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: