Thursday, 20 December 2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Image: 20th Century Fox

From viewing the trailer, Life of Pi has always looked like our kind of film: it features an array of wild animals (we love wild animals), it focuses on the relationship between a man and a Bengal tiger (we adore wild cats), and it’s set in a couple of attractive locations (India and the Pacific Ocean), so, as you can imagine, we were extremely eager to see Ang Lee’s latest picture – in all its 3D and Dolby glory.

Based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name, Life of Pi highlights a boy’s strength and courage as 16-year-old Pi (Suraj Sharma) must fend for himself and survive on a boat in the middle of the ocean after the ship carrying his family to Canada capsizes. Having lost his family in the storm, Pi (Suraj Sharma) is left with only a few unfriendly animals for company, namely Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger.

Life of Pi is a beautifully realised film with excellent performances from the ensemble cast. After an impressive opening few minutes, in which we observe some of natures greatest creatures in a David Attenborough-esque montage, the narration of Pi's life begins, as does a slew of stunning images that take us on an intense journey of enlightenment. The message the movie is carrying isn't for everyone but it doesn't take away from Lee's direction and the actors' performances. Sharma's portrayal of the lost boy is the most impressive. He's given the most to do and handles the responsibility with great conviction. It's an emotional, occasionally humorous journey, and Sharma's performance pulls us along willingly.

Overall it could do with being a bit shorter - some of the scenes with Pi as an adult recounting his story to a journalist do drag, but his story does, nonetheless, hold your interest right to the end. Additionally, we generally don't appreciate the third dimension in movies but, on this particular occasion, it does add a few nice touches to the film, and so we urge you all to submerge yourselves in the experience and go and watch Life of Pi.



Monday, 17 December 2012

The Shining (Original US Cut)

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining has made a return to our screens this year, and for the first time British audiences are seeing the original longer cut which was truncated for European release following unfavourable reviews. This truncation is a point of contention: on the one hand we obviously want our films to be as complete as possible, but on the other this is not the ‘director’s cut’ some have touted it as. In fact Kubrick chopped the film down himself, and apparently expressed a preference for the shorter version. With this in mind, how does the film hold up?

What is not up for question is that The Shining is a masterful work, and one which has aged remarkably well, thanks mostly to Kubrick’s marrying of slow-burn tension with immaculately timed jump-scares.  Those crazy 70s carpets might have dated, but if anything this just adds to the film’s unique atmosphere. The actors rise to the standard set by Kubrick and his team. With her wonderfully expressive face and giant doe-eyes, Shelley Duvall is the real star of the film while Jack Nicholson, equally gifted with a face the camera loves, is beyond acting here. His febrile Jack Torrance is the centrepiece of the film, as much a part of its make-up as the Overlook Hotel itself.

Kubrick shows no interest in answering questions. It is hard to find a scene from the film which is not loaded with symbols, but their overall correlation is obscure, and wilfully so. The recent documentary Room 237 gave ear to a wild range of theories as to what is really going on up at the Overlook, but nobody is ever going to find a decisive answer. Stephen King, author of the novel on which the film is based, was reportedly shocked at what had been done to his work when he first saw the film, but a faithful adaptation was probably never on Kubrick’s agenda.

Obviously we cannot let this review go without mention of the scenes which were lost in the European cut. Well, it might be a question of what I was brought up with, but for me the European version is still superior. Whilst some of the cut scenes help to bolster the bizarre atmosphere, they can sometimes be a step too far. Early building on the Torrance family dynamic is intriguing, adding a layer of true-life melancholia to the supernatural shenanigans, but a scene towards the end where Wendy stumbles upon a ghostly dinner party looks like something from Disney’s Haunted Mansion, and punctures the delicious tension. Such niggles aside, though, this re-release is a chance to experience a true classic on the big screen, and is not to be missed.



Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Wayne Manor

We here at Fohnhouse like nothing more than to take a leisurely stroll around scenic filming locations. This week, I decided to pay a visit to the latest incarnation of Wayne Manor, Wollaton Hall, which masqueraded as the home of billionaire playboy (and – shhh! – Batman) Bruce Wayne in the recent blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises.

Located in the beautiful Wollaton Park, just beside the University of Nottingham’s University Park campus, Wollaton Hall was the home of the Willoughby family until the 1880s, and now houses the Nottingham Natural History Museum. Walking up from one of the many approach paths to the rear of the house, one can have fun playing at being Catwoman, scoping out the Manor for a heist (though we advise against wearing the full Pfeiffer – stick with Halle Berry’s get-up and you won’t be noticed amongst all the students in similar gear!). 

Beyond the Hall itself, the Park is worth a visit just for the scenery. If you’re lucky you might catch sight of one or more of the resident red deer – Britain’s largest native mammal is usually spotted avoiding the visitors, though as we come into rutting season it’s probably the visitors who will be avoiding them.

There may not be a bat cave (though it’s worth having a nosey around just in case), but Wollaton Hall is definitely worth a visit – Nottingham must be very pleased to be able to call itself home to a second moral crusader in tights!

These floodlights carry the Bat symbol – just a shame they haven’t installed a proper Bat signal


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Book: The Silver Linings Playbook

It’s not everyday your debut novel catches the eye of Hollywood executives and is made into a feature film starring two talented actors (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence), but such is the case for American author Matthew Quick and his charming story The Silver Linings Playbook.

Set on the streets of Philadelphia, it tells the tale of Pat Peoples, a recovering mental health patient who moves back into his parents’ home to rehabilitate and put the pieces of his life back together.

From start to finish Quick’s novel is an absolute joy to read. The character of Pat is a complex one: he’s trying to regain his memory and reconcile with his ex-wife whilst always trying to look for the silver lining despite forces of evil trying to pull him down - notably Mr G (Kenny G that is) - but Quick manages to weave a multi-layered web with ease and bring the audience, not just the character, out the other side with hope.

It’s a poignant, enchanting, quirky tale that highlights mental health issues in a refreshing way. Human beings can be a little crazy, illogical and be strong in their convictions, but these qualities, in this instance, make for a whimsical, delightful debut. 


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Book: Rust and Bone Stories

By now most film lovers will have probably seen Jacques Audiard’s latest chef-d'oeuvre De Rouille et d’Os, but not everyone will have followed the film’s path to the big screen and explored the collection of short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson, from which the film is derived.

While Audiard chose to highlight two of the book's stories (“Rust and Bone” and “Rocket Ride”), Davidson’s collection actually features eight insanely detailed, masculine, tough, dejected tales of life. And while the book’s themes (including dog fighting, disability and sex addiction) don’t offer many glimpses of hope and present a stark, often-pessimistic reality, misery, for the most part in this book, is good company.

From the collection, “Rocket Ride” and “On Sleepless Roads” are the two Fohnhouse favourites, with the former being the origin of Marion Cotillard’s depiction in De Rouille et d’Os. “Rocket Ride” features a male whale trainer as opposed to Audiard’s female, but Davidson uses wit and great detail to make this ride a moving and memorable one. Every story seems to want to teach us some kind of lesson or wake us up to the harsh realities of life, and these two tales possess great spirit and state their cases in a subtle, contemplative and sympathetic way. We often hear it sung that we live in a man’s world, but our two preferred stories in Rust and Bone, irrespective of the gender of the characters, are two of the more neutral tales in a book that dances, hugely, to a macho beat.   

