Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Conspirator (2011)

James McAvoy fights injustice.

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Robert Redford’s last directorial offering was the mauled Lions for Lambs. His latest is being released in the UK in the same week as Transformers 3 and Tom Hanks’ Larry Crowne. Does it deserve to not be drowned out by the big releases?

Abraham Lincoln has been shot. Young lawyer/war hero Frederick Aiken (McAvoy) is recruited by his mentor (Tom Wilkinson) to defend Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the owner of the boarding house in which John Wilkes Booth and his confederates hatched their plan. Aiken is initially sceptical that Mary could know nothing of the plot, but is horrified by the government’s determination to see her hang.

The Conspirator is nothing if not stagey. From the ripe, portentous dialogue to the inevitable courtroom histrionics its primary concern is delivering the message, and a very worthy message it is. Justice falls by the wayside as the state moves as quickly as possible to put Mary in the ground, led by Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline). The problem is that the rest of the film comes second. There’s no sense of directorial flair from Redford, although he’s never been one for visual fireworks, and the script is awfully clunky.

The cast is full to bursting with superb actors and each of them struggles bravely against the heavy handed script, some with more success than others. McAvoy plays Frederick with typical conviction but Wright’s beatific detachment doesn’t gel with his earnest intensity. Danny Huston (The Constant Gardener) and Kline work hard to give their villains a bit of humanity while enjoying themselves and Wilkinson plays yet another American father-figure. Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler) deserves a special mention for her heartfelt performance as Mary’s daughter.

Things move along at a reasonable pace and there is a good story here, while the commitment to historical accuracy is refreshing. It does occasionally come to life, but Aiken’s moral journey and the injustices against Mary Surratt are told in such a way that it falls to the actors to find the life in this too-often dry and airless film.

Its message is important and the cast, especially McAvoy, give it everything but this drama is never more than watchable.



Monday, 27 June 2011

The Beaver (2011)

Man against the machine.

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Starring the notorious but not-so-lethal weapon Mel Gibson, The Beaver tells the tale of Walter Black, a suicidal man who attempts to rebuild his life and reconnect with his family with the aid of a real diamond geezer a.k.a. a puppet, which he finds and begins wearing on his left arm, and subsequently uses to communicate with everyone around him, much to the annoyance of his eldest son and wife (Jodie Foster).

Foster's directorial debut is entertaining enough and boosts a committed, solid performance from Mel Gibson. The kids are all alright too! Foster's stern exterior, however, makes it hard for you to connect with the Matriarch. Overall, The Beaver would have been a huge triumph as a short film, but with a running time of 90 minutes, the premise becomes rather implausible by the end as The Beaver inevitably suffers from overexposure. 



Thursday, 23 June 2011

Green Lantern (2D) (2011)

Don’t shine too bright a light on this one.

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Green Lantern is DC comics’ sole offering this summer. While they have Batman and Superman movies on the horizon, Green Lantern stands alone in a holiday season packed with Marvel superhero movies. It’s also the hardest sell.

Cocky fighter jet test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is chosen by a dying alien and his ring to be the newest Green Lantern for his sector. The members of the Green Lantern corps are intergalactic peace keepers who are fighting a civilisation-consuming monster called Parallax. Can Hal conquer his own fear to defeat this evil, and can he convince the Corps and himself that a human is up to joining such an elite force?

Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) has the misfortune of his film coming out shortly after the very well received Thor and X Men: First Class. It’s not a total disaster, but it’s comfortably the weakest comic book movie to come out this year. 

The enormous budget is all on-screen, with good CGI and the Lantern’s home planet of Oa looking spectacular enough. And it’s available in 3D for viewers who are that way inclined. But there is the slight problem that the alien creatures of the Green Lantern universe are, to put it bluntly, kinda funny lookin’. Fans of the comic will likely be impressed, but any viewer that can’t get past the fish-headed or pink-faced aliens is going to have a hard time taking the film seriously. It’s not helped by a cliché-ridden script. There’s an overlong, deadly serious opening narration that is just one of several missteps, including a subsequent information dump about half way through and a Daddy-issues flashback that is reminiscent of Hot Shots in all the wrong ways. It takes itself so seriously that it becomes unintentionally comedic.

