Tag Archives: Justin Bieber

It might be more palatable than Naked Jungle…

A short while ago on PPH, we brought you the news that, at last, rollerskating’s Cliff Richard was to star in a ribald sex comedy with Danny Dyer. We thanked our lucky stars, and dared not dream it could get any better for the British film industry which, according to the Guardian, is experiencing a golden age.

In its article, the Guardian failed to mention Run For Your Wife. But its oversights didn’t end there. It also somehow neglected to cite the upcoming Kill Keith, which (as a number of publications have already revealed, I’m sure) features TV personality and erstwhile Naked Jungle host Keith Chegwin embarking on a murderous rampage as he tries to kill off celebrities such as Tony Blackburn, Joe Pasquale and Vanessa Feltz.

The truth is, I have to go out now, and I’ve already stretched this item as far as it can go. So I’ll leave you with the film’s QT-aping poster and its marvellously unattributed poster quote.

Shit just got real:


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Everything Must Go

In Everything Must Gobased on the short story ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ by Raymond Carver, Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, an alcoholic salesman who, having lost his job and wife on the same day, finds all of his belongings strewn on the lawn. Soon, he forms a tentative bond with a lonely, overweight neighbourhood kid, and resolves to stage a 5-day yard sale in front of his house, initially borne of a bloody-minded obstinacy to stay put, and eventually to purge his demons and advance tentatively toward a new beginning.

The key themes of memories, loss and new starts are nothing new for an American indie, and neither are the burnished, gentle tones of the cinematography, insistent bursts of sad acoustic guitar or drifting evocations of suburban disquiet and disillusionment.  There is a gentle humour at work, occasionally tinged by a more scabrous edge; one explicit yet incongrous scene pitches for Lynchian suburban hell, but just feels wrong.

Laura Dern, appearing and appealing in one scene, is underused, and Rebecca Hall’s lonely, pregnant new neighbour is really used as little more than a device to bring us to the conclusion that Ferrell’s egregious externalisation is a mere variation on the rest of the world’s desire to keep their troubles behind closed doors.

The melancholy vibe, however, is pervasive and Ferrell, with his sad eyes, furrowed brow and gently imposing presence, gives the film real heart. With his relentless drinking, morally questionable past and salesmanship patter, he appears to have walked in from Steely Dan’s world of dissolute drifters, lapsed family men, addicts and schemers; a Deacon Blues or Cousin Dupree for our times. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film’s title has been taken straight from the sardonic duo’s 2003 album.

Gentle, absorbing and entertaining, Everything Must Go is a promising debut for writer-director Dan Rush, and well worth a watch.

Everything Must Go is in cinemas now. A version of this review first appeared in PPH coverage of the 54th BFI London Film Festival in October 2010.

Real Steel


Bay-dar bay·dar/ˈbādär / noun: the ability to deduce from a trailer that a film may consist of nothing more than a mindless cacophony of action and noise.

Upon first viewing the trailer for Real Steel, the latest effort from director Shawn Levy, I was surely not the only one whose Baydar tingled with the fear that this may be yet another film with nothing more to recommend it than the prospect of more large robots beating the Megatron out of one another. So, are we dealing with Rocky VII: This Time It’s Robots, or can Levy and leading man Hugh Jackman bring subtlety to the robo-blockbuster format?

In Real Steel, we find ourselves in the year 2020, a time when the primal violence of traditional boxing has been replaced in the public’s affection by the altogether more visceral thrills of huge, human-controlled machines fighting to the ‘death’ in the ring (think Robot Wars on a WWE scale). Jackman is Charlie Kenton, an ex-boxer who now cruises the highways of Texas and Nevada, fighting his rusting robot for small change and evading creditors at small town fairs.

Following the death of an ex-girlfriend, Kenton finds himself at a court hearing regarding the custody of his estranged son, leading to him strike the kind of deal which both stains his character in ways which seem impossible to overcome and sets up the father and son road trip which defines the film. The younger Kenton, Max, is a fan of the World Robot Boxing League and it is this common bond which offers Charlie’s shot at redemption.

Max is beautifully played by 12-year-old Dakota Goyo, whose previous roles include the young protagonist in Thor. His is a show-stealing, witty and wonderfully nuanced performance which avoids the brat trap that has snared so many child actors before him, and he easily overshadows Jackman’s cynical Charlie. There are echoes of the recent Super 8 in the uneasy, Spielberg-esque relationship which develops between Max, Charlie and Atom, the outdated robot, discovered by Max, which they take together into the seedy underworld of the low boxing circuit.

