brydon, the British Ambassador to Washington, who arrived back from Britain only to have his car showered by the debris of a commercial flight apparently blown up by a British Muslim. The tension between him and a hawkish US Secretary of State (Sharon Gless) intensified when the Governor of Virginia ordered a trigger-happy National Guard to round up British Muslims. A sacked ambassador (Alex Jennings) was also stalking Brydon about the War on Terror and human rights. And did a Falklands war hero (Lennie James) on Death Row in Florida, the cover-up of a British soldier’s death in Virginia and information being secretly fed to Brydon’s aide (Ben Daniels) have anything to do with the explosion? They better have — I hate the smell of herring, red or otherwise.

Since Oliver Stone’s film JKF (1991) convinced a generation that there were more gunmen than citizens lurking in Dallas when Kennedy was shot, every conspiracy has had to be a labyrinthine behemoth that, as they say, goes all the way to the top. September 11 generated more of them. Mickery and Percival had so many protagonists to introduce that the script became a conveyor belt of “I enjoyed your report on the Middle East” establishing shorthand.

The plot turned into a stream of interpersonal relationships. In the final 15 minutes we even learnt that Brydon had a romantic history with the daughter of a company chief blown-up in the aircraft and that his aide was having a gay affair with the US national security adviser. Phew, I think we all need a lie-down.

While State of Play deftly established rounded characters, The State Within gave us pawns at the mercy of the plot. Abbott’s cast also had a crumpled, lived-in quality. This had American-style good lookers and a 24 slickness without, thankfully, a split-screen addiction. At times it was like watching Spooks with a sugar rush, all swooshing pans and shaky-cam immediacy rapidly edited to a techno beat with lots of suits striding purposefully down corridors accompanied by urgent strings.

Yet the whole thing was bolstered by a terrific cast. Isaacs exuded a brooding integrity worthy of Bob Peck in Edge of Darkness. Gless was clearly having fun as a cross between Madeline Albright and Donald Rumsfield. And I’m sure there’s skulduggery to come from Neal Pearson as one of Brydon’s ambitious colleagues. He was a slight presence last night but you don’t cast Pearson in such a seemingly minor role, so look out.

There were effective scenes, too, particularly in an improvised morgue for the plane victims. And I’ve not before seen expressed so directly on television the dilemma of trying to balance the interests of British Muslims and our “special relationship” with the US. So I’ll be watching next week. And it’s nice to be allowed the pleasurable experience of seven days’ speculation about what comes next rather than have the second episode immediately afterwards on BBC Four. With five episodes to go, there’s also plenty of opportunity for the scene without which any self-respecting conspiracy thriller can be properly judged: the underground car-park meeting with a shadowy informer."


Kathryn Flett,
The Observer:


"The first episode of the BBC/BBC America six-parter The State Within was so pacy and taut and cool, even before the fabulous Sharon Gless popped up as an icy, Glenn Close-ish Secretary of State, that you could forgive its occasional lapse into genre pastiche.

For example, when the plane crashed on to Washington's Beltway, it was impossible not to sit back comparing and contrasting the quality of the CGI with that in the opening scenes of the first episode of Lost (Lost won). And when it inevitably came time for key members of the cast to stride purposefully around the White House's West Wing, the ghosts of CJ, Leo, President Jed and Sam Seaborn were never far behind.

Spoookeeee! That said, The State Within is so good and smart I fear it can only get a great deal worse over the next five weeks. Though as long as Lennie James and Jason Isaacs stay alive, there's hope."


Sam Wollaston,
The Guardian:


"At the start of The State Within (BBC1), an airliner is blown up by terrorists and comes crashing down on to the freeway outside Washington, narrowly missing the suave and dapper British ambassador who's returning from the airport. (TV British ambassadors are always suave and dapper; I wonder if they are in real life.) It turns out it was a British Muslim who did it, and that's not going down so well over there. The governor of Virginia immediately starts rounding up any Brit who doesn't go bright pink the moment the sun comes out.