The cast is sound enough, with Reynolds managing to find some levity in amongst the responsibility lessons. Apparently this Hal Jordan is not especially like his comic book counterpart, but the actors humour is vital here. Blake Lively (The Town) is given next to nothing to do as his conscience/love interest Carol Ferris, but they do share some chemistry. Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) glowers as glowering Lantern Sinestro, while Tim Robbins wafts through the film as a vaguely evil Senator. Having the most fun is Peter Sarsgaard (An Education), who comfortably steals the film as reclusive scientist Hector Hammond, whose head expands along with his villainy after being infected by Parallax. 

The filmmakers obviously committed fully to bringing the weird and colourful world of the Green Lantern comics to life as faithfully as possible. It’s also squarely aimed at a younger audience. But for all the expensive eye candy, more time should have been spent on the script.

It’s riddled with clichés and takes itself too seriously. But there are some decent action set pieces, and Sarsgaard’s villainous howling will keep you entertained. 



Tuesday, 21 June 2011

7 Reasons Why We Love Kristen Wiig

Image: Getty Images

The upcoming comedy Bridesmaids should make a star out of lead actress and co-writer Kristen Wiig. But we’ve been fans of the very funny lady for a while now. So much so that we’d almost go as far as to say that you should watch Semi-Pro to catch her cameo as an ineffectual bear trainer. And here’s why...


Wiig has created a wealth of memorable characters on the legendary American sketch show including Target Lady, one half of the Two A-Holes, and Penelope, while her celebrity impressions are spot on. Our favourite is her Björk, who sang a soothing ballad to Iceland’s volcanoes and warned of the reindeer uprising of 2012 (“It’s coming!”)


The first time that British viewers would likely have been exposed to Wiig’s talents was in her tiny but unforgettable role in Judd Apatow’s slacker sleeper hit. As Katherine Heigl’s passive-aggressive boss Jill, she threatened to steal the film with about three minutes of screen time. She’s freaked out by pregnancies. She doesn’t like liars. But she wants to be friends.


John C. Reilly’s stellar turn is probably what you’ll take away from your first viewing of Jake Kasdan’s criminally underrated musical comedy. But Wiig is also fantastic as Dewey’s hilariously fertile first wife Edith, playing from the age of 12 through to old age. She’s supportive (“You’re never gonna make it!”), passionate (“It’s about love, you piece of s***!”) and committed to her dreams (her candy house won’t melt if it never rains.)


Playing half of the husband-and-wife managers of the amusement park alongside SNL co-star Bill Hader (who is also one of the best things on the show), Wiig gave the lower-key performance of the two but was equally memorable. She looked genuinely sad when she informed Jesse Eisenberg that they didn’t have many giant pandas left, and didn’t even need to look up to throw Hader the baseball bat he needed to threaten troublemakers.


Wiig went from mousy and murmuring to roller-derby badass Maggie Mayhem for Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. The film is fun, if a little overrated, and Wiig nicely underplays her single mum/captain of the team character, making a rare role-model role still funny and a bit crazy. 


In between film roles and her SNL gig, Wiig has also had some great guest spots on some of our favourite TV comedies. She played actress Candace Van der Shark in 30 Rock, who played a woman who got into politics after being shot in the face by her neighbour’s dog. In Conchords she was Brahbrah, a weirdly named, lazy-eyed woman with blueberry tracksuit pants, white chocolate skin, and socks, who had lost her dog, and she also nabbed laughs as an alcoholic client of Jason Schwartzman in Bored to Death.


While Paul is arguably the weakest of the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost collaborations, Wiig’s turn as evangelical Christian Ruth Buggs was an undeniable high point. The sheer joy she brings to the character as she learns about sex, aliens, and, most importantly, swearing is just fantastic. It’s so naively filthy that to repeat it here would require a lot of asterisks. Apart from “You bet your hairy love eggs!”

And that about takes us up to now. We can’t wait to see Wiig in Bridesmaids, out June 22nd.


Monday, 20 June 2011

Bad Teacher (2011)

Bad teacher, not so good grade.

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Before the arrival of Bad Teacher, Cameron Diaz seemed to be stuck in a monstrous rut with no chance of clambering out of it. With the exception of the animated Shrek franchise, she’s pretty much spent the last decade prancing around in her underwear and showing off her model figure, so as you can imagine, hopes for a Cameron comeback weren’t so high.