Whereas most of the fighting automatons resemble humanoid versions of the aforementioned Robot Wars contraptions (names such as ‘Noisy Boy’ being typical), Atom is more like Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant in a fencing mask. His glowing eyes possess a strange humanity that hint ambiguously throughout the film that he may indeed by sentient. Meanwhile, in the background, the supposedly unbeatable World Heavyweight Champion, Zeus, lurks like an end of level baddie.

There are some complaints: Zeus’ owner is a laughable Russian oligarch, whose accent and cold war frostiness recalls Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV (“If he dies, he dies”). There is also a strangely undeveloped relationship between Charlie and his ex-trainer’s daughter, played by Evangeline Lilly, who possesses a faith and trust in Kenton that his behaviour scarcely warrants. Our major villain, Ricky (another ex-prize fighter) also meets a less than satisfactory fate.

Ultimately, Real Steel lives or dies by its fight sequences, which are spectacular. As a film clearly aimed at a young demographic, the substitution of robots for humans allows a level of violence which would put Scorsese’s Raging Bull to shame. Using the legendary pugilist Sugar Ray Leonard as an adviser has ensured that many of the bouts are more realistic in terms of tactics than some traditional boxing movies, with the climactic battle bearing more than a slight resemblance to the celebrated doc Rumble In The Jungle.  The novelty of placing the warring machines within the boundaries of the ring also allows for a visual focus that the roaming brawls of Michael Bay’s dreadful Transformers series lacks.

The mystery over how aware or otherwise Atom is adds something close to pathos to the fight scenes, as Max clearly cringes at the blows his adored discovery is forced to endure. Though lacking the broadly human characteristics of previous lovable robots – WALL-E and Short Circuit‘s Johnny 5 spring to mind – Atom’s simple underdog status is enough to inspire us to root for him as he battles the odds, not to mention a ten-foot colossus.

After a fairly dull first half hour, Real Steel turns into an enjoyable and accessible film, with the outstanding Goyo and the excellent special effects (many of the sequences are improved by the use of animatronics rather than CGI) particularly successful. So, rather than simply Rocky with robots, this is a film which provides action and even a modicum of emotion in surprisingly effective measures, even offering an ending which is not quite as predictable as its story arc suggests.

Contributor Michael Mand can be followed on Twitter @grindermand. Real Steel is released in cinemas on Friday October 14. 

Social animation: Steve Jobs’ legacy with Pixar

l-r: Ed Catmull (President, Pixar), Steve Jobs and John Lasseter (CCO, Pixar)

Media coverage abounds in memoriam of Steve Jobs, and I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised that 1) I’m not bored, and 2) I actually feel refreshingly inspired by his story. He may not have invented the iPod, the Mac or the iPhone himself, but it was his brand of leadership that inspired those around him to give us what we wanted but didn’t think was possible. 

Before reading all this coverage, I had no idea that Jobs owned Pixar for two decades (1986-2006).  But it makes perfect sense – just as Apple products distinguish themselves from PC products, Pixar films distinguish themselves from the other animated films on offer.  Think Toy Story (1995) vs. The Lion King (1994). Monsters Inc. (2001) vs. Shrek (2001). Finding Nemo (2003) vs. Shark Tale (2004). Before Disney bought Pixar, their animated films banked on headstrong fantasy characters singing pop songs in exotic locales. DreamWorks Animation added more star power and humour to this formula, making sure to wink at the kids. But Pixar wasn’t afraid to feature humbler characters that don’t sing, often in familiar locations. Pixar’s pioneering films are bold enough to leave the simplistic cartoonish stuff behind and opt for more realism mixed in with the fantasy, developing more complex plots, modern themes and deeper character relationships.  Because of this, Pixar films offer much greater social relevance than its contemporaries, expanding the scope of animation’s reach.

