Time to end Reel Time

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Today sees the publication in the Edinburgh Evening News of my final Reel Time, the weekly film column I’ve been writing since January 2009. Since then the word count has dropped gradually from 500 to 350 to the current 300 and my (very rough) calculations tell me I’ve written somewhere in the region of 100,000 words in that time.

Writing the column has been a fantastic experience, giving me access to some amazing people and places while allowing me to convey thoughts about cinema that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. Who knew I had so many views on sequels and remakes, the eating of popcorn, the future of 3D, silent cinema, IMAX, the loss of Sunday matinees at the Cameo and Muppet movies?

It’s the equivalent of writing a diary about my film-going, something I’d never have considered had I not had a weekly deadline. Edinburgh is one of the best cities in the world for film fans, with dozens of cinema screens offering the latest movies alongside retrospective seasons, world cinema classics and special events.

The decision to stop was mainly due to a feeling that after writing more than 250 columns I was starting to say the same things, just in a different way. There’s still a challenge in that, but not as much as there was the first time. I complain about there being too many sequels at the cinema and I was starting to create my own versions, albeit on the printed page.

Another reason is that I’m now writing my first book, which itself could be in the region of 100,000 words. I need to devote as much time as I can to that.

Finally, I’m increasingly devoting my time to seeking out less mainstream films or classics, something that doesn’t always fit in with the requirements of a mainstream newspaper. I hope to get my classic film blog up-and-running again, writing about the history of cinema rather than the latest blockbusters. Scottish film website, reelscotland.com, will also continue.

The Evening News might still allow me to contribute the occasional piece, but until then I’m grateful to have been a small part of such a great Edinburgh institution and hope the next film columnist beats my five-and-a-bit-years record.

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Discovering Wake in Fright

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“Have a beer, mate?” It was in January that I first saw 1971’s Wake in Fright at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema, a near-forgotten Australian drama that has now been rediscovered and rereleased.

The film charts a weekend in the life of schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond), who visits the outback town of Bundanyabba and finds a kind of Hell waiting for him.

It’s an astonishing film and I’ve no doubt that it’s place in cinema history is been re-evaluated as thanks to this new release.

To mark its return to cinemas and arrival on Blu-ray, I was asked onto the BBC’s Culture Studio to discuss the film, a 10-minute segment that’s on iPlayer for the next week.

I was also able to interview Wake in Fright’s director, Ted Kotcheff, for film retailer, MovieMail.

Finally, I wrote about the film for my Edinburgh Evening News column, recommending everyone tries to catch it at Filmhouse from tomorrow.

A busy fortnight for Scottish films

As the title says, it’s been a busy fortnight for Scottish films, or rather the Scottish film industry. Of course, quite how much of an industry we have is worthy of debate, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to gloss over the intricacies.

Last week saw the release in Scottish cinemas of the excellent new Irvine Welsh adaptation, Filth, starring James McAvoy as a bent Edinburgh copper. I reviewed the film for the Edinburgh Evening News, giving it the newspaper’s first ever seven-out-of-seven review (I’m not entirely sure why it’s out of seven these days but it does mean it’s well worth seeing).

I also interviewed McAvoy for MovieMail and the film’s director, Jon S Baird, for ReelScotland, both of whom were delighted at the response around the country. The audio of my McAvoy interview is now live:

We’ve also got the release this week in UK cinemas of Proclaimers musical, Sunshine on Leith. I first reviewed the stage play back in 2010 and was intrigued to see how it would transfer to the big screen. The answer is very well indeed, and my review went up on the Evening News site a few weeks ago following the Edinburgh premiere.

Finally, this week’s Evening News column rounds-up the various Scottish films out now or coming soon.

Here’s hoping this run of good luck continues and we have a few more locally made films on the big screen in the coming year.

An epic end to the year

BBC Movie Cafe discusses The Hobbit

BBC Movie Cafe discusses The Hobbit

The world has once more gone Middle Earth mad, with the release this week of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit in cinemas, nine years after his last visit to The Shire.

I was asked by the BBC Movie Cafe and the Edinburgh Evening News to head along to Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema last weekend for a special screening of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a 10 hour endurance test involving Orcs, Dwarves and people dressed as Hobbits.

The radio segment can be heard over on BBC iPlayer for another few days, while I’ve reproduced the Evening News column below:

With The Hobbit arriving in cinemas tomorrow, it seemed like a good idea last Sunday to head to the Cameo to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy on the big screen.

