Over-50 and acting? Join the Wizard’s Institute…

After reading Damian Lewis’ disparaging comments towards Ian McKellen and McKellen’s mild-mannered if acerbic retort, were you left wondering if perhaps Lewis was on to something? Well ponder no longer…

Ian McKellen, charged with conspiracy to conjure aged 74 but first offense aged 62. The assumed target of Lewis’ initial critical comments, McKellen is obviously best known for his towering role of Gandalf in all of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth epics. I’ll leave it to commenters to debate whether perhaps his turn as metal-morphing mentalist Magneto in the X-Men franchise also qualifies – my own guess, probably not.

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Is it time to give up on film ratings altogether?

“The reliability and validity of the movie ratings system are problematic, and its usefulness for parents limited,” declared a study published on Monday in which researchers of the University of Pennsylvania concluded that US film ratings barely distinguish between levels of violence depicted in PG-13s and R rated films [1]. Following so swiftly after a separate study last month determined that the level of gun violence in PG-13s exceeds that of films rated R and has tripled since 1985 when MPAA ratings began [2], is it time to stop questioning the efficacy and merits of the rating system and instead consider scrapping or replacing it altogether?

Perhaps it is inevitable that any group dictating age specific censorship will draw criticism, be it the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) or the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but studies specifically undermining the classification of films and highlighting deep flaws in the rating process underline an urgent need to reform or replace the current system. Amy Bleakley, the lead author of Monday’s study suggests: “It seems like [the ratings system] is not necessarily doing the job it set out to do in terms of shielding youth from inappropriate content” [3] and it’s hard to argue, but I suppose it all depends on what you consider to be ‘inappropriate content’.

Continue reading “Is it time to give up on film ratings altogether?”

Review: Terry – a fly on the wall peak at London’s street culture

Writer/ director/ actor Nick Nevern has definitely found a platform to show himself off: playing the role of London yob Terry in this faux-documentary drama about a dodgy london geezer and his ‘friendship group’ cum clan. They are hooligans and this is a close up and dirty portrayal of yob culture; street thugs with knives, drugs and attitudes. The film is essentially a gritty fly on the wall peak at Terry’s chaotic life and it’s an absolute masterclass on how to make a film on budget, shot on a camcorder and with a budget of less than £500! It could be perceived as a “happy-slap” flick, but honestly, it is much more than that.

Our camera man is introduced; given a name, Charlie, and a face – metal studded with a goatee, he looks much rougher than he sounds. He’s a film student making a documentary for his end of year showcase. He never really elaborates on his exact purpose behind filming Terry and crew, but it is implied that it’s kind of a social experiment, “a human study”. His subject: a sturdy, bald bloke with a predilection for cigarettes and the word ‘fuck’. He’s the very definition of streetwise and he doesn’t take any shit.

This is Terry. He’s a waster. He gets up in his dingy apartment, sparks a fag and then brushes his teeth with his finger over the kitchen sink. He drinks 90% of the day, and the other 10% he does coke. When Terry is around, a knife is never out of reach and things can turn sour, from amiable banter to violence, in an instant. He meanders from party to party with no ambition besides a drink and a good time. It’s a different life, a different culture, and it has different rules – specifically: there are none. Spencer is like the damaged chick Terry has taken under his wing. He’s a wannabe playboy who ends up spending most of his dough on prostitutes, and he sticks to Terry like glue. The two are “basically” best friends. Billy Black is a wannabe gangsta thinking he’s a wise guy. He talks the talk but he can’t walk the walk. He pisses Terry off.

These are the three central protagonists, and although we are slowly introduced to the rest of Terry’s posse, these are the three with whom most of the dramatic action takes place. There’s a lot of testosterone motivating these macho characters, and with so much conflict between the main parties things are inevitably going to get out of hand.

Terry walks a fine line that may not even exist, between a raw, brutal drama and a feel-good buddy movie. Yes it’s brutal, it’s savage and it’s totally unapologetic, but it’s never very intense. It retains an almost light-hearted and nonchalant air throughout, which is a relief because in a different light the content could have been too dark to watch. Instead Nevern finds humour in the unlikeliest of places and it’s difficult not to be swept up in the groups good natured jibing, and nonsensical banter. The chances are you’ll find yourself grinning at the most inappropriate times!