The social commentary in Pixar films sneaks up on us grown-ups, who are usually just watching these films to keep the kids occupied. WALL-E is the most obvious example of this.  You expect a film about an endearing robot, but you also get a glimpse of a possible future in which Earth is littered with so much garbage it’s uninhabitable, leaving people stuck on spaceships with nothing to do but eat and stare at screens all day while machines do all the work . Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Finding Nemo is also clearly pro-sustainability – every time a human is featured, he’s attacking Nemo and his peeps.  Nemo gets captured by a scuba diver and imprisoned in a dentist’s fish tank, then almost gets snared again by a fishing net.  This realism is a far cry from Sebastian the crab conducting pond creatures in a serenade in The Little Mermaid fourteen years earlier.

You could even argue that Toy Story 3 has social resonance in today’s struggling economy.  Yes, it’s about Andy going off to university, and we don’t hear about his tuition fees.  But those toys have essentially been made redundant.  Their employer Andy no longer needs them, and they feel like they’ve lost their purpose in life.  On the rebound, they get new jobs at a day care, where they get bullied and abused by a treacherous, overstuffed boss.  In the end, they escape that awful company and seek a quiet place to enjoy retirement.  Even the young one they left behind (i.e. Barbie) has unionised the workers to improve conditions.  Okay, I know it sounds like a stretch.  But look at some of Toy Story 3‘s contemporaries: Shrek is a fairy tale and Kung Fu Panda is an expanded fable.  The non-Pixar films don’t approach reality, let alone social commentary. And yes, recent films like Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir utilise animation for social commentary too, but they’re definitely niche films with more limited box-office appeal.

The social resonance of Pixar films would hardly be possible if they hadn’t utilised beautiful filmic language to tell their stories.  WALL-E contains so little dialogue that it’s more like a modern silent film with brilliant sound design. And that four-minute montage of married life in the beginning of Up moves any person with a functioning heart to tears, without using a single word. While other animated films may be visually tricked-out, Pixar has a way of humanising computer animation in innovative ways.

On their website, Pixar credits Jobs for their successes: “The one thing he always said was to simply ‘make it great’. He is why Pixar turned out the way we did and his strength, integrity and love of life has made us all better people.”  Pixar’s people may be better because of Jobs, but so are those of us who got a fresh look at society by watching their films.

Killing me softly without his words: The problem with dubbing

"Si Señor...!" - Nicolas Cage gets the dubbing treatment in Bangkok Dangerous

Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year community website for backpackers and gap year travellers. Currently living in Spain, you can find out more about his language learning pursuits at myspanishadventure.com.

If you’d asked me a few months ago what I found to be the single most offensive thing about film, I really wouldn’t have been able to tell you. My interest was only ever a passive one. However, now that I find myself in Spain in a wild attempt to learn the language, get under the skin of the culture and finally reveal just what it is exactly that can be found lying beneath that aging mask of Zorro, my apathetic opinion of the past is being challenged by a particular vagary of foreign viewing. That’s right: dubbing. In the absence of one single, universal language, I have had to learn to cope with this aural game of smoke and mirrors.

It all began one evening when I settled down in front of my Spanish apartment’s fuzzy Sony mini-TV and switched on Bangkok Dangerous in the hope of drowning out the tunes pumping out of the gay bar from the street below. The jet-black mullet of the balding Nicolas Cage hoved into view, his bovine eyes narrowed, and his lips opened. And then… what the hell was that?!  Cage’s mannered, trademark bark had been replaced by the disarming tones of an effete, lisping Spaniard.

If it’s bad in the case of a two-bob action film, it’s worse with the classics. Two nights ago I tried to watch Rocky, a film so popular here that the iconic image of the first film can be spotted on the T-shirt of at least one passing Spaniard per day. Given my experience of watching it here, and the dubbing massacre that ensued, I doubt if any of the film’s fans would be able to recognise the actual voice of star Sylvester Stallone. Not that they would care (ignorance is bliss after all) yet, for someone like me, a long time fan of the movie, watching it without hearing the infamous drawl of the down-and-out Philly southpaw was a rather painful experience. If the television programming body or the Spanish Film Commission did away with the process of dubbing, at least I’d have the option of hearing how ridiculous Stallone’s voice really is, instead of the finely clipped Spanish-voice actor kicking back with a far-too-casual “Adddrrrriiiiiaaaaannnnn” before launching full pelt into a 100mph delivery of inaudible dialogue.

The same thing happened with Pulp Fiction, which I was only able to watch for half an hour before the impact of the film became so lessened by the act of dubbing. It’s strange to think how suddenly a good film can become, despite being cinematically arresting, unwatchable, when the voices of characters fail to match the actions on screen. Unlike subtitles, dubbing has a distancing effect which often fatally disrupts the internal logic a film tries so hard to achieve to get you to believe in what you’re watching.

