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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.

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Film Interview

A monster masterclass

Grabbers masterclass in Bo'ness with Kevin Lehane
Grabbers masterclass in Bo’ness with Kevin Lehane

The nice folk at Scotland’s oldest cinema, the Bo’ness Hippodrome, recently asked me to be part of their first Monster Day, a celebration of nasty creatures on the big screen featuring King Kong (who’s really just misunderstood) and screenwriter Kevin Lehane (who’s not nasty at all).

I was there to interview Kevin about his career in the film industry and his low budget Irish sci-fi feature, Grabbers, which I saw at the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Industry. Kevin managed to entice a few budding screenwriters along on the day and it was fascinating to hear how he’d left Ireland for Hollywood and returned home, only to have his script snapped up by a production company.

At the Hippodrome Grabbers masterclass
At the Hippodrome Grabbers masterclass

The event was organised by a group of local youth ambassadors for the cinema and I was put to shame by their film knowledge. I also had a lovely moment when Kevin mentioned a short review of Grabbers I’d written online which wasn’t as in-depth or well argued as it could have been, though he seemed to forgive me after we discussed our mutual love of 1990’s Tremors.

Watch the Grabbers trailer and try and track down a copy on DVD, it really is an entertaining way to spend an evening:

Photos courtesy Falkirk Community Trust

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Broadcasting Film Interview

Explaining the Film Explainer

I was back on the BBC Radio Scotland Movie Cafe again today, this time interviewing Andy Cannon, Scotland’s only Film Explainer, ahead of a performance at the Inverness Film Festival this weekend.

The Film Explainer was a common sight in cinemas in early part of the 20th Century, when the literacy skills of film-goers meant they often couldn’t read the intertitles of silent films. In Japan, the Explainers helped patrons understand cultural differences in films made in the West.

Although I spoke to Andy for ReelScotland earlier this year, this new interview also included his collaborators, Wendy Weatherby and Frank McLaughlin.

The item starts at around 24 minutes in to this week’s show and will be on iPlayer for 7 days.

The Lost Art of the Film Explainer can be seen at the Inverness Film Festival this Sunday at 5pm.

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Film Newspaper Twitter

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.

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Film Newspaper Writing YouTube

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:

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Film Interview Online

Bravely visiting the Highlands with Screen Machine

It’s been a while since I got to spend some time at my favourite cinema, the Screen Machine, the UK’s only mobile cinema, but it happened last week when I headed up to Eilean Donan Castle for a special screening of Disney-Pixar’s Brave.

Creative Scotland and VisitScotland wanted to take Brave to the village of Dornie following the LA, Edinburgh and Inverness premieres, offering local schoolchildren the opportunity to see the film a week before its Scottish release.

I took my video camera and iPhone along to film the event and to spread the word on social media channels, resulting in the following short film and around 100 photos over on the Facebook page (and soon the Flickr account).

[vimeo 46742612 w=500 h=281]

Brave Premiere at Eilean Donan Castle from Screen Machine on Vimeo.

I also published some interviews from the recent Brave press junket on ReelScotland, with Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd featured in one and Kelly Macdonald in the other. There’s some audio from the latter interview in there as well, in which she corrects my abysmal attempt at saying ‘jings, crivvens, help ma boab’…thanks Kelly…

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Film Newspaper Writing

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.

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Film Filming Interview Magazine Writing

Getting animated about Brave

As the world slowly goes mad for Disney-Pixar’s Brave, the US release taking in over $65 million at the box office on opening weekend and the UK premiere taking place in Edinburgh last weekend, my coverage of the Scottish-set film has started to appear in a few places.

Last month I mentioned that I’d contributed an interview with Brave’s director, Mark Andrews, to the new Highlands of Scotland Film Commission’s iPad magazine, which is now available to download from the App store.

I also took part in a recent press junket, with stars of the film such as Kelly Macdonald and Robbie Coltrane in Edinburgh to discuss the film. The interviews will appear closer to the film’s Scottish release on 3 August (it’s out in England and Wales on 17 August).

As a result I reviewed Brave on my site, ReelScotland, before covering it for the Edinburgh Evening News on Thursday ahead of its Edinburgh International Film Festival screening.

As for that press junket I mentioned, Scotland’s tourism agency, VisitScotland, today published a new video from the trip we took to Dunkeld and I spotted myself 0.18 in, taking this photo on Instagram:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fcOFLX6TDY&w=560&h=315]

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Cinematic Scotland launched

Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle

I’ve been busier than usual this month with the launch of a new film website, Cinematic Scotland, one that also includes elements of travel journalism.

The idea for the site has been around since late 2011 and finds me collaborating with ScottishCinemas.org’s Gordon Barr and BudgetTraveller.org’s Kash Bhattacharya as we cover film locations and cinema history in Scotland.

Our first two projects launched within a few days of each other. Firstly, we collaborated with the National Library of Scotland on a new map to accompany their Going to the Pictures exhibition. The free map allows visitors to take a trip around the centre of Edinburgh, spotting filming locations and cinemas, past and present, as they go. The map was also reprinted in the Edinburgh Evening News and can be downloaded as a PDF.

The second project tied into the latest Disney-Pixar film, Brave, which is set in the Scottish Highlands. Although the film is animated, the filmmakers did travel to various part of the country in 2006 and 2007 on research trips and I attempted to follow in their footsteps along with Edinburgh tour operator, Rabbie’s.

I headed to Inverness, Ullapool and the Isles of Lewis, Harris and Skye and the result was a series of blog posts, photos on Flickr and YouTube videos that described the tour, with a number of tweets allowing people to follow my progress. I also wrote about the trip on BudgetTraveller.org.

It’s not my first attempt at travel journalism, following some recent work for Guardian Travel, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to do more of the same soon.

It’s still early days for the site but we are working on more projects which we hope will bring Scotland’s cinematic connections to life.

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Film Newspaper YouTube

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