Much like Man Bites Dog, the fantastic french faux-doc about a serial killer, Terry approaches it’s subject with no prejudice and no rule book and it encourages the viewer to do likewise. Also similarly to that film, the camera man Charlie starts out determined to remain distanced from his subjects but is inevitably engaged by them, influenced by them at times, which makes for an interesting visualisation of the effects of peer pressure, affecting both the camera man and the viewer totally subconsciously.

As with most films shot in this handheld style, usually ‘found footage’ horror ventures, the shaky camera work is occasionally over-exaggerated to the point of distraction and in an effort to remain realistic, the voices aren’t always clear in the sound mix, particularly in the pubs and clubs they visit in the first part of the film. (This could also be attributable to the aforementioned £500 budget!). However, the real achilles heel of Terry is actually the pacing. When the action kicks off it is extremely gripping and easy to watch, but it’s a long time before anything really grabs your attention. In fact, I think this is a flaw recognised by the film makers as the film begins with an unnecessary and in hindsight, quite jarring false start, presumably with the intention of sparking some interest before a low key first forty minutes.

For a certificate 18, Terry is surprisingly un-graphic and inoffensive. It is littered with almost constant drug abuse, and every other word is a swear word, but there is no gore and practically no sex, although the one sex scene is a grotty threesome. It’s likely the reason it has been donned such a high certificate is the realistic and cavalier attitude of the characters towards drugs and violence. There is no underlying moral about a correct code of conduct here, nothing to indicate whether their behaviour is acceptable or not, and without a negative stance towards these things, the BBFC will always designate certificates harshly, and perhaps quite rightly too.

Terry is a film that could have gone in so many directions, and the final route it ended up taking might not be the best one. To borrow a phrase from Downey Jr., there are vaguely sinister undertones to the beginning of the movie, Terry is described as “not human”, and is often seen apart from the group, introverted. Or in the midst of a lively evening out, we’ll catch a glimpse of him, staring savagely, suddenly possessed by some inner turmoil and rage.

Everybody seems to respect Terry but as the film progresses you realise that the ‘respect’ is actually fear. People are afraid of him, of his irrational mood swings and sudden bouts of aggression. Terry will batter you for looking at him the wrong way and then carry on laughing. Terry’s mental instability seems to escalate throughout, and at times he goes totally haywire. His state of mind could have been an interesting avenue for the film makers to explore – indeed, initially I thought the film was a portrayal of one mans gradual descent in to insanity through a storm of drug and alcohol abuse. But not so. Nevern had other ideas in mind and in the final act, the film seems to veer off at a tangent and resolve itself in a manner quite unexpected.

Terry is out on DVD now.

An Interview with Terry’s Nick Nevern

A couple of months ago I was given the fantastic opportunity of interviewing Nick Nevern, the director, lead actor and writer of low budget, cult indie-movie, Terry. The interview was on behalf of Smell of Napalm and was first published on that website as an exclusive. Nick Nevern was a pleasure to talk with despite being on set at the time; honest, forthcoming and very friendly, I felt like we were having a drink at the pub. Enjoy the interview.

What were your goals when you set out to make Terry?

Oh, fucking hell! [laughs] What were my goals when I set out to make Terry? Just to make something cheap that people could look at in years to come say and say you know, “wow, if that guy made a movie for that little, maybe I can make one as well” you know? I think I wanted to inspire people a little bit, and I also wanted to create a story of where I lived, representing people that I knew.

In the release notes you refer to creating an honest portrayal of characters and situations you grew up with –

Yeah, absolutely man.

Would you say that Terry is in any way autobiographical then, even vaguely?

Um…not really. I was a bit of a wild kid I’m not going to lie, but I was nowhere near a bully or anything like that, like Terry is. Terry’s a bully. If you look at the people he fights in the film and the people he starts on, no-one is like, his size or his…you know, and I wanted to show that as well, do you know what I mean? People are calling this film a gangster film and shit like that. It’s not. It’s not a gangster film, it’s a portrayal about one guy who is just really unhappy with himself. So I wouldn’t say it was autobiographical in anyway, but I do know people like that and I don’t think you can play a character like that convincingly unless you’ve kind of lived that life a little bit.

You obviously have quite a diverse TV career, but in terms of films, this is your first major role – is that something you’ve always aspired to and want to continue doing?

Oh absolutely! It’s funny because I’m on a feature film right now so yeah…if Terry’s the biggest feature film I’ve ever done then this has got to be the second. I’ve done a few before but not massive parts or anything like that so hopefully that’ll change.

What film are you on now?

