Monday 28 June 2010

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 (The List)

EIFF 2010 ran from 18-26 June this year, and I was there watching movies and interviewing actors and filmmakers for a blog on The List magazine's website.

Click here to read my EIFF 2010 blogs

The blogs cover a lot of the films that made big impressions at this years festival, including Skeletons, which won the Michael Powell Best British Film Award, Monsters, the sci-fi debut from Gareth Edwards, winner of the New Director award, and Get Low, the Robert Duvall-Bill Murray drama that picked up the Audience Award. Plus there's interviews with the men behind Toy Story 3, comedian Ben Miller and of course, much more.

Friday 11 June 2010

Brooklyn's Finest (Radio Scotland Movie Cafe)

This week I was on the Movie Cafe with Janice Forsyth, reviewing Antoine Fuqua's new intense cop drama Brooklyn's Finest starring Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes.

Listen to the show here (the review is first item on the show)

Although our discussion dwells on the films flaws (and there are many of them), and it's certainly not up to the standard of Fuqua's Training Day, I thought Brookyln's Finest was a pretty good, tense thriller, with particularly fine performances from Cheadle and Snipes.

Brooklyn's Finest is out now

Friday 4 June 2010, Go! Noel Clarke Interview (

Discussing the influences for his new film, writer, co-director and actor Noel Clarke offers some surprising reference points. “Sideways, Garden State, Happiness, Lost in Translation, Sidewalks of New York”, he muses, “films about characters.” If you’ve seen the furiously cut trailer for Clarke’s multi-stranded ‘four girls in action/adventure’ latest you might not immediately see the connection to those films. But Clarke says the heart of the film is who the girls are, not what they do: “Obviously the publicity people have to sell the film, so ‘it’s a diamond heist movie’. Yeah, there’s a little heist in it, but it’s really about the characters, it’s really about the girls’ individual journeys and their friendships. But you know (does ‘trailer’ voice) ‘Friendship!’ doesn’t quite work as a tag-line.”

While Clarke’s admiration for those character-based dramas is clearly genuine, with he is painting with a rather broader brush, and consciously aiming to capture a wider audience. Like his previous film Adulthood, the story centres on young people in London, but here the four main characters are intentionally not a natural grouping. That was the whole point, says Clarke: “I definitely thought of girls that different girls could each relate to. I didn’t want them to be like Spice Girls, but I wanted them to be different enough that when you’re with each girl you’re on her journey and you follow that story. So whenever they’re together they wear clothes that identify them as friends, but as soon as they split up we put them in their character clothes, what each girl would relate to.”

Unlike the average writer/director, Clarke is very upfront about the fact that he shapes his films with a distinct audience in mind. It’s an issue that comes up again when I challenge him on whether really needed the girl-on-girl sex scene that features in one storyline. “There’s a big core following that watch my films that are young male guys. This is a more female-centric film. The scene didn’t offend people enough in test screenings for them to not watch it because of it, but it gives guys who are, let’s say, of the more simpler-minded nature, something to enjoy.” Whether you agree with his perspective or not, it’s refreshing to hear such a plain statement of intent from a filmmaker. He goes on to add, “I also really thought that by having that scene in there we would show something that’s not shown. Whenever I’ve seen stuff on TV or film where it’s girls or guys of the same sex it’s always done in a gritty kind of way. Why can’t it be a bit more sensual? And yes, this is a bit titillating, but they’re in love, they’re not just like ‘let’s just have sex’.”

Clarke is no stranger to controversy - “People always said how Kidulthood ‘glamourised violence’, and my argument was that in real life if someone hits you with a bat you might die. That’s real life, that’s not glamourising” – but he is keen to point out that just because he puts something in a film doesn’t mean he thinks it is acceptable behaviour: “I don’t expect [my son] to behave the way the kids in the film behave. But it’s a piece of film that’s just put out there about the time that we lived in.” Similarly, he has no problems with people taking a different view to his own: “ is just a piece of art, if you like, for people to talk about, and judge, and criticize or not, and it doesn’t affect me in any way. I’m not concerned by it. And that’s not an arrogant ‘I don’t care what you say’; it’s a drawing of a line. No matter what you do in life, your clothes, your jewellery, whatever, people are going to like it or not.”

But like him or not, Clarke is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Having won the BAFTA Rising Star award in 2009, he’s using the resulting clout to further not just his own career but those of other up-and-coming British filmmakers too, like Mark Davis, the technical whiz with a co-director credit on “I’ve been mates with him for a long time, he’s got the directing skills of Spielberg and the VFX skills of Lucas in one guy. And in a few years time, people will know; there’s a sci-fi film that I’ve written that he’s going to direct.” He also has a comedy script finished, and even a prospective epic that may film in Scotland, an idea that stuck with Clarke after he acted in Neil Marshall’s Scottish-set Centurion (“the vistas where we shot – Lord of the Rings a hundred percent!”) Oh, and he’s a jobbing actor too, we’ll see him next in Ben Miller’s stand-up comedy buddy-movie Huge.

Uniquely among British filmmakers, Clarke is a genuine showman; a constant self-promoter who wants to give people a proper movie experience. “I just want to make films that entertain people”, he says. “You hit the cinema these days you’re looking to spend £70 – your travel, your ticket, you’re probably with someone, girlfriend or wife, you’re probably gonna have a meal after, you’re gonna buy a bunch of snacks in there. If I’m paying £70 for something I want to be entertained! You can buy a computer game for £40 that will last you months.” It’s a sensibility that is rooted in his love for American and international movies – as well as the aforementioned US indies, he cites Go, Pulp Fiction and Mexican cult hit Amores Perros as the chief influences on’s multi-stranded narrative – and it is why Clarke is good for the British film industry. His best work is still ahead of him – for all its style is ultimately too confused and insubstantial to be great - but his ambitions are to be applauded, and will hopefully lead to much greater things. “I just want to do something different. I’m not saying that I am ‘the saviour‘, but I know that I can confidently sit here and say nobody makes films like I do right now.” is on general release now. This interview first published on

Read my review of

Thursday 3 June 2010

The Brothers Bloom (The List, Issue 657)

In 2005, writer/director Rian Johnson transplanted ‘40s film noir to the modern high school and came up with Brick, an exhilarating debut that announced his arrival as a filmmaker of singular vision in no uncertain terms. For his follow-up Johnson had access to a bigger budget and some bigger names, but the convention-twisting spirit of his debut remains, and in The Brothers Bloom he offers a light-hearted spin on that favourite of cinematic sons, the con man. As in Brick, much of the film’s success comes from the well-chosen casting, with Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody balancing humour and heart as the titular tricksters, and Rachel Weisz staying just the right side of kooky as the eccentric millionairess they target for the time-honoured ‘last job’. Even a brief appearance from Robbie Coltrane as, of all things, a Belgian art dealer, hits the spot.

The emphasis is on comedy, and Johnson punctuates his shaggy dog of a story with clever visual gags and several laugh-out-loud moments that owe a debt to some (charmingly acknowledged) silent classics. While the near two-hour running time comes close to testing the patience, the story pays off with a final twist of melancholy that’s surprising and touching.


General release from Fri 4 Jun. This review first published in The List magazine.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Turning Tricks: Con men in the movies (The List, Issue 657)

Con artists, sharks, flimflammers and hustlers have an honourable history on the silver screen. Paul Gallagher goes in search of the best

It was Herman Melville who first used the term ‘confidence man’ in the way we understand it today, in his 1857 novel of the same name. He identified America as the character’s natural home, and Lewis Hyde agrees, noting in his book Trickster Makes This World that ‘the confidence man embodies things that are actually true about America but cannot be openly declared’. Correspondingly, con artist characters can be found in cinema from the earliest of the silents onwards. But when early Hollywood gave a con artist centre stage, he or she was either reformed by love – like Barbara Stanwyck giving up conning for the love of Henry Fonda in Preston Sturges’ 1941 classic The Lady Eve – or secured the audience’s affections by ensuring that the only ones getting ripped off were those who deserved it – as with Jimmy Cagney gamely fleecing the fat-cats in Blonde Crazy (1931). This ‘good’ con man is the one who has had the highest profile throughout cinema’s lifetime, with George Clooney and his Ocean’s chums charming and cheating with impunity just as Robert Redford and Paul Newman did almost four decades ago in The Sting.