So on top of the Islamic threat, there's a very tense British-US situation. You'd think that would be enough excitement for the opener of this conspiracy thriller series, but oh no, that's just the start of it. There's also a British ex-soldier, a Falklands hero, waiting to be dispensed with considerably less humanely than one of Hugh's chickens: he's on death row. And there's the glamorous lady from the embassy who's trying to save him. Then there are the steamy inter-party romances sizzling away behind the scenes. And what about the maverick diplomat, our man in Tyrgyztan - where does he fit in to it all? Is it just a coincidence that the guy who blew the plane up attended an Islamist training camp in Tyrgyztan? I suspect not.

It's as if they sat down to brainstorm a few ideas, and then at the end of it just decided: "Hey, what the hell, let's just put them all in." There are so many threads to be tied together, it's like a woollen scarf that's been put through the shredder. But it's classily done, and fun. I'm looking forward to finding out how it all pieces together."

22 November, 2006

Word of Mouth

The Page Turner (La Tourneuse De Pages)





This is an excellent psychological thriller. I had the benefit of seeing it without knowing anything about it or reading any reviews. I recommend seeing it without checking the reviews first as most of them have been quite spoilery. (I promise to give you your money back if you don’t like it*)

It begins with the child Mélanie who is about to take a piano exam before moving on to the adult Mélanie who is about to take a new job as a page turner for a pianist.

What struck me most about it was how much was said without dialogue. There’s one big audience laugh late in the picture but it came from just a look which itself related to something that happened 10-15 minutes previously.

I like its simplicity in structure and complexity in characterisation. There is tension and suspense as you suddenly work out what’s going on with Mélanie and wonder what she’s going to do next. Although several years separate the child Mélanie from the adult Mélanie, you can see they are the same person through the characterisation, in particularly the obsession.

What also helped in the enjoyment was the authentic world of musicians created and the wonderful music played.

Box Office #21 (25 screens)






(*Terms and conditions apply: I will give you fake money and not real money. Currently the Bank of England is against that sort of thing, for some reason, so if you try to spend it you will be arrested and go to jail for a very long time.)

Anthony Minghella Interview


Following a string of far-flung blockbusters, Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella was certain his next project, Breaking and Entering, should be British.

My week: Paul Abbott, writer





The writer of Channel 4 hit Shameless gives us a glimpse of his daily routine

21 November, 2006

34th INTERNATIONAL EMMY® AWARDS




Wins for Little Britain, Life on Mars, Sugar Rush and Ray Winstone for Vincent.

20 November, 2006

King’s Cross Award for New Writing 2007

The details on the link above are due to be updated but haven't been yet.

The prize this year is £2500 in cash and a staged rehearsed reading to an invited audience of theatre professionals (literary agents, directors, producers and the like).


Rules in brief:

Up to two full-length stage plays may be entered per writer
(no e-mail entries, no radio-plays or TV scripts, unpublished and
unperformed scripts only)

• The Entry fee is £5 per play

• Plays must be typed or word-processed and clearly laid out with pages numbered

• Title page must include writer’s name and full contact details. PLEASE DO NOT INCLUDE ANY INFORMATION WHICH COULD IDENTIFY THE WRITER ON ANY OTHER PAGE OF SCRIPT.

• Include two SAEs: one for acknowledgement of entry and one for return of script (with correct postage)

• Plays must be received by 2nd April 2007


Please post entries, marked ‘KING’S CROSS AWARD 2007’ to

The Courtyard, 55 East Road, LONDON N1 6AH


_________________________________________________


Rules in full:


1. The Award committee reserve the right to interpret the following rules and conditions as they see fit. Decisions in all matters pertaining to the rules, execution, and written and active administration of the Award are final, and no correspondence or further discussion will be entered into.

2. All applicants and the author of the winning script are expected to adhere to the rules and conditions of entry and acceptance of the Award as described below.

3. Entry is open to authors of all ages and levels of experience resident in the UK and Republic of Ireland . Entry is limited to two scripts per applicant.

4. Entries will consist of:

(a) an original full-length script.

(b) a SAE for acknowledgement of receipt of entry (optional)
(c) a SAE for return of script (optional)

(d) the entry fee of £ 5 per play (payable to The Courtyard)

5. Plays must:

(a) be clearly typed and laid out with pages numbered
(b) show the author's full name and contact details on the title page
(c) NOT be sent by e-mail

6. The closing date for entries is 2nd April 2007. Submissions received beyond this date will not be considered for the Award.