Bad Teacher sees Diaz play the foul-mouthed, cunning tutor Elisabeth, who dreams of finding a rich man to take care of her. Enter substitute teacher Scott (Justin Timberlake), whose wealthy ties prove irresistible to Elisabeth, who subsequently sets off on a mission to snare the sexy sub, while fighting off competition from her seemingly sweet colleague Amy (Lucy Punch), and the advances of gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel).

The problem with Bad Teacher isn’t so much the actors as the script itself and lack thereof. After an opening globetrotting montage portraying the trials and tribulations of the teaching profession, we’re introduced to the shameless, crude, smoking and drinking teacher, who gives us a glimpse of what’s to come, but, unfortunately, a glimpse is all it ever really is as we’re only treated to a handful of comic moments dotted around an abundance of empty space. On paper, a running time of 90 minutes appears more than reasonable, but the lack of material makes minutes seems like a lifetime on the big screen.

Diaz isn’t actually all that bad in the film and does well with what she’s given. What starts out as a slightly forced, exaggerated act, turns into a more natural, likeably “bad” performance, reminding us of the good ol’ Diaz days.

Timberlake, in spite of The Social Network, is back on awkward form as Scott and is, unsurprisingly, and naturally, funniest when serenading Punch’s Amy on a night out, and dry-humping his real-life ex. Punch meanwhile holds her own against Diaz while Segel is the only normal being in a love square made up of over the top personalities.

The cast is more than capable, but Bad Teacher is let down by its lack of material. When it’s there it’s great, but it isn’t there often enough.



Saturday, 18 June 2011

Mother's Day (2011)

Whose house?

Image: Optimum Releasing

Mother’s Day was never going to appeal to a large audience. A remake of a 1980 film, starring Rebecca De Mornay (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) in a scenery chewing performance, directed by the man who gave us Saw 2, 3, and 4. It felt like it could either offer cheesy throwback fun or turn into yet another torture film.

Beth (Jaime King) and Daniel (Frank Grillo) are having a party in their new house’s basement before a tornado arrives. In burst three men, one of whom has been shot. They are the Koffin brothers, on the run and looking for their mother (De Mornay). When they learn that Momma lost the house due to foreclosure, the brothers take the new owners and their friends hostage. Soon Mother is on her way to sort out their mess.

Instead of choosing one or the other, director Darren Lynn Bousman tries to have his gory cake and eat it. The film is very, very nasty indeed, not just in terms of the torture, blood and screaming, but in depicting the unpleasantness of its characters. However, the Last House on the Left message that anyone can become monstrous when pushed too far is overly familiar. It’s also repeated ad nauseam, as the friends turn on each other and the brothers are predictably psychotic. Bousman tries hard to marshal the different subgenres but after a surprisingly strong opening fifteen minutes things quickly go to pot.

De Mornay has a lot of fun with her character and her scenes are generally the best that the film has to offer. But Mother, with her toothy grin and homespun psychotic wisdom, does not mesh with the attempts at gritty, nasty realism. There are some decent performances here. King (My Bloody Valentine 3D) gives a nicely brittle turn. Deborah Ann Woll (one of the best things on True Blood), Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), and Kandyse McClure (Battlestar Galactica) are solid, but the rest of the cast wobble as much as the rickety script.

It’s trying hard to combine an obvious affection for the slasher flicks of the 1980s with more modern, graphic endurance horror, but it simply doesn’t come off. There are effective moments, mostly involving  De Mornay, but Bousman retreats into his comfort zone of people screaming while being tortured far too often. And we’ve seen that all before. An enjoyably corny ending just reinforces the lack of cohesion. At two hours this film is overlong and, disappointingly, the bad outweighs the good.

Too nasty to be fun, too cheesy to be taken seriously. Some sequences work, but the whole falls apart by the halfway point.



Thursday, 16 June 2011

Born To Be Wild 3D (2011)

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, Born To Be Wild captures a moment in the heart of Kenya and Borneo, where two passionate and fearless ladies have devoted their lives to rehabilitating and releasing orphaned Elephants and Orangutans.