The problem with dubbing and its impact on the portrayal of character extends to dialogue in film too, in particular cursing which, for me, can lift any stale drama or action feature and is especially warranted out here in Extremadura where I haven’t heard a public “shit”, “fuck” or “cunt” in a month. The Spanish way of cursing, when applied to the dubbing of foreign films, leaves me unsatisfied. How can the Spanish “agillipollao”, for example, represent “asshole”, “cocksucker” and “motherfucker” all at once? This lack of diversity, or rather lack of creativity in translation, is robbing me of one of my greatest joys in film, namely the ability to seek solace in nasty language.

Language, for me, is what it’s all about. I never used to mind dubbing before I became a language student. I used to find the whole process of replacing another actor’s voice with a foreign equivalent largely comical. It was something mainly reserved for holiday hotel rooms, where’d you get in from a day of battling Germans for sunbeds to switching on the TV and watching, for a few minutes at least, The Last Action Hero, before eventually finding something better to do. Or, as I’d like to more accurately point out, school trips to Western Europe where you and your mates would joyously stumbe upon the local porn channel to find a big-titted American blonde overdubbed with the grinding (if you’ll excuse the pun) accent of a French native. Back then, in circumstances of youth and folly,  dubbing was inherently innocent and forgivably foreign. It would never deprive you and your monolingual mates of taking it in turns to stand about in the lavatory while the other gets prime viewing in front of the foreign cable box, tissue-paper clasped firmly in hand.

Now that I’m possession of a foreign language, and I’m that much more grown up, dubbing is a nuisance. The last thing I want to do at the end of the day after listening to my Spanish Rasta housemate harp on about Frisbee and “hierba” for hours, is watch what I know is a half-decent film, spoiled by the shortcomings of more incomprehensible foreign gibberish.

Can’t I just have the original again please? I’m tired of all this.

P.S. It’s not all bad. Check out this video for some improvisatory dubbing gold. If only dubbing was always this creative.


Film Africa 2011 announced

Permanent Plastic Helmet, already beside itself with anticipation about the forthcoming 55th BFI London Film Festival, has received some more very exciting festival news.

In its first appearance since its inaugural event in December 2008, Film Africa, the London African Film Festival will return, taking place from the 3rd – 13th November 2011 in venues including Hackney Picturehouse, Brixton Ritzy, RichMix and SOAS. The festival programme will showcase more than 50 of Africa’s best films and 15 UK premieres, as well as a wide-ranging selection of Q&As, panel discussions and live performances.

Film Africa will open with the multi-award winning film Microphone, featuring a special presentation by the Egyptian actor, director and human rights activist Khaled Abol Naga and a live performance by Dele Sosimi and Dudu Sarr.

Other guests in attendance will include filmmakers and actors Zina Saro-Wiwa, Sarah Maldoror, Ariane Astrid Atodji, Dorylia Calmel, Sara Blecher and Kamauwa Ndung’u, all of whom will be present to talk to audiences during the festival.

As well as an exciting programme of African experimental film (which itself includes five premieres), there will be a special focus on Africa’s foremost women filmmakers. Sarah Maldoror – the first woman to make a feature film in Africa – will be in attendance to present her film Sambizanga and do a Q&A with audiences.

Other programme highlights include the inauguration of The Distribution Forum, featuring panellists who are committed to improving the distribution and exhibition of African film in the UK (Sunday 6 November, SOAS, free and open to the public); and The Silver Baobab Award for Best Short African Film, with EcoBank sponsoring a prize of £2000 for the winning film, to be presented by filmmaker Sarah Maldoror.

If that wasn’t already enough, there will also be live entertainment throughout the festival, with 9 nights of sounds from a host of London’s most exciting African-inspired musicians and DJs, including Grupo Lokito, the Krar Collective, Mashasha&Sam, Namvula Rennie, Bumi Thomas and DJs Rita Ray, Africathy, Volta 45 and Suga Kan’n.

In summing up the importance of the event, Film Africa Co-Director and Senior Lecturer in African Film at SOAS, Dr Lindiwe Dovey, says: ‘There has never been greater interest in African film, and Film Africa aims to celebrate and participate in this movement. A half-century after Africans started making their own films, supplanting the patronising iconographies evident in colonial cinema set in Africa, African Cinema is finally being recognised across the globe.