Rust and Bone doesn’t give us any of Audiard’s romance and does, on occasion, get bogged down with such excessive description that the basic idea of a couple of stories gets lost, but Davidson’s collection is, nevertheless, engaging and thoughtful, and will hopefully garner a bigger exposure thanks to the film adaptation.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Skyfall (2012)

Image: Sony Pictures

The last Bond film, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, was probably the worst film in the series, a boring collection of bland ideas that failed to gel, compounded by a woefully bad or badly-cast bunch of supporting actors and confusing direction. After a series of unfortunate events with the credit-crunch stricken production company, Bond is finally back with a new film for his fiftieth anniversary on the silver screen. So, is 007 back on top? The answer from us is unequivocally affirmative.
To say that Skyfall represents an improvement over Quantum of Solace is doing the film a disservice: it is hard to believe that they were produced by the same people. Judging against the failings of the previous films is perhaps unfair, but serves to highlight what has gone so right this time: where Quantum had the discordant warbling of Jack White and Alicia Keys for its title track, ‘Another Way to Die’, ‘Skyfall’ is world class songstress Adele giving us a beautifully haunting song which suits the film to a tee; where Matthieu Amalric was an underwhelming presence as villain, Javier Bardem walks the fine line between believable maniac and cinematic supervillain with consummate ease; where Quantum’s plot involved overcomplicated and badly plotted global machinations by a wannabe-Spectre, Skyfall is about personal relationships and human failings.
Serious props must go to director Sam Mendes. Daniel Craig was apparently surprised at the size of the sets, which lack the scale we might associate with Bond’s cinematic outings. However, the smaller scope of the film allows Mendes to capture his locations with stunning clarity. Sir Roger Moore criticised Quantum for lacking a sense of geography (which was putting it mildly), but in Skyfall every place, whether soundstage or location, has a distinct character. The way Mendes captures London is especially good, all wet stone and grey skies, with the tube accurately depicted as a nightmarish crush of people. This is not to say that the action scenes don’t pack a punch – those coming for good rucks and nice explosions are not short-changed either.
One thing Skyfall brings back to the series is a sense of camp and playfulness. While Casino Royale was praised for bringing the grit, it also sapped some of the magic. Here, amongst other nods to the past, we (finally!) get the welcome return of Q Branch, in the guise of new Quartermaster Ben Whishaw, who has great chemistry with Craig. Skyfall also marks the return of a very special car with certain very special attributes, the likes of which have been sorely missed: people in the audience were whooping with delight.
Of course, great locations and gadgets would be nothing if the cast weren’t up to scratch, but thankfully this time nobody is miscast. Daniel Craig goes from strength to strength, especially unshackled from the emotional baggage of the previous two instalments. Dame Judi Dench takes centre stage as M, and once again shows how right Eon were to cast her way back in GoldenEye (17 years ago, it beggars belief!). She is a truly classy presence, even when dropping an F-bomb (which must be a series first). Javier Bardem makes for a satisfyingly physical villain, affable yet febrile, and most of all disconcertingly tactile. One encounter with Bond feels like a reference to Craig’s role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Giving sterling support are Bérénice Marlohe, with her wonderfully expressive face, and Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear and Ralph Fiennes who, along with the aforementioned Ben Whishaw, make up the new MI6 family. I can’t wait to see them all again soon. Spare a thought, though, for poor Elize du Toit. After being completely wasted in Doctor Who, she is once again lumped with an entirely thankless role. The girl deserves better!
Skyfall isn’t perfect – the plot feels rather recycled, with central features of a villain with a personal vendetta against M and Bond’s disappearance and return to active duty in particular being overly familiar from Pierce Brosnan’s time. The climax also feels a tad forced – emotions bubbling under the surface are far preferable to outpourings where Bond is concerned! That said, the final scene leaves us in a strong position for further adventures, with the MI6 domestic situation restored to a glory it hasn’t experienced for a long time. I will say ‘hat stand’, and leave it at that.

Friday, 2 November 2012

De Rouille et d'Os (Rust and Bone) (2012)

After wowing audiences with the hard-hitting prison drama Un Prophète a few years ago, Jacques Audiard is back with a follow-up that’s no less dramatic but filled with a lot of love.

Based on a couple of short stories from the collection Rust and Bone, by author Craig Davidson, De Rouille et d’Os takes us on a journey of reawakening as a struggling single father (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a young whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) are brought together by a life-changing incident.

