Thursday, 31 January 2013


Check out this beautiful new animated short from Disney Animation.

Using a groundbreaking technique that seamlessly merges computer generated imagery with traditional hand-drawn animation techniques, first-time director John Kahrs takes the art of animation in a bold new direction with the Oscar nominated short 'Paperman'.

Using a minimalist black and white style, the short follows the story of a lonely young businessman whose destiny takes an unexpected turn after a chance meeting with a beautiful woman on his morning commute. Convinced the girl of his dreams has gone forever, he gets a second chance when he spots her in a high rise office window across the avenue from his workplace. With only his heart, imagination and a stack of clerical papers to get her attention, his efforts are no match for what the fates have in store for him.

Created by a small, innovative team working at Walt Disney Animation Studios, 'Paperman' pushes traditional animation in an exciting new direction.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

"Not seeing people permits us to imagine them with every perfection."

First published in 1862, Victor Hugo's five-volume Les Misérables is now considered one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century. Beginning in 1815 and culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris, the story follows the lives and interactions of a slew of characters, but primarily focuses on the struggles of burly ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption after serving nineteen years in jail. Along the way we are swept into a revolutionary France where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade. 

Today Victor Hugo's classic tale is probably better known for the stage musical phenomenon.

Originally conceived and produced in France with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, the show was presented at the Palais des Sports in 1980 as a concept album. However, the first production closed after three months when the booking contract expired.

Then in 1983, about six months after producer Cameron Mackintosh had opened Cats on Broadway, he received a copy of the French concept album from director Peter Farago. Farago had been impressed by the work and asked Mackintosh to produce an English language version of the show. Initially reluctant, Mackintosh eventually agreed. Mackintosh in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company assembled a production team to adapt the French musical for a British audience. After two years in development the English-language version opened in London on 8 October 1985 by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Centre. The success of the West End musical led to a Broadway production and the rest, as they say, is history. Until now.

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) and produced by Working Title Films the musical has been adapted to the screen in spectacular style worthy of the stage shows 8 Tony Awards.

Right from the start the sheer scale of the production is impressive, helped in part by Danny Cohens gloriously immersive cinematography. The camera sweeps over huge gilded warships, blasted by coastal waves as hundreds of wretched prisoners pull on waterlogged ropes, inching one of the bulbous monsters into the Toulon dry dock. This vast chain gang sings Look Down in a rumbling guttural bass that immediately sets the tone. This is not the sort of musical where people dance their cares away in tap shoes, but one where people’s cares seem to rip the songs from their throats. Throughout these moments of suffering and romance, Tom Hooper’s adaptation never fails to take its subject matter seriously, its raw brutal edge in tune with Victor Hugo’s melodrama of the downtrodden and destitute.

Hugh Jackman (X-Men, The Prestige, Australia) is brilliantly cast, matching Jean Valjean's fabled strength as he carries the plot on his shoulders. Only he and Russell Crowe’s (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, State Of Play) Javert remain the only constants through the 17 years of the film’s plot.

We first meet Valjean as a convict, demanding that his jailer respect him as a fellow human being, only to be rebuffed by dogged Javert. During parole he is faced with rejection and prejudice, descending into animal-like desperation and spitting bitterness before a miraculous second chance sees Valjean resolve to match the faith shown in him in the film's most emotionally complex scene. His righteous fury raging with a rekindled sense of virtue, wounded pride and a thirst for justice. With new hopes of redemption, the morally upright Valjean emerges.

As with all the film's scenes of high emotion, this is entirely communicated through song. Every single emotion the character is experiencing is their on screen. Every breaking heart. Every popping vein. Full frame with little to no cutaway edits. Quite simply some of the most astonishing musical performances put to celluloid. There will be tears and not just those from the performing cast.

Further more, this adaption breaks the mould for screen musicals by having each cast member perform their songs live on set with only a single piano played through an ear piece as accompaniment. Hooper's commitment to live performance no doubt added hugely to the stress of the shoot, but in return for a few wobbly notes and pitching he gets a unique, visceral punch. The vocals aren't as flawless as, say, Alfie Boe who made the role of Valjean his own in the stage musical. Jackman struggles with the famously difficult Bring Him Home and at times Crowe wobbles into his rock background stylings, but the drama is possibly stronger for it.