7. Each entry will be considered and a shortlist compiled by the internal reading panel. Scripts on the shortlist will then be read by an external panel. The winning script will be decided upon by both judging panels.

8. The Award committee will notify the winning author by the end of September 2007.

9. In accepting the Award the work of the wining writer will be legally contracted to the Courtyard Theatre.

10. The organisers of the Award will not accept responsibility for loss or damage of scripts in transit or during the judging period. Applicants are strongly advised not to send the only copy of their work.

International Playwriting Competition

You are asked to write a radio play of about sixty minutes on any subject of your choice.

Open to anyone not normally resident in the UK.


Deadline: 30 April 2007

17 November, 2006

Opening Weekend

Antibodies (Antikörper)
German cop versus serial killer thriller

Writer: Christian Alvart
Director: Christian Alvart

Christian Alvart interview (French)
Christian Alvart interview (German)


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Casino Royale
Bond re-invented back to the original

Writers: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, Paul Haggis,
Director: Martin Campbell

Neal Purvis & Robert Wade interview

Official site

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Gabrielle
French period drama about a collapsing marriage

Writers: Patrice Chéreau, Anne-Louise Trividic
Director: Patrice Chéreau



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Heroes And Villains
British romance

Writer: David Raymond
Director: Selwyn Roberts


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Joy Division
Cold War thriller.

Writer: Reg Traviss
Director: Ed Stoppard

Official site


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Requiem
German drama about a possessed woman.

Writer: Bernd Lange
Director: Hans Christian Schmid


Bernd Lange and Hans Christian Schmid interview


Official site

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Special
Superhero comedy.

Writers: Hal Haberman, Jeremy Passmore
Directors: Hal Haberman, Jeremy Passmore

Official site


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We Shall Overcome (Drømmen)
Danish student versus headmaster true story.

Writers: Niels Arden Oplev, Steen Bille
Director: Niels Arden Oplev

16 November, 2006

Word of Mouth

Casino Royale

I thought the Daniel Craig is not Bond people were odd but, my god, they must be feeling like proper prats now. The losers.

Best Bond ever. Best Bond film ever.

I have been to see every Bond film on its release since childhood and it was only at the last one, where I thought: "Hold on, these films have been crap for ages, why am I putting myself through this immense disappointment every fracking time?" And decided not to bother again. I'm so glad I changed my mind.

Purvis and Wade are good screenwriters, no doubt, but they write their films by researching new technologies and fresh locations, writing the big action set-piecces based on them and then trying to write a story and characters around those set-pieces. That can work, if done properly, but it hasn't been done properly in my opinion. This is epitomised by Bond racing that super fast car across the ice in their last movie, Die Another Day. Great car, great location but where the frack was he going and why?

Minor consideration to most of the public I realise but I kinda need answers to those questions to enjoy any action.

Casino Royale is based on Ian Fleming's original story and the script had a re-write by the most sought after screenwriter of the moment, Paul Haggis. Also To quote the Guardian "the producers wanted to make a new 007 with interesting psychological flaws to enable him to compete with troubled modern icons such as Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne." (Are the JB initials just a co-incidence I wonder...) I'm guessing that's why it all hangs together much better than usual.

In fact Quentin Tarentino alleges that the only reason they are doing Casino Royale was because he pitched the idea to the producers when Purvis and Wade publically admitted they were struggling to write their third Bond and he's annoyed he didn't get the gig.

I'm not saying there aren't any flaws and plot-holes in this but I was enjoying it so much I didn't notice any. I'm dreading seeing it again in case I spot loads of them and yet, at the same time, I can't wait to see it again.

Preview


_________________________________


Breaking and Entering

I really liked this but in the interest of full disclosure, I have to acknowledge the Juliette Binoche factor. She could just stand there and read the Paris phonebook and I'd be well happy.

But fortunately Minghella gives us a lot more than that as he's trying to say something; a few things actually.

Will is torn between his partner and her daughter from a previous relationship who has behavioural problems and his tailor who has a son from a previous relationship with stealing problems. Minghella uses that dilemma to explore the rich/poor divide, immigration, crime, relationships, prostitution and new property developments.