Since Cotillard won the Oscar in 2007 for La Môme she has gone on to gain worldwide recognition in English-language films such as Public Enemies, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, and has made few appearances in films in her mother tongue, so we were excited to see her back on more comfortable ground in a film lead by Audiard.

A couple of weeks ago De Rouille et d’Os won Best Film at the 56th BFI London Film Festival and it’s not hard to see why. Audiard has realised a beautiful film, and the performances by the actors are superb. We don’t know whether it’s because of her circumstances that we ultimately invested in her character, and the love story, but Cotillard’s understated but effective portrayal deserves praise. Additionally, relative newcomer Schoenaerts seems in no way unsettled by the résumé of his co-star and is equally compelling as the caring yet masculine Ali.

Together, and apart, they battle their way through life in a way that’s, for the most part, believable, uncontrived and refreshing.

We walked out of the cinema wanting to watch it again.

Audiard and Schoenaerts 
Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

An Interview with Maurice Roëves

Image: Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse

Maurice Roëves has been in everything, from Eastenders to Judge Dredd, and his career shows no signs of slowing down after 50 years. We sat down in Nottingham’s delightful Edin’s Café for a long chat about his career, but keeping to our planned questions proved difficult as Maurice, by his own admission, tends to veer off on tangents in conversation.
One thing you never learn as a child, that your parents can’t teach you, that nobody can teach you, is how to grow old. When it does hit, you could be in your fifties, sixties, seventies…it only hit me five years ago when I had a big cancer operation. I went in on a Monday, had the operation, and was back home on the Saturday, no cancer, no radiation, nothing, and that was all because of early detection.  I do it because as an actor my body is the tool of my trade, so therefore, if you can spend a lot of money doing an MOT on your car, surely to God you can do an MOT on your body once a year, even if you pay for it yourself. It would save the NHS an awful lot of money!

With this in mind, he tried to offer his services to the NHS, thinking that a recognisable face telling their story might spur other people into having regular checkups. They weren’t interested.
The guy…who was the guy who was a postman and became health secretary? [We didn’t know at the time but this was the Right Honourable Alan Johnson – ed.] He wrote back to me and said ‘no, we don’t need this’. I just get so sick – there’s such a lack of common sense out there at the moment. Whether it’s me getting old or not I don’t know…The best comedy series of this year was watching the football the night before last [this was the rained-off World Cup qualifier between England and Poland on the 16thOctober 2012 – ed.]. It was a joke, I mean quarter of an hour before kick-off it was a lake, but they waited another hour and half to make a decision. There’s no way you’re going to clean it up, just cancel the bloody thing and let people go home! Stupid!

Another important bit of business before we got on to his acting career was his name:
I’d better warn you, it’s pronounced 'ROH-EEVS' – because of the two dots over the E. It’s Prussian. It’s called a diaeresis over the E and an umlaut if it’s over the O. I’ve forgotten where I was going because I’ve gone and diverted – I’m like this all the time!

In terms of background, how did he get into acting?
I was one of the last national servicemen. At the time my parents had moved from the slum where we lived in Glasgow. Not their fault, it was where my dad worked. They’d given them a flat for nothing but it was awful. It was interesting watching Obama talking about slums in Kenya – a slum in Kenya is no worse than a slum in Glasgow in 1945, believe you me! So, they moved to a house in a nice district and I joined the church drama club, mainly to meet girls. A part came up, and they said ‘we’re a man short, would you take it?’ and I said ‘yeah’. I still remember; I counted the lines. 16 lines! I don’t count the lines anymore…I’ll always remember walking behind the stage – I know it sounds corny, it’s been said a thousand times, but I could smell the glue on the set, and I walked into the darkness and the lights came on and I suddenly thought ‘this is what I want to do’. I had a good job. At 21 I was an assistant sales manager selling animal food products for Spillers Ltd, a huge big flour company [who also produced pet food such as Winalot – ed.]. I stayed with the company working, but started doing a great deal of amateur work, amateur musicals, I went into everything. I decided to go to drama college, but suddenly the prospect of giving up a regular job with regular money… and your parents were like ‘Are you crazy?’, you know.