Not everything is so successful. Some of the Paris scenes feel small and staged, in jarring contrast to the outdoor scenes which deliver a glorious Delacroix look and scale. Many of which were actually filmed in Greenwich, London, Portsmouth and Winchester. Only Gourdon served as a French location.

For the most part this is an immersive wallow in squalor and degradation, only lightened intermittently by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (already seen flexing their vocal muscle together in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) as a pair of comical innkeepers.

The sprawling structure of the show means that high emotion breaks in wave after wave without reprieve. Those incredible cinematic close-ups magnifying the impact. The best of which sees Anne Hathaway (Becoming Jane, Alice in Wonderland, The Dark Knight Rises) finally reclaim I Dreamed A Dream from Susan Boyle and ruin the song for all who follow her. All at once broken, angry and defiant, it is a definitive performance. Though her part amounts to barely a montage and this singular sublime solo, don’t be surprised to see her on the Oscar podium come February.

But after that emotional wallop, the love story between Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Valjean's adopted inherently drippy Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) ultimately leaves you impatient to get to the revolutionary stuff. It is here where a group of students led by the idealistic Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) fight a hopeless uprising in the people's name and Javert encounters Valjean once more. It's when these big moments arrive that the cast rises with full-throated determination and deliver a musical unlike any other. Providing a new model for movie musicals to come.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

A New Hope?

In November 2012, with the announcement of its acquisition of Lucasfilm, The Walt Disney Company announced plans for Star Wars Episode VII in 2015, followed by Episode VIII and Episode IX. Since then the internet has been filled with rumours and speculation not only about the new trilogies plot, but also it's casting and choice of director.

With the screenplay already being crafted by Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) all Walt Disney Pictures needed was to find the right director for the challenge. Several names had been banded around including Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol), Mike Newell (Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, Prince Of Persia: The Sands O Time), Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) and J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8). Now finally the speculation can be put to rest.

In an official press release Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm have confirmed that J.J. Abrams will indeed be taking the helm of the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode VII.

J.J. Abrams will direct Star Wars: Episode VII, the first of a new series of Star Wars films to come from Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy. Abrams will be directing and Academy Award-winning writer Michael Arndt will write the screenplay.

"It's very exciting to have J.J. aboard leading the charge as we set off to make a new Star Wars movie," said Kennedy. "J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the Star Wars experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture."

George Lucas went on to say "I’ve consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He's an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands."

"To be a part of the next chapter of the Star Wars saga, to collaborate with Kathy Kennedy and this remarkable group of people, is an absolute honor," J.J. Abrams said. "I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid."

J.J., his longtime producing partner Bryan Burk, and Bad Robot are on board to produce along with Kathleen Kennedy under the Disney/Lucasfilm banner.

Also consulting on the project are Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg. Kasdan has a long history with Lucasfilm, as screenwriter on The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. Kinberg was writer on Sherlock Holmes and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Abrams and his production company Bad Robot have a proven track record of blockbuster movies that feature complex action, heartfelt drama, iconic heroes and fantastic production values with such credits as Star Trek, Super 8, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, and this year's Star Trek Into Darkness. Abrams has worked with Lucasfilm's preeminent post production facilities, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, on all of the feature films he has directed, beginning with Mission: Impossible III. He also created or co-created such acclaimed television series as Felicity, Alias, Lost and Fringe.

George Lucas went on to say, "I've consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He's an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn't be in better hands."

Interestingly, back in November J.J. (Jeffrey Jacob fact fans) played it coy by saying: "I am looking forward more than anyone to the next iterations of Star Wars, but I believe I will be going as a paying moviegoer!" Which makes me wonder exactly how noughts it took for him to change his tune.

"To be a part of the next chapter of the Star Wars saga, to collaborate with Kathy Kennedy and this remarkable group of people, is an absolute honour," J.J. Abrams said. "I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid."