I’m on a film called Outpost: Black Sun. I’m playing a Special Forces Commando by the name of James Carlisle who’s basically part of a group of six special forces unit, basically fighting against sort of, crazy, nazi types.

Sounds interesting…

Yeah, it’s a bit of a mad one.

Is there any possibility that we might get a glimpse of Terry’s uncertain future in another film at a later date, or have you sort of made your statement and you’re going to leave it or…?

Well a few people have asked if I want to do a sequel and it opens itself up to a sequel obviously quite well. But…I do want to do one and I’ve got a great idea for it. I’ve got a great idea for what I would do for the sequel! Obviously I’d make the sequel a bit bigger budget, do you know what I mean, get a better camera out! I’d do it a bit differently. Same style, same documentary style, but it would just look a hell of a lot better. But yeah, there are talks of a sequel. We’ll see how this one does, if this one flops well then there’s no point. If people want to see more then I don’t think Terry’s story is over.

That’s wicked! I’d definitely like to see a sequel.

Well yeah, I’ve got a great idea…we’ll see how the first one turns out. If people like it, and it sells well on the dvd and stuff like that. I mean, I always knew this was a DVD movie. My producer Jason Maza wanted it to go to cinema which it did obviously, but I always knew that the market would be on the DVD.

Were you strongly influenced by films shot in vaguely similar style, Man Bites Dog for example –

Oh, I love Man Bites Dog!

So that’s a parallel you’re happy with?

Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s not the first time that Terry’s been compared to that in any way. Obviously Man Bites Dog really broke the mould in that style of movie. Obviously you’ve got your Blair Witch Project and stuff like that, and you’ve got your Australian movies like with The Magician which is obviously a documentary style film following a contract killer…these things have been done before I guess. But what I tried to do with Terry is…you see the thing with Man Bites Dog is it’s an amazing, original piece but it just wouldn’t happen in real life, do you know what I mean? So I just tried to making something that might actually – could – happen.

It is cool when it ends and you see that, when you read as if it’s real and you see what happened to them, you’re just like: no way!

Totally man, totally. That’s the thing, a lot of people when they watch the first 20 minutes, half an hour through, a lot of people watch it and go, “what the fuck am I watching here? What is this, seriously? Is this for fucking real mate?” And obviously as it goes on you get that its not real, or maybe you don’t, I mean, a lot of people don’t! But I was heavily influenced by Man Bites Dog and Magician and films like that really. I’ve got to be honest, I’ve got no money! Someone wrote a review about Terry saying it was “low budget for low budget’s sake,” I think it was The Times yeah? The Times wrote, “Terry is low budget for low budget’s sake.” I don’t even know what that means! I made it for £500 because that’s all I had! I wasn’t trying to make like… it’s not like I had a million quid in my pocket and I thought, “I know what I’ll do, I’ll make a film for £500”. I wasn’t thinking like that, you know what I’m saying? Some people just don’t get it. They just don’t get that I was making it because, you know, I had no money. If I had a million pound I would have put a million pound in to it and then it wouldn’t look the same and it wouldn’t have the same effect.

This is your debut feature, has it been easy getting it off the ground, developing it from concept to completion or was it a bit of a struggle? What sort of problems did you encounter?

Basically, I had the idea to do it fucking ages ago. Like it was a different idea back then, it was more of a documentary about a real gangster and then I watched Donal MacIntyre’s film ‘A [Very] British Gangster’ which follows Dominic Noonan around for three years as a gangster in Manchester and I thought, “fucking hell, the geezer’s just taken my idea”, like obviously it was a real thing, but I thought “shit, that’s what I wanted to do”. So then I just sat it on a fucking shelf for ages and then I just thought, I’ll do it, but not about a real person. So then I called my mate Ian Duck who plays Spencer and I said, “listen mate, I wanna do this little thing, do you wanna do it?” and he was like, “yeah”, so then I called Manuel and I went to school with his older sister, I’ve known him for years. Everyone in the film that you see I’ve known for fucking years, absolute donkeys you know? So yeah, I made it and then it was like 2 hours long or something. Then Jason Maza got involved and he cut it down by about 45 minutes, he edited the soundtrack, I don’t know too much about that, so he sorted all that kind of stuff, and then obviously Lionsgate and stuff got involved and it all came together in the end. It was a bit of a struggle getting it to a certain point because no-one wanted to fucking touch it! The distributors have been fantastic, Lionsgate especially, it’s a £500 movie man, and they’ve pulled out all the stops. They’re advertising it well.