While Minghella succeeds in engaging the brain perhaps the heart has been left out. I say 'perhaps' only because that's what most people seem to be saying. Personally I didn't notice and didn't care. Character, story and dialogue are top notch.

The screenplay's surefootedness only slips when trying to inject a bit of fake excitement in a chase scene in the last bit. There was no reason for the characters to be running away at all. It does set up the positive and optimistic ending but that could have been done in other ways, I think.

Box Office #7

_________________________________


The Host

This is a great film. It wreaks havoc on the emotions by making us laugh, making us cry and making us wet ourselves with fright (I jumped and spilt my coke).

It is a monster film (and what a fine monster it is too) but it shows how you can use even genre films to say something. While it doesn't ever preach, the screenwriters hit on pollution, government inadequacy and US imperialism (I'm guessing that last bit won't make the inevitable US remake).

Although the US subtitles really wound me up more than usual, especially as probably more people will see it in Birmingham than the whole of the USA. It makes just as much sense having Brummie subtitles:

"Yow look, our kid, a munster!"
"Ahr, looks bostin' ent it, mind, tot"

Box Office #19

_________________________________


Little Children

Todd Field's follow-up to In the Bedroom was worth waiting the five years for. It is another entertaining mature drama which makes you think.

Sarah and Brad are married to other people but are drawn together, initially out of boredom.

There's also a sub-plot of a paedophile flasher who is released back into the community to live with his mother. This takes up a surprising amount of screen-time but I can only admire the bravery and attempt to thwart audience expectations.

A potential no-no was the novelistic narration. I'm not sure if it was in the original novel but rather than the usual annoying crutch it was beautifully written and droll.

It is long but I'm not sure that it's overlong. I did briefly wonder how the third act was going to kick in but the second act didn't outstay its welcome.

Should Todd Field google his name, I've got a message for him: "Hurry up with the next one you lazy get."

Box Office #16 (Week 2)

_________________________________

The Prestige

This movie about rival magicians at the turn of the century is wonderfully entertaining.

The theme is about what's real, not just on stage but in the magician's private lives. The twists makes sense and aren't just twists for twists sake. Also the Nolans' usual playng with time gimmick actually works here to the benefit of the story.

What I liked most was how the two main characters clearly come from differnet worlds and have different attitudes and talents. And it is what they are like as people that progresses the story. If Magician A didn't have Flaw B then Event C would not have happened. Event C would have been crap and boring on its own but by tying it to Magician A's struggle to overcome Flaw B it makes it spectacular.

And I have learnt something very important from the Nolans': never ask them the time.

"It's 9 o'clock.. no, it's seven o'clock last night... no, it's two o'clock tommorow morning..."

Box Office #2


_________________________________


Starter for Ten


Even though this was quite predictable, I quite enjoyed it. Brian's dream of being on University Challenge serves as a good goal to keep us interested during the formulaic relationship stuff.

Brian is being persued by two women and has to choose the right one but because of the 80s context and interesting characters the formula is disguised well enough.

Although I say it was predictable, the one unpredictable thing was in the last act regarding the envelope. It led to a great dramatic ending but I just don't believe Brian would have done it.

What was his motivation? Especially considering anybody could have easily seen him.

Box Office #11


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Step Up

I had not intention of seeing this romantic dance drama but despite the bad reviews, it's been retained at multi-plexes for a month, which suggests powerful word of mouth. Maybe it's because I had low expectations but I loved it.

I overheard a couple in conversation as they left the cinema:

Man: That was rubbish, what a waste of time.
Woman (hurt): I liked it; girls will like it.

Firstly, dude, pretend you liked it, no need to go overboard but you're never gonna get any with that attitude

Secondly, she's right. It's a popcorn picture which will appeal to women most or, for want of a less offensive term, a 'chick flick'.

But in answer to the critics, there are lots of similar films that have been released that haven't done as well. Step Up is excellent for its genre. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is excellent, the story is predictable but not too predictable, the dancing is cool and the music rocks.

But I suppose the best review is that when I came out of the cinema I wanted to dance all the way home. And so I did.

Box Office #4 (Week 3)


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Andrew Collins - Sitcom Writing Interview

British Sitcom Guide

BBC1 sitcom Not Going Out was one of the funniest comedies of the year. Andrew Collins, who co-wrote it with Lee Mack, talks about creating it and provides some insights into what it is like to write a mainstream sitcom.

