Image courtesy The Room UK
Updated 15 February: enter the Twitter giveaway for two tickets to The Room
As Edinburgh prepares to host yet another cult film event, Ross Maclean steps into The Room…
The history of cinema is littered with self-financed personal projects and noble failures. When producer/writer/director/actor Tommy Wiseau plunged an alleged $7m into funding his debut feature, who knew it would be so awful? Or so enduringly popular?
To call The Room bad is to do it a disservice. It transcends ‘bad’ to become an all-encompassing onslaught of ridiculous scripting, woeful acting, cringe-inducing sex scenes, frequent non-sequiturs, bad dubbing and over-earnest melodrama.
Nominally a relationship drama, Wiseau himself plays Johnny, a gentle soul, betrayed by his girlfriend and best friend. If you’ve never seen or heard Wiseau, picture the result of a failed intensive breeding program between Sylvester Stallone and a Na’vi, with an indefinable accent approximating a tranquilised Arnie, dressed like a guest at a goth wedding.
It’s not hard to see why Tommy has gained a cult following – here’s a sample of what to expect:
Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend Slapstick 2010, the UK’s only (as far as I’m aware) festival dedicated to screenings of silent films alongside guest talks and special events.
Over four days I recorded some of my thoughts of the event for BBC Radio Scotland’s excellent Movie Café programme, and the episode is now up for seven days on the BBC iPlayer.
While I’d recommend listening to the full programme, my segment begins around 25.47 minutes in and features an interview with actor Paul McGann and Aardman Animation’s Peter Lord.
You can also read a review by fellow Slapstick 2010 attendee Walter Dunlop over on my other blog, Adventures in Primetime.
Reuniting many of the team behind 2000′s Sexy Beast, actor/producers Ray Winstone and Ian McShane working from a script from Louis Mellis and David Scinto, 44 Inch Chest begins with Winstone flat on his back, though this time he’s far from the beating sun of a Spanish poolside.
Reeling from the news that his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), is leaving him for a younger man (Melvil Poupaud), Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) decides to take revenge upon the pair in the only way he knows how: with extreme violence.
Roping in his best friends – Meredith (McShane), Archie (Tom Wilkinson), Mal (Stephen Dillane) and Old Man Peanut (John Hurt) – Diamond must decide exactly what form his revenge on Loverboy will take, a decision informed by the experiences and unique viewpoints of his peers.
Opening on the face of a sweating and exhausted Ray Winstone, it’s immediately clear that what we’re about to watch isn’t going to be an easy ride: Diamond is a force of nature, enough suppressed energy coursing through his veins to power the National Grid for at least a week.
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road
John Hillcoat’s film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, arrives in UK cinemas with the weight of expectation heavy on its shoulders: can it possibly live up to the hype which sold the novel, words such as “masterpiece” and “classic” thrown at it like confetti?
The Road introduces us to the Man (Viggo Mortensen) and the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they forage through the sodden remains of a post-apocalyptic future for food, shelter and some kind of future.
Convinced that the pair should head for the coast, the Man pushes a shopping cart full of their worldly possessions as they dodge groups of scavengers intent on attacking anyone who gets in their way.
As they encounter the dead and dying remnants of humanity, the question of what is good and bad hangs heavy over the two, their resolve tested as the need for food and water grows.
Clearly, no version of The Road was never going to be an easy watch and it’s to Hillcoat’s credit that his direction, working from a script by playwright Joe Penhall, tries hard not to soft peddle McCarthy’s vision of this degraded future world.
In fact this is very much Hillcoat’s film, the viewer drawn into a dreary, dirty and decidedly damp world which it’s far too easy to believe has resulted from some unnamed global disaster. We’re never allowed to forget that this a Bad Place, Hillcoat ramming the message home with every painstakingly grim shot of ruined skylines and dead trees.