A heart-warming, funny, visually arresting short film containing that third dimension which immediately draws you in. However, as impressive and magical as it is to see trucks and ‘tans at touching distance, the added dimension doesn’t always work, and often prevents you from stepping back and appreciating two stunning settings in all their glory.

Born To Be Wild is definitely worth a watch, but, as with many films, it’s debatable whether this needs to be done in 3D.



Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Win Win (2011)

Image: 20th Century Fox

Writer/director Tom McCarthy has previously brought us indie gems The Station Agent and The Visitor. Each boasted an incredible cast of character actors in a story that appeared very familiar but actually had something of a twist. With Win Win, he pretty much stays true to form with one major deviation.

Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a family man who works as an attorney and a high school wrestling coach to support his family, but it’s not enough to keep his practice afloat. So when he learns that he could earn $1,500 a month to become client Leo’s (Burt Young) guardian, he takes the money and puts Leo in a home. But things get tricky when Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) pitches up. Mike and his wife Jackie’s (Amy Ryan) decision to let him stay pays off when they discover Kyle is a champion wrestler.

The major deviation is that nothing in Win Win goes against your expectations. It’s a very pleasant watch that’s enjoyably low-key and each member of the cast is fantastic. It’s just that a happy resolution is never really in doubt, and none of the characters do anything that you’re not expecting. 

However, there are more than enough reasons to watch Win Win. Apparently McCarthy wrote the script with specific actors in mind, and they are each of them perfect. Giamatti brings a nice sweetness to the browbeaten Mike, which is just as well as his bad decision early in the film might have derailed a lesser actor. Ryan (The Wire) is predictably superb as caring mother/hot-tempered Jersey girl Jackie, while newcomer Shaffer makes his monotone disaffected teen oddly affecting.  Elsewhere, Melanie Lynskey (Up in the Air), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) and Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent) are perfect.

Perhaps where Win Win works best is in its depiction of various everyday crises. Mike can’t afford to fix the boiler that might very well explode. His colleague Vig (Tambor) has a stepson who hates him, even though he paid for his LASIK eye surgery. His buddy Terry (Cannavale) reacts badly to his wife leaving him and channels his energy into becoming an assistant coach for Mike’s team. While Tambor and Cannavale are laugh-out-loud funny, much of the wit in Win Win is of a much quieter variety. Even though you know where it’s going, the film ticks along and you’ll find yourself involved. Just don’t expect to remember too much about it after you leave the cinema.

It’s predictable, but also predictably watchable. An excellent cast and a well-observed script make this non-essential but enjoyable viewing.



Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Hangover Part II (2011)

The boys are back.

Image: Warner Bros.

Off the back of the phenomenal success of The Hangover, a sequel was inevitable. The reports of the production focused on the controversial hiring then firing of Mel Gibson for a cameo. But that was never really the issue. The issue was: could they capture lightning in a bottle twice?

Stu (Ed Helms) is marrying the beautiful, understanding Lauren (Jamie Chung) in Thailand. He invites Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Doug (Justin Bartha), and, reluctantly, Alan (Zach Galifaniakis). Stu wants no repeat of what happened in Vegas for Doug’s bachelor party, but after agreeing to one drink on the beach, he, Phil and Alan wake up in Bangkok. Doug’s back at the hotel, but Lauren’s brother Teddy (Mason Lee) is missing, and his finger’s in a bowl of melted ice....

Whether it’s to their credit or not, the filmmakers know that they’re putting the characters through the exact same paces as they did in Vegas. It’s not like the characters have changed or grown in the two years since the previous film.

That said, the setting of Bangkok allows the writers and Phillips to really explore the characters dark sides. While the first was a breakout for Galifianakis, the focus here is on Helms’ Stu, and the actor delivers a hilarious performance. It’s his bachelor party, and his life to screw up, his mistakes to make. And he makes a lot of them. As Stu moves ever closer to a nervous breakdown, he’s the only character who seems to have any development. But still not that much. As for the rest of the wolf pack, Cooper looks like he’s having fun while Galifianakis does the same schtick again, with diminished results from familiarity.