15 November, 2006

East End Film Festival

From: Rachael Castell, Producer, East End Film Festival

Submissions are now open!

The East End Film Festival is pleased to announce that submissions for next year's festival 19 - 26 April 2007 ARE NOW OPEN.

The deadline for all submissions is 26 January 2007.

The East End Film Festival will be screening at major venues across East London.

To download the submission form and guidelines, please visit the website or email.

We are looking for films completed since November 2005. This year, for the first time, we are also accepting feature submissions that fall into any of the three categories below.

There are three submissions opportunities:

1. Homegrown talent: for films made in the East End* or by East End based filmmakers

2. Eastside Nationwide: for films made anywhere in the UK that have a cultural relevance to the East End

3. East International: for films made in Europe, Africa or Asia that have a cultural relevance to the East End.

Short films should be no longer than 15 minutes.

All films must not previously have been submitted to East End Film Festival.

For full guidelines and an application form, please visit the website or email.

All short films selected for screening at the East End Film Festival will be included for nomination to the East End Kodak Audience Award. Prizes will include film stock, software, and training opportunities


*In this instance the East End includes the London Boroughs of TowerHamlets, Hackney, Enfield, Greenwich, Newham, and Waltham Forest.

www.eastendfilmfestival.com
www.myspace.com/eastendfilmfestival

10 November, 2006

Opening Weekend

Breaking And Entering

Thriller about the aftermath of a crime with Juliette Binoche and Jude Law.

Writer: Anthony Minghella
Director: Anthony Minghella

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The Host
Comedy-horror about a scary creature

Writers: Chul-hyun Baek, Joon-ho Bong , Jun-won Ha
Director: Joon-ho Bong

Official site

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The Prestige

Rival magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) in Victorian England.

Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan (based on the book by Christopher Priest)
Director: Christopher Nolan

Official site

Jonathon Nolan Interview
Christopher Nolan Interview 1
Christopher Nolan Interview 2
Christopher Nolan Interview 3
Christopher Nolan Video Interview 1
Christopher Nolan Video Interview 2

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Puritan

Thriller about a psychic involved in a murder.

Writer: Hadi Hajaig
Director: Hadi Hajaig

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Starter For Ten

Comedy drama set in the 80s about a student who wants to be on a quiz show

Writer: David Nicholls (from his book)
Director: Tom Vaughan

David Nicholls audio interview

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Twelve And Holding

Coming-of-age story as kids have to deal with the death of a friend.

Writer: Anthony Cipriano
Director: Michael Cuesta

Official site

09 November, 2006

Word of Mouth

Sixty Six

I enjoyed this semi-autobiographical coming of age tale set in 1966 amongst the Jewish community. It isn’t just a parochial nostalgia trip, it has themes everybody should be able to identity with, mainly the father and son relationship which at the end may have lots of men replying to their partner's question, "no, I've just got something in my eye".

We feel empathy for the boy about to have his bar mitzvah. He feels that, at last, his family will have to acknowledge and appreciate him but events conspire against this, including the date of his celebration being the same as the World Cup Final.

This film is warm-hearted and witty but at a couple of points was perhaps too sad for a comedy due to the father character's problems.

Where it fell down for me was with the doctor’s sub-plot. I just didn’t see how it related to the theme. The time would have been better spent on a sub-plot about the boy and his family.

Box Office #8


Scenes of a Sexual Nature

Aschlin Ditta’s film is very enjoyable but I have some reservations.

Although the characters and relationships are interesting, it’s the nature of a multi-sketch ensemble piece that makes it a little unsatisfying. For a while the sheer hilarity and writing quality is enough to sustain it but it does flag a bit without an overall story arc to give it impetus.

While it is recommended to watch for fun, it is highly recommended to watch as a lesson in how to write dialogue. Ditta’s dialogue delivers the gags and character development but it also sounds natural and fresh.

Box Office #22


Borat

I was looking forward to this so much for several months, it was inevitable that I would be disappointed by the time I finally got to see it - but I wasn’t. It really is relentlessly funny. This more than makes up for the awful Ali G Indahouse.