At around 10 hours in duration, this was no ordinary film screening, meaning I had to be prepared for all eventualities. Forget the lembas bread wrapped in leaves favoured by Frodo and Sam, I went for some ham sandwiches and too much coffee.

The films were a joy to revisit, with Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth, a dark and brooding place with the occasional glimpse of light as our heroes made their way to Mordor, looking suitably epic in the original 35mm prints.

Leaving the screening on a high, I hoped The Hobbit would prove to be as exhilarating, as Jackson returned to his world with a new Bilbo Baggins in the shape of Martin Freeman alongside Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf.

The director has embraced a pioneering new technology which doubles the normal frame rate of the film, 48 fps (frames per second) instead of 24. Jackson claims this is a more immersive experience and that all films will go this way.

Rather than looking as big and bold as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit looks more like it’s shot on the set of a 1980s soap opera. While landscapes look lush and rich, close-ups of the actors bring you closer to them, making the heavy prosthetics and make-up more obvious.

Most importantly, the thin story doesn’t justify the three-hour length, with not much really happening apart from some fights, lots of running around and the appearance of Gollum.

With two more films to come, it looks like it’s going to be a slog to get to the end of this particular journey.

One Skyfall screening is not enough

As my latest Edinburgh Evening News column isn’t on the website I thought I’d publish it here instead. I couldn’t resist writing about Bond as Skyfall takes the box office by storm.

It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that there’s a new Bond film in town, the 23rd adventure for Britain’s favourite spy.

Skyfall ignores the lacklustre Quantum of Solace (2008) and returns the series to its bombastic best, sending 007 (Daniel Craig) on a mission that takes him around the globe and back in time.

I revelled in every second of the spy saga, with one of the series’ classiest casts – from Dame Judi Dench as the steely M to Javier Bardem as the seriously nasty Silva – doing justice to a script that gives its audience something fresh while respecting its past glories.

On the subject of the past, my own memories of seeing Bond at the cinema stretch back to 1987’s The Living Daylights. With no internet to build the hype, we were left with TV adverts and promotions on packets of Trio biscuits to whet our appetites.

While I still think Sean Connery was the best Bond, I’ve a soft spot for Timothy Dalton as a harder-edged 007 who questioned his motives long before Daniel Craig picked up his Walther PPK.

Somehow I missed 1989’s Licence To Kill on the big screen and it wasn’t until 1995 that I was able to head to the Dominion to watch Pierce Brosnan don his tuxedo in GoldenEye. Since then I’ve waited patiently for each new Bond film, sneaking a peek at the trailers and reading the occasional plot outline without wanting to find out too much.

For Skyfall I had to avoid Twitter, Facebook posts and TV specials for weeks, ensuring no spoilers leaked through. MI6 couldn’t have done a better job.

I have a feeling I’ll be heading back to see Skyfall again soon, one screening is not enough.

Full disclosure time: memories of The Living Daylights Trio promotion were recalled thanks to the fantastic new Bond book, ‘Catching Bullets‘, by Mark O’Connell – here’s my Good Reads review.

Scottish indie filmmakers in the spotlight

I’ve been writing a lot about Scottish independent filmmaking this week, ending it with an invitation to be part of a panel discussion at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse next Saturday.

At the start of the week I published a new blog post on ReelScotland from Neil Rolland, the organiser of a monthly Edinburgh film evening called Write Shoot Cut. The event features short films from around the country and I’m hoping to get along to Edinburgh’s Banshee Labyrinth next Monday to see what it’s like.

Then in Thursday’s Edinburgh Evening News I mentioned the same event, along with coverage of another film event on Saturday 15 September, this time at Filmhouse. Shoot First Scotland will feature screenings, an interactive panel discussion and professional insights into low-budget filmmaking in Scotland.

I’ve now been invited along to discuss short films alongside some much more qualified people, including some BAFTA-award winners. One of the films being shown at Shoot First Scotland will be Finlay Pretsell’s Ma Bar:

Edinburgh Festivals coverage 2012

It’s that time of year again in Edinburgh, when you can’t walk a few paces without someone thrusting a Fringe flyer in your face and posters of comedians you vaguely recognise from the telly are plastered everywhere.

Though it’s been a few years since I reviewed Fringe shows for the Edinburgh Evening News, in my Thursday column I have had the opportunity to promote film-related events, including 10 Films With My Dad, An Appointment with The Wicker Man and The Beta Males’ Midnight Movie Theatre.