There’s not really a lot to say about The Hangover Part II. If you liked the first one, you’ll probably enjoy this, but not as much. Did you like Ken Jeong’s Chinese crime boss? He’s got more screen time. Did you find the baby funny? There’s a monkey here instead. Did you think Jeffrey Tambor was wasted? He’s got even less screen time. Still, at least Paul Giamatti livens things up a bit. There’s some nicely dark humour, but there’s never really the sense that things will go too horribly wrong for our heroes. The film is funniest when the characters realise that something is wrong with them, that they keep making the same mistakes.  If, as is more than likely, they do end up making a third instalment, could we have more of the darkness and less of the monkey?

Enjoyable enough. 



Monday, 13 June 2011

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011: The Final Day

Having missed the previous day due to a family event, this Wandercat struggled back through choc-a-block traffic (thanks, Grand Prix at Silverstone...hope the racing went well!) to enjoy the last day of this year’s Doc/Fest. While the heavens finally opened and it rained pretty much non-stop, our doc-loving spirits couldn’t be dampened.

Our day began in The Hubs, the erstwhile National Centre for Popular Music (the folly that was), currently the student union for Sheffield Hallam, with a masterclass by Nick Broomfield, the third big name of the festival after Morgan Spurlock and Albert Maysles. Actually more of an in-depth Q&A session punctuated with film clips, it made for a highly informative hour and a half. The famed director spoke of his love for ludicrous people and annoying Eugene Terre’Blanche, along with many other highlights from his spectacular career, all the while expressing his passion for filmmaking. The highlight was watching him giggle as they played the clip from his Heidi Fleiss film where he ends up in a slanging match with an American TV reporter – his brilliant put downs alone would have merited the huge round of applause he received at the end of the session! And was that festival phantom Louis Theroux we saw hiding in a hoodie? We’ll never know...

Nick Broomfield in conversation

For our first film of the day we went for the rather worthy sounding The Guantanamo Trap, which turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the festival. Far from being yet another dry, depressing indictment of America’s torture garden, it turned out to be a blackly funny movie which looked at both sides of the story. While it completely faced the grim truth of both the place and the war on terror (highlighted with some choice and at times stomach-churning footage), it also drew guffaws from the audience. It was difficult to explain quite why we found it so funny, as it was undoubtedly a discomforting film. Immediately after it finished we asked the director Thomas Wallner about this. “Well, I’m partly German and as you know we have a great sense of humour...” he deadpanned, setting us off laughing again, “This film was shown in Switzerland and Germany, nobody laughed - they thought it was a serious film – so I was really happy to get laughter here. I think you Brits have a much better sense of humour! It’s hard because you want to inject some levity into it...Images are more powerful than words, and once you have the image in your head it doesn’t really matter what you say”. He went on to say that he didn’t want to make just another Guantanamo film, and he certainly hasn’t! We recommend this film highly – and predict future parties where people dress up as the professionalism-obsessed Diane Beaver, a woman who sends herself up with no assistance from anyone else.    

Thomas Wallner

Next up we turned to Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times. Described in the festival catalogue as having something of a West Wing vibe, with professionals at the top of their game struggling to keep control of an important establishment, the film was certainly jam-packed with snappy dialogue and stressed out people in suits. However, while The West Wing’s biggest strength was its ensemble cast, here we have a clear main character in David Carr. A former coke addict turned top writer, he is bitchy, croaking, eloquent and brilliant, and the moments when he discusses his ‘textured life’ are among the film’s greatest.  Page One was particularly appropriate for this festival as it was not only documentary but also looked at the question of what digital media will do to traditional newspapers – much of the running time is concerned more with the issue of paper versus pixel than with the workings of the newspaper itself. You don’t notice, though - it’s all too engrossing.

We wanted to end on a nicely idiosyncratic note, so went for Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. Now before seeing this, we only knew them from their amazing 1991 hit single ‘Can I Kick It?’, and our ignorance seemed slightly justified when this tune was played over the opening credits. It quickly became apparent, however, that there is much more to ATCQ than that, and this well-made and surprisingly intimate doc shows them both at their best and worst. The ups and downs of the band’s fortunes make for compelling viewing, and the members make for delightful subjects. We left the cinema feeling genuinely enlightened about how the band formed and grew (and fell apart), and with a mental list of CDs to buy!