Do you prefer writing, directing or acting?

To be honest I prefer acting the most. Acting is where I started, it’s my bread and butter. Direction is something I’ve only got in to recently after Terry. I’ve just directed a music video for a guy called Snakey Man, ‘Making Moves’, it’s on YouTube, it’s featuring Noel Clarke, and it’s the actual music video for Terry, so there’s loads of cameos. So yeah, I’ve only done a few things, and I obviously want to do more, but acting is my bread and butter without a doubt.

What would be your advice to any aspiring writers and directors?

You can do it! If I can do it, you can do it! The Times said, and I quote, “The actors showreel is dead. Now all aspiring film makers need to succeed is a camcorder, a few willing mates and a few like, unbusy weekends” or something like that yeah? They were trying to diss me. They were trying to fucking diss me, but it’s true. If you’ve got people around you that want to get involved and do this: go and make your film! It doesn’t matter if it’s on a camcorder or a mobile phone or a 7D or a Red, you know? Make your film man. Don’t be shy, don’t be scared, don’t care what people think man. If you’ve got a story, go tell it.

Lastly, a question on a lighter note – what’s your favourite film?

Oh, what’s my favourite film? Oh man, we were talking about this on set actually. I don’t know, there’s so many.

Alright then, top 3! List a couple.

Obviously I’m a big fan of, you know, your Godfather’s, your Goodfellas, your Scarface’s…but I’m going to tell you, and this is an exclusive now! [laughs] My favourite film…of all time…is…Young Guns. Have you seen it? With Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and a couple of others, and Young Guns 2 is the first ever movie, I’ve cried since, but it was the first ever movie that made me bawl like a baby man. I watched that, and when the geezer dies in it…man, it was…I haven’t cried so much since Jamie Mitchell died in EastEnders man.

How old were you when you watched that then?!!

[laughs] But anything by Scorsese I’m a big fan. And British films. I love British films. Anything British. Anything British I fucking love. Dead Man’s Shoes, that’s a fucking good one.

Well, thanks very much for your time Nick, and congratulations on a great movie.

Unlikely Lookalikes!

Whilst watching The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965) this evening, a friend who was watching it with me made a marvellous observation which was too good to pass up. He raised the amusing similarity between Peter Van Eyck, playing the character of Hans-Dieter Mundt in the film, and Lawrence Makoare, who played Gothmog/ Witchking in LOTR: The Return of the King. It’s a genius comparison. I hope you like it.

Vampire (2002)

VAMPIRE aka. Demon Under Glass (2002)

Director: Jon Cunningham
Main Cast: Jason Carter, Garrett Maggart, Jack Donner, Kira Reed

Country of Origin: USA
Running Time: 111mins
Certificate: 15

The themes staked at the heart of Vampire are interesting enough, the balance between science and ethics, and a look at what stage research and study devolves in to transgression. The problem lies in the execution of these ideas on a budget that couldn’t finance a bag of penny sweets – taking this in to account, it’s not such a bad job, but it’s far from cinematic eye-candy.

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The film kicks off as a vampire, Vlad, is caught in an undercover police operation trying to solicit a prostitute. Injured in the ambush, he is taken to a government lab and studied as he heals. Naturally the doctors and scientists assigned to his case become very personally involved, particularly the characters of Dr McKay (Garrett Maggart, The Sentinel) and Dr Bassett (Jack Donner, General Hospital). The scientists begin to discover just how far you can go in the name of scientific research as study turns to torture, and torture to murder; the lines between morals and ethics become distinctly murky as the doctors confront the ultimate dilemma.

Unfortunately there are a number of problems with the shooting of Vampire. The grainy footage is bad even for a B movie, it’s as if the whole thing was shot from various CCTV cameras concealed on set. Particularly the opening scenes of the undercover police sting are so retro you half-expect ‘reconstruction’ to appear in reassuring white letters in the top left hand corner. Patronising stills of the sunrise or sunset between almost every scene attempt to remind you what time of day it is, just in case you’d forgotten: Vampires don’t do daylight (If they did, it’d be the best daylight in the world…wait, no, that’s Carlsberg).