This road movie featuring the Kazakh journo has been called just a series of sketches but real effort has been made to have an overall connecting story which, while not brilliant, isn't too bad. At the end of one piss-take interview, for instance, he asks the unwitting interviewee something which progresses the story .

I’ve now mellowed regarding the mock-documentary – I’ve got no choice. While it would be nice if they were done absolutely exactly like a documentary with no glaring logic-flaws, that’s so rare that the way it is done here has become the norm.

Box Office #1

Not so stupid after all

Kenton Allen on how a left-field idea arising out of BBC comedy north is now being made into a US pilot directed by Hollywood's Farrelly brothers.

About two years ago, Jon Mountague, a rather talented and dashing comedy producer who leads the small team at BBC comedy north, invited a 21-year-old writer with cerebral palsy called Peter Keeley and Seymour Mace, a stand-up comic who had spent time living rough on the streets of Newcastle, into BBC Manchester for a development workshop. I think at the time I commended him on his unusual networking skills and made a mental note to invite him down to London and explain how the words "show" and "business" are related to each other.

Last week, the Farrelly brothers, creators of movies including There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber, agreed to produce and direct a pilot for the NBC network, written by the lead writer from the quite popular sitcom Friends, based on a British comedy show called I'm with Stupid.

Two events which, at first glance, should never be connected. However, the genius of Jon Montague's thinking has travelled far. The show that emerged from his low-cost workshop directly led to the BBC3 show I'm with Stupid. Jon compiled the various anecdotes and musings of Peter Keeley and together they fashioned them into a 30-page script. We liked it. It was funny, if a bit all over the shop. So we invited Danny Peak, a young veteran of the sitcom world, to take Jon and Peter's original script and make it his own. We made a pilot, during which we had a moment of "clarity" and decided to cast all the disabled characters with disabled actors, who joined the likes of Mark Benton and Ruth Jones. It won an award and then we made a series that has just finished a run on BBC3 on Sunday nights. It was up against Entourage on ITV2, which it beat every week. I was pretty pleased and quite surprised, as we didn't have their enormous marketing campaign or lots of Californian girls in bikinis. And, believe me, I tried very hard to get both of these elements included in Stupid.

So, Montague's small, cheap and, let's face it, on the surface highly unpromising workshop has led to one of the hottest shows in the next US pilot season. It has tempted one of the most sought-after teams in movie comedy to work in television and persuaded Wil Calhoun, whose extensive credits include Monica and Chandler's wedding episodes in Friends, off his well-paid bottom and charging around the US meeting disabled actors who might play a part in his version of I'm with Stupid.

What have I learnt from this? The thing I knew all along but always need to remind myself about: if you have got great people on your team, make sure they are in the right job and then trust them to do it. Don't be too prescriptive and they will always surprise you. Oh, and they may just do something that you, yes you, never ever thought of.

Kenton Allen is the BBC's creative head of comedy north and talent

From Broadcast

07 November, 2006

Be Small To Be Big

Scriptwriting & Script Reading in the UK

"You've got to "be small to be big". This means that if you can focus on the singular needs of a character, no matter how mundane or humdrum, you will tap into a broader emotional resonance than you would have given yourself credit for. That way, when the character eventually gets thrown out of a plane, or whatever, the audience is in the tune with the character's emotional stakes, not just the immediate peril he's facing."

06 November, 2006

Comedy Shuffle

BBC - ComedySoup

"Get your stuff on the telly! Send us a brilliant super-short video or animation and it might be featured next year as part of a new comedy showcase on BBC THREE"

03 November, 2006

Opening Weekend

Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan

Kasakh journalist's documentary about America.

Official site

Borat home page
Borat wikipedia

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Candy
Drama about drug dependents in love

Writers: Luke Davis, Neil Armfield (from novel by Luke Davis)
Director: Neil Armfield

Luke Davis & Neil Armfield video interview
Luke Davis interview

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Little Children
Drama with Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson

Writer: Todd Field, Tom Perrotta
Director: Todd Field

Official site

Todd Field interview 1
Todd Field interview 2

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Mischief Night
Comedy about the chaotic life of a single mom.