Made on a shoestring and only distributed online, new Scottish thriller Mission X may not be worrying any of the major film studios when it comes to DVD sales, but if the passion of writer/director/star David Paul Baker is anything to go by they may soon want to sit up and take notice.
Mission X follows young student filmmaker Grant (Grant Timmins) as he attempts to come up with a subject for his coursework which doesn’t revolve around obesity or smoking.
Having managed to track down a real-life mercenary in the shape of Ryan (Baker), Grant soon finds himself trapped in a world of undercover operations, shady government deals and revenge as the stakes get higher.
Real-life director Baker sidesteps the issue of a lack of budget by having the film supposedly shot by Grant himself as he follows Ryan around during the planning stages of his mission, the shaky camerawork, uneven sounds and fluctuating light sources lending the picture the kind of amateur feel one might expect from a film student.
The film’s synopsis may hint at being an out-and-out action film but it’s characterisation which is the main strength. A slow drip-feed of information about Ryan and his revenge mission takes up much of the 90 minute run time, the character initially irritating as he constantly tells Grant not to pry too much into his work, mellowing as events unfold.
Making his cinematic debut with 2006′s The Gigolos, a story about relationships in modern Britain told in a uniquely sensitive manner, director Richard Bracewell returns with a variation on the theme in new film Cuckoo.
Opening with a stark close-up of Polly (Laura Fraser) as she travels to her work as a medical researcher in an unnamed city, we’re soon introduced to her world of science experiments, tight budgets and odd colleagues in the shape of Simone (Tamsin Greig) and her boss, Professor Greengrass (Richard E Grant).
As Polly begins to doubt that her current job is really for her, a feeling compounded by the obsessive nature of Greengrass, she also finds her home life somewhat lacking.
With her live-in boyfriend Chapman (Adam Fenton) barely in the house at night thanks to his work as a singer, and sister Jimi (Antonia Bernath) hardly the most compassionate of siblings, when Polly starts to hear things in her bedroom it seems that events are finally getting on top of her.
Determined to discover the source of the sounds, Polly begins searching both her surroundings and herself for an answer, a search that will bring her close to the edge of sanity and her own moral judgement.
A worrying message was issued by Edinburgh’s Cameo cinema today via their Twitter feed, stating that: “It seems the poor reviews have killed Pontypool. A real shame as it’s one of the more original films out there. Creepy and humorous.”
A quick email to the cinema’s manager confirmed that audience numbers have been low in the only cinema in Edinburgh, and I believe the only one in Scotland, to be screening the film.
The reason I’d say this is worrying is that the Canadian thriller/horror, which tells of an attack on a small town by a horde of zombies, is one of the best I’ve seen this year, a film I recently gave four stars on this very blog, stating that it’s “something of a “grower”, an always entertaining little film which stays in the memory long after you’ve seen it and improves with age.”
In Friday’s Edinburgh Evening News I went on to say it’s “a claustrophobic film with an impressive central performance from McHattie…director Bruce McDonald wrings out just enough tension along with a few laughs to create a memorable horror gem.”
Following this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival I took part in a Pontypool audiocast for the Filmstalker website, where three of us gave the film a glowing review, while the site’s owner, Richard Brunton, reviewed Pontypool and said that “despite some issues it was intelligent, different, visually engaging and had some laughter in there too.”
Dubbed by some a “spiritual sequel” to 2006′s comedy horror film Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland arrives on UK shores with positive buzz and high expectations from those who still view Shaun as the high watermark of the rom-com-zom genre.
The film opens in modern day America, an alternate version of our world where Mad Cow disease has mutated into a virus which can turn healthy humans into rampaging zombies.
Dispensing with the commonly held belief that zombies can only shuffle along the ground after their prey, this breed of genetically altered undead can run faster than many humans, meaning a new set of rules has to be abided to if they are to be avoided.
Chief rule maker is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), so called to avoid any feelings of closeness between survivors which might occur if real names are used, who roams the wastelands trying to eke out a life on his own.