The script, whilst boring, is actually one of the strong points. It goes in to a lot of depth discussing the various angles relevant to keeping a vampire in captivity and under treatment, and is pretty strong on character development. That said, there are a few hiccups in the dialogue, lines that would be hard pressed coming from an 18th century Lord, let a lone a hooker or military operative – this is supposedly 2002, people just don’t say “begging your pardon, sir” or “you sir, presume too much” – indeed, has that ever been the everyday vernacular? And while I’m on the subject of era, their hi-tech government laboratory is about as technologically advanced as my microwave, except with bigger buttons and dials, not to mention the only actual computer screen visible on the entire set has the appearance of a prototype ABC computer monitor, deeper than it is wide, not the gadgetry you would expect to find in the UK equivalent of Area 51. Vampire isn’t just dated visually either. One classic montage has a musical accompaniment that could have been ripped straight from an episode of the original Miss Marple starring Jean Hickson.

Bemusingly, the screenwriter has included the occasional attempt at humour, but this is totally at odds with how seriously the film takes itself, and clashes heavily with otherwise dull cinematic tone. Ironically, the terrible costumes, effects and frequently hammy acting are much more likely to draw laughs and/ or snorts of derision.

Hookers are the victim of choice in Vampire, arousing that morbid blood lust that conforms to the good film formula: sex + violence = excitement. So why doesn’t it work in Vampire? Perhaps because the scarce violence portrayed is less convincing than Charlie Chaplin slapstick and the sexual content is less raunchy than a Carry On film. Don’t get me wrong, these two ingredients don’t necessarily make for a good film, but if you’re going to attempt them, do it with a little conviction! Vampire really needed to decide what kind of film it wanted to be, it dabbles with scenes of action and thriller, and yet the dialogue gets bogged down with in depth discussions (over games of chess!!) about the nature of the human condition. You’ve heard of style over substance? This is kind of like and ill-conceived attempt at the opposite.

Best advice…if you’re a fan of Twilight – don’t watch this. If you’re a fan of Blade – don’t watch this. If you loved that new movie Daybreakers with Willem Dafoe kicking ass – don’t watch this. Why? Because this isn’t a conventional vampire movie. There are no big budget special effects because there was no budget. There are no A list actors for the same reason. There is also not much excitement, terror or any other form of enjoyment. Vampire is essentially just a classic tale of moral dilemma stripped of all the stereotypes that ironically would have made it worth a watch. Unless you’re literally being threatened by a fanged psychopath, probably best to give this one a miss.

Is David Fincher the main man at the movies?

Let’s hear some love for David Fincher. The man in the chair for a number of phenomenal thrillers, and no stranger to tackling some of the biggest egos in cinema – see Fight Club, Zodiac, The Game, Se7en and Panic Room. His films always draw a lot of punters, for good reason, and although Benjamin Button wasn’t such a stand out, there’s nothing wrong with the film making. Fincher’s latest title will no doubt be taking the internet by storm, at least if it has anything in common with it’s subject matter – The Social Network.

It’s a movie about the founders of Facebook, which instantly turns me off, so if it does you too, then before you slump your shoulders and sigh, read:

In addition to Fincher’s direction, the script is written by my hero Aaron Sorkin and the cast includes Andrew Garfield (the new, older face of Spider Man), Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, Adventureland, anything else with Land in the name…) – and ok, so it stars Justin Timberlake, but he’s never as bad as I think he should be, and though I despise his music, he’s earned a sort of grudging respect from me. Besides, if he’s out of place, I’ve just got to trust that Sorkin or Fincher will kick him back in line. All things considered, there are ingredients here which unless severely mishandled should make for a fantastic film.

But The Social Network isn’t the only movie Fincher’s juggling with at the minute. He’s remaking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for heathens who refuse to watch subs, and details are emerging of his work on animated movie, The Goon.

The latter especially strikes me as interesting, watch the trailer and see if you agree.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SyFk17YvHU[/youtube]

Piracy and Hollywood – the big picture?

So I was having a think, as is my penchant, and I realised: Hollywood are all “piracy supports terrorism/ piracy is theft”, and they’ve made a film about pretty much everything else so where are all the anti-piracy films? (They could run a clever PR stunt and leak it so it’s put online early and proves their point). It would be great…

Maybe Johnny Depp is in: PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: THE FBI CRACKDOWN

Or Daniel Day-Lewis stars: “If you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. And my straw reaches acroooooooss the room, and starts to drink your film revenue…”

But joking apart – there’s a film for every criminal, why aren’t pirates gracing our big screens? I’d love to know the inside scoop on aXXo or FXG…

So ‘piracy and hollywood – the big picture’ seems yet to be made!