Anyway, I sat the audition and it went extremely well, it was extraordinary, but then I said I didn’t think I could do it. The director, Mr Chandler – he was a wonderful lecturer – came out to the house and said ‘we think you should come in, and if you want to come in next year you won’t have to audition’. And then halfway through the year – I’d taken up dancing, because West Side Story had come out and I thought actors have got to know how to dance – I started going out with a dancing girl. She was going off for the summer season, and I upped sticks and left and went and did the summer season! Got fired because I wasn’t that great! So that was how I got started – came back, went to drama college, three of the best years of my life. I loved drama college. It’s now called the Conservatoire, in my day it was the Royal College of Music and Drama, which I think sounds much better. They wrote to me saying ‘what do you think of the new title?’ and I said ‘it sounds like a greenhouse!’ – I wasn’t very popular about that! We were the first of the working class year that went in…It was terribly [adopts a posh English voice] like that and we went in rough and ready.

Was there a friction there with the old guard?
Oh no, it was rape and pillage from our point of view! The posh girls thought they’d never got so lucky and the guys didn’t like it at all! It was great fun.

The other day I was doing a television thing and a young girl doing the wardrobe asked if I lived in London and I said no, I’ve gone off London. It was so good when I lived there, but I said ‘I’m old now, I was living there before you were born!’ I suddenly thought about it… you know that poem ‘Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light’? It’s a very famous poem about death [‘Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas – ed.]. Well I thought ‘Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Age’, because those ten years from the end of 1960s into 1970s were just unbelievable. There was a revolution in music, a revolution in dress design, everything. A revolution in acting with Jimmy Dean and goodness knows what, it was just tremendous. I look back and I think ‘yeah, I was born then!’ and there’s a lot of people who are quite jealous because you had The Beatles come out, the Stones come out – the ugliest group that you’d ever seen in your life when they came out! That was a great decade. I said to the girl ‘of course, if you’re not born in that age and you haven’t lived through it then you haven’t experienced it, so your age may be equally as good’. From my point of view forget it! I wouldn’t want to live in this age. It’s too full of this [demonstrates somebody glued to their phone]. When I arrived today I couldn’t get in because of all these kids on their phones – whether they were twittering or what I don’t know. It’s like… do you know what a dummy tit is? A comforter for kids, babies suck on it. That’s what the modern cell phone is, a modern comforter for people. I see couples in restaurants and they’re both on the phone, and you go ‘why would you come out for a romantic meal and not talk to one another?’ and somebody said that sometimes they’re actually talking to each other! What?! Across a table through a phone?! God! How crazy can you get?! Anyway enough of this... you shouldn’t have asked!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

An Interview with Charlie Paul

Developed over fifteen years, For No Good Reason takes us on an insightful journey of discovering as we’re treated to glimpse into the life of British artist Ralph Steadman. Director Charlie Paul sat down with us to discuss his new film.

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

How did the idea to do the film come about?

I’ve always been interested in art – I went to an art college and I’m essentially a painter – and I was very interested in recording artists’ work over time. OK, a quick history… I left art college and I got a job animating in paint for a TV programme called Vision On, in those days, so I used to do painted cartoons. I’d walk up to a canvas, paint it, take a frame of that, go back, paint it, take a frame of that, so the process was like a moving painting. I did that in art college, I did that in my first job after art college, then I did a commercial that won lots of awards, in the same process, so I’d established this way of filming art. Then I made a TV series with 5 great artists doing the same thing: I filmed their paintings and interviewed them a lot, and the combination of those two together was quite exciting, so I approached Ralph, because I heard that Ralph had a video camera that he’d film his work on, and showed him my films and he was, typical Ralph, “oh, I don’t have the time to do that.” That was the only time he was ever actually dismissive of me, and that was fifteen years ago. I went down to his place and we talked, and I realised that his studio, his house, was a fantastic canvas to use to describe what he does, so from then on I used to go visit him, and we’d talk about stuff. The reason this film took a long time is that whole first period: it was all about just talking and looking at what he found interesting and then, after about 5 years, we started filming things… and it just grew from there.