Columbus soon meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), also out on his own and looking for Twinkies before they go out of date.
As the pair cross America they encounter groups of zombies in unusual places, sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who will do anything to stay ahead of the competition and the occasional pit stop which may or may not be the hiding place of the last Twinkie on Earth.
Please note: I’ve tried to avoid giving spoilers in this review but if you haven’t seen the trailer and have no idea what happens in the film you might want to wait until you’ve watched it to continue reading.
It’s been 50 years since The Twilight Zone first took viewers on weekly journeys of mystery and suspense, Rod Serling weaving strange stories and scenarios which they had probably never considered before but which were soon the stuff of nightmares, for one night at least.
Now comes the latest attempt to hurt the brains of audiences everywhere, writer and director Christopher Smith concocting in Triangle a story which starts out simple enough but soon evolves into a jigsaw of actions and repercussions which should really come with a man with a flipchart in every screening to jot down who’s doing what to whom and when.
As young mum Jess (Melissa George) prepares to go on a boating trip with new friend Greg (Michael Dorman), she hears someone ringing her front doorbell, though on investigating she finds nobody there.
Confused but seemingly nonplussed, Jess then heads to the Harbour to meet Greg and a group of his acquaintances who have also agreed to go sailing for the day. Soon after venturing into the gentle blue seas the wind cuts out completely, the calm followed by an electrical storm which upturns their vessel.
As Halloween approaches it’s once more time for the film studios to roll out their Horror offerings, blood, gore and ludicrous goings on in the spirit world par for the course.
Thankfully this year sees a new contender on the block in the shape of Pontypool, a small Canadian film in which Zombies may be central to the plot but which opts for simple visuals and the power of the spoken word to convey its own unique brand of terror.
Opening on Valentine’s Day in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, shock jock radio DJ Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is driving to work at the small radio station when he sees a strange figure on the road.
As the snow impairs his visibility and he speeds on into the night, Mazzy heads for the warmth and safety of his station where his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and technician Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) are waiting.
Soon after the phone-in begins, complete with links to the station’s Eye in the Sky and local callers, messages start to filter through that something is very wrong in the town, crowds of people wreaking havoc on nearby buildings.
I’ve recorded a second Audioboo about the new DVD release of Bill Forsyth’s That Sinking Feeling – please have a listen to the different clips and let me know what you think in the comments section.
“That Syncing Feeling” by jonathanmelville on audioboo.fm
Listen to an mp3 version of this audioboo
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Following this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival I was invited to record an audiocast with Richard Brunton from Filmstalker and Stuart Wood from Cinemablend, two esteemed film review websites.
We spoke for well over 90 minutes and discussed many films on offer at the EIFF. Now Richard has edited the mammoth recording into 17(!) mini-reviews, the first two of which are now online.
Thanks to Richard for all the hard work: please remember we’re all new to this – and were exhausted after a fortnight’s film watching – so it could be a bit rough around the edges!
You can view and listen to all the podcasts over on the Filmstalker podcast site and I’ll be publishing them all here over the next few weeks.
Picking up some five years after the close of Killer Instinct, this film’s significant other released just a few weeks ago in the UK, we’re now into the final furlong of Mesrine’s (Vincent Cassel) life, a period which will see him rise through the ranks of the French underworld to become, perhaps unsurprisingly, Public Enemy Number One.
Cassel is still on knock-out form as Jacques Mesrine, the confidence and bravado which powered him through the first film still present-and-correct as he continues to find himself in and out of French jail cells.
While the first film focused on Mesrine’s change of status from petty criminal to gangster, part two sees him become more politically minded, aligning himself with the wrong people in the shape of the PLO.
This time, instead of the hefty presence of Gérard Depardieu in Killer Instinct, Cassel is teamed up with another cult Gallic actor in the shape of the irrepressible Mathieu Amalric, seemingly contractually obliged to pop-up in every other film coming from across the Channel.