Abrams certainly has a (lens) flare for science fiction. As co-creator of the TV series lost (2004-2010) he later went on to direct Mission: Impossible III (2006), before embarking on the Star Trek (2009) reboot and Super 8 (2011). A love letter of sorts to the classic science fiction he grew up with from the likes of Steven Spielberg and indeed George Lucas. As to whether he's the right man for the job only time will tell.

Let's hope Abrams can capture some of the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy.

So, congratulations J.J. Please don't mess it up. We're all counting on you.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

"Earth is a memory worth fighting for."

When I look at this poster it's almost impossible not to think of the work of science fiction artist Ralph McQuarrie. Probably best known for his ground breaking conceptual illustrations that helped shape the look of the original Star Wars films. Clearly director Joseph Kosinski has been heavily influenced also.

Having cut his teeth on TV commercials he made his big-screen directorial debut with the science fiction film Tron: Legacy (sequel to the 1982 film Tron) for Disney in 2009. His previous work has primarily been CGI related television commercials including the Starry Night commercial for Halo 3 and the award-winning Mad World commercial for Gears of War.

His next cinematic outing Oblivion sees Tom Cruise play Jack Harper, one of the last few drone repairmen stationed on Earth in the year 2073. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying threat known as the Scavs. Currently living in and patrolling floating cities thousands of feet above the Earth, his soaring existence is brought crashing down when he rescues an attractive female stranger from a downed spacecraft. Her arrival triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything that he knows as he battles to save mankind.

Oblivion is Kosinski's own creation, adapted from the Radical Comics graphic novel he penned shortly after his move to Los Angeles in 2005. Disney had originally acquired the film rights in 2007 but insisted on a PG rating in line with their family-based reputation. Disney later released the rights to Universal Pictures (who had also bid for the original rights) and Kosinksi's PG-13 vision was finally authorised.

Originally written by William Monahan a rewrite of the script was carried out by Michael Arndt. Universal Studios were particularly appreciative of his script saying "It's one of the most beautiful scripts we’ve ever come across." It's also worth noting that Michael Arndt has been challenged with screenwriting Star Wars: Episode VII due for release in 2015.

At first glance Oblivion appears to be a cross between Wall•E and Silent Running but having watched this stunning trailer I'm both intrigued and optimistic. Starring alongside Tom Cruise is fellow Oscar winner Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, Dark Knight Rises) which should surely make for an unforgettable onscreen pairing.

Oblivion is due for release in April.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Michael Winner: Death Wish director dies aged 77

Film director and restaurant critic Michael Winner has died aged 77.

Born in Hampstead, London in 1935, he directed more than 30 films, including Death Wish, The Wicked Lady and Scorpio.

Geraldine Winner said her husband had died on Monday at his home in Kensington, London, where she had been nursing him.

Winner met his wife Geraldine 56 years ago, but did not marry until 2011 in a small ceremony witnessed by actor Michael Caine and his wife Shakira.

Michael once famously said, "When I die, it's going to read 'Death Wish director dies'".

Our thoughts go out to his wife Geraldine.

Monday, 21 January 2013

"Life will defend itself no matter how small it is."

Adapted from the award winning novel by Yann Martel, The Life Of Pi follows the incredible journey of Piscine Molitor 'Pi' Patel (Suraj Sharma), a 16-year old boy travelling on a freighter from India to Canada, who survives a shipwreck in which his family dies and is stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat. His only company an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a fully grown Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Considered by many to be unfilmable (M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuarón and Jean-Pierre Jeunet all had a crack and passed) Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger HIdden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) has seemingly done the impossible with a film so beautiful you could literally freeze frame any scene and hang it on your wall. Only with todays digital film making techniques could a film like this be made possible.

The story is told by a now middle-aged Pi to a writer (Rafe Spall) in present-day Montreal that bookends the film. A story that starts in Pondicherry, India, where Piscine Patel (named after a French swimming pool) is compelled to change his name to a mathematical constant in order to avoid persistent bullying and lives with his family in a Zoo. As the zoo struggles for funding, the Patel family decide to move to Canada where they'll sell their animals and start a new life. On route a brutal storm sinks the ship carrying them to their new home and leaves Pi adrift in a lifeboat with his zoological companions.