It looks essential, and PPH can’t wait!

Visit the Film Africa website for more information.

Tyrannosaur

Peter Mullan as Joseph

Paddy Considine’s 2007 Dog Altogether was one of the shorts of the season, winning the Venice Silver Lion, a BAFTA and a BIFA for the Best Short Film. Tyrannosaur is its feature length offspring; a film about inherent violence and its rebounded effects. Considine said of Dog Altogether that his intention was to get the audience to sympathise with a monster, and Tyrannosaur expands on that premise, fleshing out the story of the original two protagonists.

Taken at face value, it’s as bleak as can be; Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth immediately springs to mind. Joseph (Peter Mullan), a widower, is a slave to his anger. Blindly seeking sanctuary from his world of rage, he stumbles into the life of Hannah (Olivia Colman) – a woman seemingly held together by her Christian faith – through the door of the charity shop where she works. She is kind to Joseph, makes him a cup of tea and shows concern, and says she’ll pray for Joseph. In return he has nothing but contempt and spite for her generosity. The repulsion is all Joseph’s but he is drawn to the unconditional kindness and gradually begins to open up to Hannah, she helping him through the death of a friend. As Hannah’s friendship guides Joseph to a better personal understanding of himself, Hannah’s life begins to fall apart, and Joseph finds himself confronted with feelings of responsibility.

Joseph’s role is tailor made for Mullan (think of Swanney in Trainspotting or Joe in My Name is Joe), a man eaten away by his own anger to almost nothing but snarling viciousness. Colman’s performance is remarkable, and the stand out of the two, though not simply because she is best known as Sophie in the Channel 4 comedy, Peep Show. Over the course of the film Hannah’s visage of calm compassion weathers away like chalk, the shit her abusive husband gives her gradually chipping away at her charity-shop volunteer façade. As her story comes to a conclusion, there is a climactic scene in which her world finally collapses into a distraught, devastated release of a paradoxical freedom. It’s a fantastically powerful, painful moment and worthy of recognition.

Olivia Colman as Hannah

Considine succeeds in presenting a beautiful monster, and it’s the little flashes of humanity and compassion, in small gestures, that balance the bleak reality of the characters’ lives. As the film progresses, the love buried under years of anger is delicately teased from Joseph’s character through Mullan’s acting and Considine’s direction. Coming home or leaving, Joseph invariably passes Sam (played by Samuel Bottomley), a neighbour’s little boy seemingly permanently evicted from his own home to ‘play outside,’ whilst his mum’s cruel boyfriend visits with his snarling Staffordshire bull terrier. The concern and respect they show one another despite the staccato form their contact exists in is built slowly for the spectator, deepening with every meeting, conveyed subtly in a simple, “What you up to?” or a silent moment of eye contact. The humanity glows in each scene they share.

Where Tyrannosaur begins to feel false is in the forced attempts to show the humanity of the characters. After the funeral of Joseph’s close friend, for example, the wake scene bears the heavy handed prescription of a set piece. The tense relationship Joseph evidently had with the dead man’s daughter slowly subsides under alcohol and merriment. Songs are sung, things said in honour of the newly departed and a kind of dreamy montage stretches to timelessness, a snapshot of working class authenticity; but it’s a cliché. The common joy that builds as the mourners celebrate life through death is simply too predictable. The soundtrack must take responsibility for this too. At times it is overbearing, too leading in its lack of subtlety and clumsy lyrics. The original music is by Dan Baker and Chris Baldwin, both guitarists in Riding the Low, a band fronted by Considine.

The opening sequence is enough on its own for one to get excited about the future of Considine as a director, though. The film opens with Joseph, can of Red Stripe in hand, shouting abuse through the doorway of a pub he is leaving, drunk and livid, his dog tied up outside. A parallel montage sequence begins between this scene and another in which he sits on the edge of a bed thumping his own head with the handle of a shovel like a slow metronome, the actions of the past (née present) echoing with the actions of the present (née future) and vice versa; the sound, image and edit marry in a rhythm that bridges the presented temporal dichotomy of the action/consequence of kicking your own dog to death. Considine is capable of capturing the minutiae of introspective human emotion to reveal a tragic beauty.

Tyrannosaur is in cinemas from Friday 7 October.