John Shuttleworth in Southern Softies
Attempting to discover once and for all whether Southerners really are softer than their northern counterparts, John Shuttleworth (aka Graham Fellows) returned to the Fringe for one night only to present the world premiere of his aptly titled new film, Southern Softies.
Sheffield’s favourite son follows up his 2006 trip to Shetland – It’s Nice Up North, in which he tried to discover whether people get nicer the further north you travel – by relocating to Guernsey and nearby islands to interview the locals and find out just how soft they are.
Joined behind the camera by the unseen Ken Worthington, Shuttleworth encounters the weird and the wonderful in his search. Running out of funds during production, he then tries to beg and borrow favours from airlines and tourist boards, all the while providing a wry commentary on the world.
It’s been a bit quiet on here the last few days, mainly because I escaped the madness of Edinburgh over the weekend and took off to London for a double whammy of film-related fun: to hear Terry Gilliam in conversation and attend Empire magazine’s Movie-Con II.
Though I’m not planning to go into detail here about the events – though I’ll be reviewing some of the films I watched, Funny People and District 9, soon – I have covered them in a few other places.
My Terry Gilliam event review is up now on another blog, the brilliantly titled Battle Royale with Cheese, while coverage of Day One of Movie-Con is covered on my Edinburgh Evening News blog, Reel Time.
There’ll also be more in my column in this Friday’s Edinburgh Evening News, so please pick that up if you feel like it.
Some readers of this blog may be aware that I write a weekly film column, Reel Time, for the Edinburgh Evening News in which I ramble for 500 words about something cinema-related before the editor (quite rightly) cuts me off in my prime.
Now there’s a new online spin-off from the column with all-new articles and extended reviews that I can’t fit in the paper.
I’m also planning to run exlusive competitions on a Friday, starting in the next few weeks. Please take a trip over to Reel Time to find out more.
The sixth film in the hugely popular Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is out tomorrow in the UK.
Is it any good? Find out in my review which is now up over on the Edinburgh Evening News website.
What do you prefer in your typical action film: style or substance? Usually there’s no debate, flashy visuals and a plot that has been surgically removed at development stage the result of a multi-million dollar budget and the need to appease the 14-25 year old demographics.
Occasionally we’re treated with more respect, films like the Bourne trilogy finding a balance between brains and brawn that makes viewers and critics sit up and take notice again, at least until something like Quantum of Solace pops its head over the parapet and is met with a collective groan.
Thankfully style, substance, brains and a healthy dose of brawn flow through the veins of new thriller Mesrine: Killer Instinct, the first of a two-part biopic of French crime legend and one-time folk hero Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel).
Although its opening scene may be set in the 1970s, the first few minutes recall a film set a decade earlier, as a clever use of split screen evoking memories of Steve McQueen’s classic Bullitt (1968). Cassel is given a classy entrance from director Jean-François Richet, the camera lingering long on his every move.
The closing film of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival was rom-com with a difference, Adam, starring Hugh Dancy as Adam and Rose Byrne as love interest Beth.
I wrote a short review of the film for last Friday’s Edinburgh Evening News which is now up on their website. Adam is released in the UK on 31 July.
Director Sam Mendes once again turns his spotlight on relationships in new film Away We Go, this time bringing things up-to-date in modern day America rather than the 1950s suburbs of 2008′s Revolutionary Road.
Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are a thirty-something unmarried couple who are about to have their first child, the plan being to allow the baby’s grandparents to help raise her in the first few years.
When granny and grandpa announce they’re going to be moving abroad a month before the baby’s birth, Burt and Verona decide to take a road trip around America to meet friends and relations who could make up a new family unit for the new arrival.
The first thing that’s refreshing about Away We Go is the high level of humour running through it. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida’s script is packed with one liners and clever asides on the complexities of modern life, none of them feeling forced or out of place.