So, that’s it for this year’s Doc/Fest! We’ve seen laughter and tears and a 24 mile-long nylon fence; we’ve heard words of wisdom both from old masters and up-and-coming talent. We are certainly going to be back next year – if this year saw the festival reaching giddy new heights, we reckon next year’s is going to be stratospheric!


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011: Day 3

After two days of starting on fairly hard hitting docs, we decided to go for something a little lighter this morning, and settled on The Hollywood Complex. Directed by Dan Sturman and Dylan Nelson, the film follows the fortunes and failures of the young wannabes (and their parents) staying in the Oakwood, a block of apartments in Hollywood which gets filled by hopefuls during pilot season. We wanted a gentle start to our day, and in some ways this film delivered on that. There are certainly larger than life grotesques to be found within, pushy parents and pushier kids, of the genre familiar from films like Spellbound and any number of Miss Teen America-style pageant docs. However, what makes The Hollywood Complex (dig the title, by the way) such a refreshing film to watch was the remarkable lack of judgement on the part of the directors. It would be so easy to criticise so many of the participants and situations within the film, but they seem to strive for neutrality. We asked them about their decision to use only minimal interview footage with former child stars. “Actually... we didn’t originally have any of that, we were doing a more observational style,” answered Dylan, “But as it unfolded we showed it to a few people and they said ‘this film needs a little bit more point of view’ – that the audiences aren’t going to know what to make of it.”. We reckon they got the balance just right.

Dan Sturman & Dylan Nelson

Fancying a break from sitting in dark cinemas, we went and spoke to French artist Jean Marc Calvet, present at the festival due to a film which has been made about him. When we spoke to him he was busy painting a wall in the bar of Sheffield’s Showroom cinema. He answered our questions while effortlessly creating a masterpiece on the wall. We asked him to explain to us something of the route he took to becoming an artist. “Briefly? Well, I had absolutely nothing to do with the art world...I travelled through lots of countries, until one day I decided to die. I shut myself into a house and started taking loads of drugs and alcohol, until I reached a point where I weighed 47 kilos and really thought I would die. But I found paint tins in the house, and started painting with my fingers on the walls. I locked myself in for about nine months without seeing anyone or speaking to anyone, and painted the whole house. It was a sort of frenzy, I felt that I could vomit out everything that I had inside...I would paint it out but then it would come back. Painting was the only way I had to get out that which was inside me”. He went on to say that painting was his way of equalizing his emotions, which tended otherwise to peak and trough dramatically. We asked him about the faces which appear in his work, whether they mean anything in particular. “No...I let my brain run free. I do just the first lines, and then the rest comes bit by bit...I don’t try to create a story, just a sense of something”. He pointed out that normally he takes two or three weeks over a picture, but that he was doing the one for the Showroom in just a day and a half. The brevity of its creation, however, does not reduce the impact of the piece. As with his other works, there are inscrutable faces therein. Perhaps we can learn something of what these mean from his response when we asked him why he had originally left France: “I used to change countries in order to change faces...I thought that by changing countries I could escape my troubles, but I couldn’t. We carry our troubles with us”. Meeting M. Calvet and watching him work was a real honour.

Calvet and his latest work
The next film was Seven Dwarves, which is actually the first episode of a series due to air in August. Every year in the Christmas panto season, people of restricted height are brought together to play the dwarves opposite Snow White. This series follows a group of them sharing a house together, and examines both the bizarre situation they find themselves in and the wider ramifications of what it means to be a little person today. One of the dwarf actors, Max, came across as the ‘main character’, and was referred to as an ‘alpha male’ by another housemate. We asked him how he felt about having such a title bestowed upon him and whether, as the oldest man in the house, he saw himself as a father figure to the others. “No” he replied, with no thought, “No, I don’ feel like a father figure whatsoever really because I am who I am, and what I am. It’s just the way I am”. However, the producer stepped forward at this point: “He’s being slightly disingenuous – there are certain times where he absolutely does take on that role”. His description of Max sticking up for one of his fellow cast members promises exciting television to come...Fohnhouse says this is one to watch!