I was also invited by the Edinburgh International Festival Backstage team to be interviewed for a short video about film music in theatre, alongside EIFF Artistic Director, Chris Fujiwara, and acclaimed composer, Shaun Davey:

Tram Man is a superhero for the Capital

Electric Man

Electric Man

Once in a while my weekly Edinburgh Evening News column doesn’t make it from the printed page onto their website so I publish it here instead. Here’s the piece that went into yesterday’s paper:

It’s been another summer of comic book movies, with Avengers Assemble and Spider-Man already released and The Dark Knight Rises about to hit screens around the country.

Last week also saw a raft of new superhero films announced at the high profile San Diego Comic Con, Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 just some of the blockbusters announced for 2013 and beyond.

Also making waves at Comic Con was the only UK feature film to screen at the festival, Edinburgh-set comic book movie, Electric Man.

Described as The Maltese Falcon meets Kevin Smith’s Clerks, the film follows the misadventures of two Edinburgh comic book fans, Jazz and Wolf, who run a comic shop on Candlemaker Row.

As the pair struggle to find £5,000 to prevent the shop being shut down they also discover a priceless first edition comic is in their possession. Unfortunately for our heroes, the comic is also wanted by another collector who’ll do anything to get it back.

“The original draft of the script has been around since the early 90s, after the idea for a sitcom pilot came to me one night when I was in college,” says the film’s co-writer and director, David Barras. “It did the rounds for a few years, with the BBC interested in commissioning it at one stage.”

I watched the film in 2011, in a slightly different cut to the one which premiered in San Diego, and found it a fast-paced romp that doesn’t take itself seriously. The actors, including 1980’s legend, Fish, do a good job throughout.

My own idea for a superhero film is still in development, though whether anyone will greenlight Tram Man, the story of a hero avenging the city’s evil tramworks, remains to be seen.

TCM Classic Film Festival 2012

I was back in LA in April for the third annual TCM Classic Film Festival, watching another impressive line-up of movies that have stood the test of time with some of the cast and crew who made them.

Before I went I wrote about the 2011 Festival over on the Guardian Travel website (you can also read a round-up of last year’s coverage elsewhere on this blog), trying to explain why TCM is more than just a chance to watch films on the big screen.

I also covered the Festival for the Edinburgh Evening News once again, wondering if Edinburgh could take over from Hollywood before looking at the cinemas themselves in LA and San Francisco.

While I was in LA I caught over a dozen special screenings and met some fantastic people, many of whom have been viewers of the US TCM channel for many years. I’d been commissioned by Cinema Retro magazine to write a follow-up report of my festival, which was published in May.

Some of the people I met at 2011’s TCM were the team behind the excellent Cinementals blog, who allowed me to write about a film festival closer to home last week. The 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival will be screening a retrospective strand dedicated to Hollywood director Gregory La Cava and I interviewed EIFF artistic director Chris Fujiwara for the Cinementals.

Finally, I wanted to experiment with the iMovie app on my iPhone earlier in the week and decided to use some photos from TCM to do so. It’s not the best video you’ll see on the Festival but here’s the experiment

The Raid in the Edinburgh Evening News

Last week I went along to a screening of The Raid, the new Indonesian-set action film from Welsh director Gareth Evans.

Much as I enjoy an intelligent and well-scripted piece of cinematic art, I also have the occasional craving for a piece of slam-bang nonsense that gives Die Hard a run for its money.

Here’s my piece in this week’s Edinburgh Evening News on The Raid.

Looney Tunes return to Filmhouse

My column from this week’s Edinburgh Evening News has slipped through the cracks in the digitial floorboards and not made it to the website is now on the website. I’ve also published it here instead, so if classic cartoons are for you then please read on:

There’s a chance to relive your youth this weekend at the Filmhouse as the cinema screens a series of classic cartoons featuring the exploits of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and my favourite, Daffy Duck.

Created as a result of Warner Bros needing to promote their music back catalogue, the first Looney Tunes short was 1930’s Sinkin’ in the Bathtub starring the long-forgotten Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid.

Continuing with characters such as Buddy and Beans the Cat, Porky Pig became the series’ first major star following his first appearance in 1935’s I Haven’t Got a Hat. Porky started out as a young child in this cartoon and it’s interesting to see how minor a role he has among characters such as Ham and Ex and Oliver Owl.

Of the ten shorts being shown on Saturday and Sunday, perhaps the most famous is 1953’s Duck Amuck, directed by Chuck Jones. In this one, Daffy Duck is tormented by an unseen animator who keeps changing the background and his own image as our hero becomes increasingly exasperated.