The storm scene is a particular stand out and can proudly sit alongside anything you might have seen in your disaster blockbuster. As the camera flows in a seemingly single shot from the flooded bowels of the ship, to the wave battered decks above, to Pi leaping into a lifeboat which swiftly plummets into the squalling seas thanks to a fractious zebra. It’s impossible to see the joins.

From there the flat ocean provides Lee with his blank canvas, who along with cinematographer Claudio Miranda and incredible effects team present us with such spectacular imagery as a whale looming up through waters full of glowing jellyfish, to motionless water creating a perfect mirror image of the sky above. Lee uses 3D – a tool many directors wield like a sledgehammer – in much the same way James Cameron did with Avatar and Martin Scorsese did with Hugo. Like those directors, Lee utilises 3D to give a sense of depth akin to theatrical staging rather than thrusting objects into the audience to justify the extra ticket price. But all this beauty is not merely for beauty’s sake.

Belief is at the story's core, which could come across as preachy but it truly isn't. Throwing out questions, rather than pretending to have the answers. In one scene Pi explains exactly why he chooses to believe in all gods, from all religions – it's about believing in something, be it God or science. Just as with magic, it depends whether you like your tricks explained or prefer to believe in the mystery.

It is also worth mentioning that this is Suraj Sharma's first film role. Three actors played Pi at various ages but while each is worthy of high praise, Sharma as the teenage Pi is unforgettable. Whether screaming in fury or saying nothing at all, he never hits a false note. You also have to remember for about three quarters of the film he is playing to nothing. At least, it must be assumed that he is. Placing a young actor on a small lifeboat with a live Bengal Tiger is a health and safety issue apparently. Although the effects work on the tiger is astonishing there is surely a real tiger used in some scenes though it would take a very well trained eye to pick it out.

These are all impressive pieces in one beautiful unified puzzle.

Lee is showing the world around us through the possibilities of cinema to create a visual magic trick that asks us to believe in the impossible.

"You have taken your first step into a larger world."

- Scene from Cinema Paradiso (1988)

I could start by writing about how film has affected me and how it is has influenced not just my career, but who I am. About going to the cinema as a 10 year old to watch Return Of The Jedi, and how I spent the following weeks drawing and cutting out all the incredible characters. Not to mention acting out light sabre duels with cardboard tubing and a surprisingly enthusiastic sister as my opponent. Or how as a schoolboy I wore my Parka jacket around my neck convinced it could make me fly like Superman. I could also go on about how I got my first 'Making Of' book for Tim Burtons Batman, poring over the pages of production drawings and 'behind the scenes' photography, showcasing special effects expertly crafted and built by hand. I could talk about how I felt at the sad news of Brandon Lee's (son of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee) death during the making of The Crow. The sense of awe as I watched a Brachiosaur lumber across the screen in Jurassic Park, as if a wildlife camera crew had captured the event for real. Or my bitter disappointment at The Phantom Menace and how some 13 years later Disney has bought the rights to Star Wars for $4.05bn. A new hope? Or a fools hope.

The fact is film is for everyone. All of you reading this right now has at some stage been influenced by a cinematic experience. Film, like music, has a way of connecting memories to create an autobiography of our lives like no other art form. An ever evolving multi media experience designed to ensnare our senses, engineer our emotions and take us to places beyond our imaginations.

Escapism without ever leaving the comfort of a chair.

Today cinema multiplexes are cathedrals of consumerism, seemingly reinventing themselves regularly with new ways to experience film. IMAX and 3D screens are commonplace and TVs are now more engineered than ever to bring cinema into our homes. But try to remember for a minute, what it was like the first time you went to the cinema? Or imagine how it must have felt sat in front row, as the Lumière brothers revealed their magic box of light in 1895.

So here for anyone who has ever laughed, cried, screamed, watched in awe or hid in terror is a film blog just for you.

Hope you enjoy.