Could you talk a bit about the film’s style and your decision to animate Ralph’s work?

The animation was started at the very beginning of the process. The reason for that is I wanted to avoid the classic documentary thing of looking around paintings and then having to fill that gap with describing what you’re seeing, so I was looking for techniques to fill the time, to entertain you while you made your own mind up.

Ralph loved the work. He’d never let anyone animate his work before. He has had so many requests to reanimate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as you can imagine; they’ve actually wanted him to reanimate the whole film. As he knows, it’s an absolute disaster. There are only 10 drawings in the book and, all of them, their life is within the text.

And the contemporary soundtrack…

The music came much later on in the edit process. A lot people said, ‘Why don’t you use 70s music?’ ‘Why don’t you try and evoke the era?’ But two things happened there. First of all it is for a young audience. I didn’t want to alienate my audience with music that’s not relevant to them. Secondly, there were certain areas that we wanted to have opposites in, so the fact that we’ve got Crystal Castles on the Leonardo [Da Vinci] suite is quite a bizarre idea. It works really well because it energises the actual passage, and, hopefully, it opens it up to a younger audience.

Half our tracks were chosen because we actually wanted to use certain tracks, and they were difficult because we had to pursue those tracks to the artist. But quite often the artists would write tracks for us. The All American Rejects wrote Gonzo, for example, and Jason Mraz recorded I Love, and Slash recorded the guitar on the war segment. We were in the hands of those artists. We gave them the work, we showed them the cut, they produced the music, and, in the same way I wouldn’t have asked Ralph to change his painting in the process, I wouldn’t have asked the artists to change their interpretation of the music. For better or worse, I think it has made this a very unusual documentary because it’s not a slave to describing what was, but it’s more like a reinterpretation in a current way, and I hope it is as timeless as his work is.

How did the actors (Richard E. Grant, Johnny Depp) get involved?

Everyone loves Ralph so it was very easy to ring up Richard E. Grant and say. ‘Hey, Richard, I’m making a film about Ralph, will you give us a day?’ and he’d go, ‘Yeah, of course I can.” Ralph, also, is very generous. It’s described in the film how Ralph helped Richard out by doing pictures, and he was instrumental to Withnail and I, which was Richard’s big break in filmmaking, so everyone’s connected in this way and everyone came on board that way. The same with Johnny.

Johnny is a good example of someone who, in a way, is so connected through his love of Hunter Thompson that he became important to the whole… he became the frame for the process, in a way - whereas everybody else had an episode that was within Ralph’s life, in a way, Johnny spanned Ralph’s life. Ralph would be in America at an opening of some kind and Johnny would be there and there would be pictures of them all hanging out together. Even down to Hunter’s funeral, Johnny arranged the whole funeral, so I kept on coming across work, things that connected them, so in the end we asked if he would be interested in helping us out and that process started there.

Everyone in the film, and many others we interviewed who were very important who didn’t make the film, sadly, were all there because they are unremovable from the fabric of Ralph’s life. The same goes for Hunter Thompson. It’s impossible to make a film about Ralph without Hunter involved. If you avoided these people you almost had to remove a part of Ralph’s life.

What do you want to achieve with the film?

My first intention was to get Ralph out to the world. The film’s job is to spread Ralph’s word, so I made it for a younger audience who didn’t know about him, and I also made it to touch on all these important subjects: human rights, poverty or injustice, but not to preach because you turn the audience off if you start telling people how they should think, so we’ve kept the art very open for people to interpret their own way. I was very interested in giving people tasters of important subjects and hopefully they are influenced and excited to go out and try it themselves – maybe try painting again, maybe try and make a message in painting, or just to follow up on human rights or on Beat poets like William Burroughs and so on. Hopefully, that’s the job of the film.