Writer: Penny Woolcock
Director: Penny Woolcock

Official site

Penny Woolcock interview (halfway down page)

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The Page Turner (La Tourneuse De Pages)
Revenge drama

Writer: Denis Dercourt
Director: Denis Dercourt

Denis Dercourt interview

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Romanzo Criminale
Italian gangster epic ends up being a miss.


Writer: Stefano Rulli, Sandro Petraglia
Director: Kim Rossi Stuart


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Scenes Of A Sexual Nature
British all-star comedy-drama

Writer: Aschlin Ditta
Director: Ed Blum

Official site

Aschlin Ditta Interview


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Sixty Six
Comedy about a boy's Bar Mitzvah plans potentially ruined by England's football progress

Writers: Peter Straughan, Bridget O'Connor
Director: Paul Weiland

Official site

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02 November, 2006

Word of Mouth

Red Road

Andrea Arnold builds up a great atmosphere that may be too slow-burning for some but is the kind of thing I love. By the time we find out what’s going on so much goodwill has been generated that the sheer implausibility of the plot’s conclusion isn’t as much of a disappointment as it could have been. Perhaps her writing skills will catch up with her considerable directorial skills by her next movie.

What I liked about it most was how much was left to subtext rather than explicitly stated. The audience didn’t need to know every single detail immediately, we could read between the lines as we gradually fit the jigsaw pieces together ourselves.

Red Road is the first of three films that make up The Advance Party. It’s Lars von Trier’s project where he has challenged three directors to create films with the same group of characters.

Box Office #17


Saw III

I loved the first one but during the second I was so bored I had time to work out the directorial tricks used to make it seem scarier than it actually was. So I had no intention of seeing number three but I heard it might be the last part of a trilogy and then finding out in the news that public health warnings have been issued because people were fainting and running out screaming during it was the absolute clincher.

It was a good decision as I think Leigh Whannell has done a good job this time round, which may even have surpassed his debut in terms of quality. For a while it seemed to be just the same type of thing, Jigsaw giving people a chance to redeem themselves and then them achieving it or not but then the focus moves to Jigsaw himself and the main players in his ultimate game. Sure, you still get the fiendish potential killing devices but the non-linear approach meant it was kept relatively surprising and fresh.

There was one particular logic flaw in Saw I which I couldn't let go regarding Jigsaw's whereabouts, Whannell uses III to explain that flaw away beautifully in a flashback. I don’t know if one of my fellow logic fascists mentioned it to him or it just bugged him and he decided to fix it himself. But it goes to show that you can have your cool moments but if you take your time you can find a convincing explanation for them as well.

Box Office #1


A Good Year

Based on the review ratings, I was expecting a cheap house plonk and while it is certainly no 1787 vintage Sauternes from Château Yquem, it’s quaffable and affable enough.

Although, saying that, it does have major problems, namely the tone and genre. It’s as if they didn’t find the script funny enough and so improvised stuff on set and, bizarrely, in the editing. The comedy sometimes has a desperate feel to it and there is a lack of actual gags.

They wanted to show Max as being an arsehole. When asked why he hasn’t contacted his vineyard owning relative for so long, he says "because I'm an arsehole". Slightly on-the-nose, and just how many arseholes actually know they are arseholes and glory in it? It could be a valid characterisation choice, I suppose, but it wasn’t followed through so I believe it wasn’t deliberate.

Fair enough, Max has to start off as an arsehole before going on his journey of potential change but he has to be made sympathetic in some way so we care whether he changes or not. For instance, if he was an arsehole for a reason - something to do with his high pressure job and the expectations that go with it - then that would have been better I think.

I really like the structure of this and it could have been a nice gentle romantic comedy like Marc Klein’s excellent and under-rated previous movie Serendipity but Ridley Scott’s directorial approach to comedy uses a sledgehammer when a stiletto was required.

Box Office #9

01 November, 2006

Podcasts - MovieMail UK

Podcasts - MovieMail UK:

"This week, in time for Halloween, the MovieMail Filmcast takes a look at three films that may put a little shiver down your spine - Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre, the Ealing portmanteau collection Dead of Night and Jonathan Miller's adaptation of the famous MR James story, Whistle and I'll come to you. There's a free dvd of this last film to be given away in an easy competition too, so have a listen - you may be lucky!"