It’s bizarre even by Looney Tunes standards, making Daffy and the viewer question his existence, something we don’t usually see in cartoons. Duck Amuck has remained popular over the years and in 1999 it was selected by the US Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry.

Daffy’s back with Porky in 1941’s in The Henpecked Duck, where the pair go to court as Daffy tries to save his marriage.

It’s not only Looney Tunes represented in the line-up, with the Merrie Melody A Corny Concerto (1943) and MGM’s Bad Luck Blackie (1949) also showing.

The cartoons can be seen from 1pm on Saturday and 11am on Sunday.

Brave coverage on ReelScotland

I was in London a few weeks ago to attend a screening of the first 30-minutes of Disney-Pixar’s upcoming animated movie, Brave, a film that Scottish tourism bosses hope will repeat the success of Braveheart in the mid-90s.

I wrote about the film’s European premiere in Edinburgh this June for the Evening News but had an opportunity to write a feature for my own site, ReelScotland, this week. I’ve also added a clip of my question to director Mark Andrews that has been repeated on many other sites, that of what other Scottish films the animators at Pixar watched while making the film.

Brave is out in the UK on 17 August.

Brian Cox column in Edinburgh Evening News

Brian Cox at the NLS

Brian Cox at the NLS

Last week I attended a talk by Scottish actor, Brian Cox, at the National Library of Scotland, covering it for my Thursday Edinburgh Evening News column. While the following article was published in the 10 November print edition of the paper it didn’t make it online, so I’ve published it here instead:

He may have appeared in a string of Hollywood hits, counting Matt Damon and Hugh Jackman as co-stars, but Dundee-born actor Brian Cox has a special place in his heart for one particular leading lady: Edinburgh.

Speaking at the National Library of Scotland on Tuesday evening, the Braveheart and Bourne Identity star was vocal in his love for the city.

“I look upon Edinburgh as my spiritual home,” he said. “This goes back to when I was two-years-old and my auntie Jean ran away to Edinburgh to marry a Protestant. She lived in Leith and Granton, and I remember years later walking over the Mound and the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.”

Cox spoke about his memories of attending the cinema in Dundee when he was a boy, deciding that acting was for him as Spencer Tracy and James Cagney filled the screen.

“Edinburgh is where everything came together for me as an actor,” continued Cox. “Working at the Lyceum with actors such as Duncan Macrae and Fulton Mackay.”

Mackay is also the star of one of Cox’s favourite Scottish films, 1952’s The Brave Don’t Cry, with the work of directors Bill Forsyth and Peter Mullan also high on his list.

When I ask Cox if we can expect to see him filming on Edinburgh’s streets he’s unsure, though one project may come to fruition in 2012.

As he plans to head back to the USA to shoot Will Ferrel’s latest comedy, Dog Fight, can we expect to lose him to Hollywood? Cox shakes his head: “The weather is beautiful and I love going there, but after a while it gets boring.

“Edinburgh’s always meant a lot to me, it physically charges me whenever I come back here.”

Yuki 7 infiltrates the UK

Before I go any further, please turn your speakers up and press play on the trailer below – I’ll see you in 2 minutes 22 seconds:

How cool was that? As a spy fan, and someone who appreciates a decent homage, I was bowled over by Yuki 7 when I first heard about her. She’s the creation of US illustrator Kevin Dart, a man with a love of the movies and a finely tuned sense of humour (he likes Jim Henson, who I may have mentioned on this blog a few times).

After watching the trailer I got in touch with Kevin regarding the possibility of running a feature in my Edinburgh Evening News column, with an associated interview on the Reel Time blog. I’ve not read about Yuki 7 in any UK press up to know, so I’m not sure how widespread her fame is on this side of the pond.

For someone working on the release of his second high profile book, Looks That Kill, Kevin was generous with his time. The feature ran today in the paper and I duly tweeted about it, but it’s impossible to get across just how gorgeous this book is until you see it. With a bonkers, Avengers-ish, plot and some truly eye and mouthwatering illustrations, this is a book for anyone who misses those 60s spy movies that jumped on the Bondwagon back in the day.

Looks That Kill cover, courtesy Kevin Dart

Looks That Kill cover, courtesy Kevin Dart

Inside the pages of Looks That Kill, courtesy Kevin Dart

Inside the pages of Looks That Kill, courtesy Kevin Dart

I’m hoping a few more people now sample the world of Yuki 7 and the Gadget Girls and I can’t wait for the promised short film he mentions in the interview and the third book in the series. In the meantime, head over to the Yuki 7 website and find out what all the fuss is about.