But Melville saw a darker kind of hero in the image of the smooth-talking stranger who promises much and takes everything, and this incarnation is the one that provides the greatest fascination for filmmakers and watchers alike. He is Gordon Gecko, the corrupt and heartless Wall Street inside dealer who became a beloved icon of cinema and earned Michael Douglas an Oscar; he is Keyser Soze, the master criminal who convinced the world of his non-existence in The Usual Suspects, and notched up another trickster’s Oscar, this time for Kevin Spacey. The simultaneous attraction and repulsion of the movie con man has never been more concisely investigated than in House Of Games, con-obsessed director David Mamet’s first and best film. Joe Mantegna’s Mike reveals the art of the con to Lindsay Crouse by saying ‘I give my confidence to you …’ and she can’t help but be drawn to the knowledge and power that he offers. But even as he is confiding in her he is still tricking her, just as Mamet is further tricking us. Yet we take delight in being tricked, because the thrill of being thoroughly fooled is actually what cinema is all about.

The Brothers Bloom (pictured), the new film from Brick writer/director Rian Johnson centres on two con men, played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, who perfectly fit the charming cheaters description. But in the film, Ruffalo’s character Stephen claims that, ‘the best con is the one where everyone gets what they want’. This is the heart of the confidence trick; the trickster gets material gain by creating and sustaining an idealised fiction, telling the story so well that his audience happily suspends disbelief. Johnson’s script continually draws attention to the connections between conning and storytelling, signalling his own position as chief con artist in the greatest deception going; movies themselves. After all, what do we hope for from film but to be moved to feel something real by that which we know is not real? The greatest filmmakers are the greatest con men, because they fool us so effectively, and we love them for it.

The Brothers Bloom, general release from Fri 4 Jun. This article first published in The List magazine.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Profile interview: Tamsin Egerton (The List, Issue 657)

26 November 1988, Hampshire, England

Having followed her older sister to a BBC audition at their local youth theatre as a child, Egerton started to get TV parts immediately, traveling the world for various productions before she had turned 15. She bagged her first movie role in 2005 in British comedy Keeping Mum, after which her head-turning looks kept the ‘stunning blonde’ roles coming, including teen sexpot Chelsea in the recent St Trinian’s remakes.

What’s she up to now?
Starring in Noel Clarke’s multi-stranded action caper as Cassandra, the na├»ve rich-girl who travels to New York for a web-organised blind date that goes horrifically wrong. Egerton features in the film’s most bizarre scene, when cult American director Kevin Smith pops up as a fellow passenger on her flight.

On Cassandra
‘She’s not grown up on an estate and seen friends lose their virginity at 13; she’s naive and innocent. That’s what drew me to her, because I’m known for promiscuous Chelsea, whereas this character is not all about guys, she hasn’t lost it, she covets it and she falls in love.’

On doing nude scenes
‘I would never do an American Pie and “get my tits out” for no reason, because it’s grotesque, it’s unnecessary. But for my storyline you need the nudity, because you need to feel uncomfortable in the scene. It was very awkward, but that’s what it’s meant to be. I think, being a girl, it’s hard [to avoid]. Guys get to play with guns and we get to be in our lingerie.’

On acting with Kevin Smith
‘He was a bundle of energy, and very sweet, but he got really personal really quickly! He was asking about my sex life after five minutes of meeting, and I was like ‘erm, Kevin?’ while he’s saying ‘well me and my lady ...’ and I’m like ‘no, this is so weird!’’

Interesting fact
Egerton was in the final audition to play the 9-year old Joan of Arc in Luc Besson’s 1999 film The Messenger.

Read my review of is general release from 2 June. This interview first published in The List magazine.