Our final film of the day was, appropriately, Calvet, Dominic Allan’s film examining the life of the artist. A brilliantly crafted film, the experience of watching it was made particularly memorable by the fact that our new friend M. Calvet was actually sat directly behind us in the cinema. Knowing that the subject of the documentary we were watching was right there with us made for both a rewarding and an uncomfortable experience: for the first time we felt on a personal level the intense dichotomy of documentary cinema; on the one hand it invades, but on the other it releases. In their post-film discussion both director and star showed the utmost respect for each other, which certainly comes across within the film also. The deliberately non-ethnic music made for an interestingly different soundscape, the perfect accompaniment to the images Calvet produces. 

Calvet and Dominic Allan (and moderator)

Yet again Doc/Fest has exceeded our expectations, bringing us films which challenged and delighted us – and we shouldn’t forget that it is also a digital media festival. The importance of this was certainly highlighted by Calvet: when asked about the contact he has with his long-time estranged son who he found again during the course of the film, his reply was that they are now Facebook friends.


Friday, 10 June 2011

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2011: Day 2

Even before the rumours started about Louis Theroux lurking around somewhere (no sightings as yet, but our eyes are peeled!) the atmosphere continued to be just as exciting as it was yesterday. The weather was better, although still a tad windy, and the pink army of delegates had succeeded in seemingly completely occupying Sheffield’s city centre.

First up on our agenda was a screening of My Brother The Islamist. As might be guessable from the title, this was a documentary made for BBC3. What might not be so easily guessable is that this is actually a superior piece of documentary filmmaking; a humorous yet harrowing look at how social disaffection can lead people to extremism. In it we follow the director, Robb Leech, as he follows around and interviews his stepbrother Rich (or Salahuddin as he now calls himself) in an attempt to understand why he has become an Islamic extremist. The juxtaposition of the comical and the genuinely disturbing calls to mind Chris Morris’s Four Lions, but the truth of the story gives it a greater emotional edge. People were affected by the film and by Robb himself, a genuine everyman type tree surgeon who is at a loss to explain what has happened to his stepbrother. Ever ready to ask challenging questions, we leaped in and asked him where he stands in terms of religion. “Good question” he replied, laughing. We suggested that perhaps we had crossed a line, but he was quick to ease our fears “No, that’s fine...I’m not sure. I’m not religious but I believe in God. I suppose I’m still exploring, in the same way Richard is, or has. He’s come to his conclusion and I’m still not sure at all.”. With his personable manner and insight, people were predicting big things for Mr Leech, and we at Fohnhouse certainly wish him all the best.

Next we decided to drop in on one of the sessions which are being run throughout the festival. We chose the final DFG (Documentary Filmmaker’s Group) session of the day, and it was well worth it. In The DFG Pitch we watched 6 people pitch their idea for a documentary in four minutes to a panel of four industry experts, in the hope of winning a £10,000 development grant and professional assistance with the project. Pitches ranged from a potential vanity project in which a young man explored a traumatic experience which has altered the lives of himself, his best friend and his mother, to an intriguing study of a remote Scottish community with the utmost respect for the Sabbath day. We would quite happily watch all of the six films, and we do hope that somehow all the filmmakers manage to launch their projects, but there could only be one winner. The panel’s acclaim, and ten grand, went to William Jessop, whose proposed film Blue Apple’s Hamlet will follow a theatre company composed entirely of disabled actors as they tour with a performance of Hamlet. The judges acknowledged that the idea seemed familiar, but given Jessop’s unparalleled level of access to the troupe (his brother is a member), they felt that he could create something truly special. 

Panel member Lina Prestwood of Current TV with successful
 ‘pitcher’ William Jessop

The last film of the day for us was Flying Monsters 3D with David Attenborough. Although he is now starting to sound his age, Sir David can still enthuse like nobody else, even if he is dealing with flapping CGI creatures. Like something out of Avatar these little critters are very sweet and loveable, and exceptionally well realised, but the 3D mostly seems redundant. After the screening we had a Q&A with line producer Sias Wilson and commissioning editor Celia Taylor. Both were understandably proud of the project, with Celia especially admitting to her sheer joy at working with David Attenborough, and the massive coup it was for Sky 3D to get him away from Aunty Beeb. Sadly they remained tight lipped when the subject of budget was broached – we’d love to have known how much they splashed out to create the gorgeous Quetzalcoatlus!

Overall another excellent, informative and exciting day at Doc/Fest! Wandercat MP out.