Tag Archives: entertainment news

Hooray for London Hollywood: 5 highlights from 1 year and 100 blog posts

19 Nov

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This is my 100th post. It’s also a year since I started LondonHollywood.net.

A big thank you to all readers, with an extra peck on the cheek to anyone who Shares or Retweets or even Comments when they like a post.

I’m passionate about film; that’s why I do this. It’s good to spread the love. [Though if any commissioning editors read this, I am still more than happy to write for money, as well as love!]

In celebration of a year of blogging, these were the highlights. Click the links to read the posts.

Most popular: My four-part interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, ranging from Sherlock to Madonna to his time with Tibetan monks. The Cumberbabes went nuts for this — at one stage racking up 3,000 views a day

Most unpopular: To the horror of many, I greeted Django Unchained with something less than rapture. Now that I have seen 12 Years A Slave (coming soon to this blog), I stand by my opinion even more firmly. 

Most epic: Colonel Badd, the short film I co-wrote, was accepted into the Court Métrage section of the Cannes Film Festival. I went out there, writing 11 blogs: half were from this trip, half from my 1997 diary from when I went out there with Jon Ronson as Editor of Time Out. Divine madness, with a cast that includes Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, Jonathan King, Alan Parker, Paul Kaye and the Spice Girls. 

Only slightly less epic: I wrote ten blogs on the recent London Screenwriters’ Festival, for those who couldn’t be there, ranging from one-on-one interviews to panels on better writing. Four posts were on the irrepressible Joe “Basic Instinct” Eszterhas, the highest-paid screenwriter of all time. Trust me, they’re a hoot. 

Most controversial: I wrote two blogs about heart-breaking YouTube videos by bullied teens, two of whom went on to commit suicide. One man, ‘Philip Rose’, wrote to me many times, at some length, saying the story of Amanda Todd is not all it seems; he then started his own blog, here. Intriguing. Murky. Very hard to unravel. 

So there it is. Hope to see you back here soon (bring your friends!), and here’s to the next year. A short version of this URL, btw, is www.londonhollywood.net.

The Fallen: 18-year-old Brit makes sci-fi flick

20 Aug

 

I was impressed by the trailer (above) for micro-budget Brit sci-fi flick The Fallen. It had action scenes and explosions and hundreds of alien spaceships hanging in the air, as Douglas Adams once memorably wrote, in exactly the same way that bricks don’t. I was even more impressed when I discovered that its director, Rupert Rixon, is only 18, wtf. So I kept an eye out for the finished product.

Now the first episode in this ambitious six-parter, which together will add up to feature-film length, has finally been uploaded to YouTube (click here). Given the director’s age and the tiny budget (for their most expensive battle scene they managed to dig trenches, set off explosions, fire machine-guns and kit out actors in army uniform for just £600), it’s enormously impressive: pacey, well directed, making excellent use of derelict areas and buildings across England to give it that post-apocalyptic feel. Give Rixon a few years and a good producer, and you could expect him to be beating Hollywood at their own game.

And yet it doesn’t deliver on the trailer’s promise. The sound quality is atrocious, which is hard to forgive. And you wish as much thought had gone into the initial script as it clearly did into the filming.

A sci-fi or fantasy film only works if the alternate world it creates is credible, if it feels real. Lord of the Rings or Dune or even Harry Potter endure not just because of story and character, but because so much thought has gone into the economics, politics and language of their worlds. Here, we are told in an opening voice-over that most of Earth’s water has been sucked out by aliens, leading to global famine. It’s not thought through. Bottle-caps are used for money, which in itself makes no sense; a handful of caps is apparently fortune enough to provoke an armed fight at a poker table, yet 30cl of water costs 120. Humans need a litre per day.

The characters’ motivations, too, are frequently unclear or downright unconvincing; not least when a man running from machine-gun-toting baddies lights his way with a flare, which may look good on film but is not recommended for evading nocturnal pursuit. (Mind you, M did much the same at the end of Skyfall, and she’s meant to be the spy of spies.) And so far there’s not an original or surprising line of dialogue.

Does all this matter? You may think not, on YouTube. It’s free, it’s short, the audience maybe don’t expect so much. Comments so far have all been positive. But it doesn’t cost any more to think these things through, so why not do it? And if you feel this is harsh on an 18-year-old, it is I hope a mark of respect for Rupert Rixon’s prodigious potential that I am criticising The Fallen as I might a “proper” film.

Lessons for would-be film-makers? Get a proper sound recordist/mixer, and a decent script-editor. They will do your film far more good than the latest state-of-the-art digital camera that most directors get their rocks off on.

But the more important lesson is – just do it. You can’t complain you don’t have the right contacts, the right financing, the right breaks, the right training, when an 18-year-old can get out there and make a full-length sci-fi feature armed with little more than vision, determination and a giant pair of clanking brass balls.

The goss on Bros: the Goss bros are set to reform

8 Aug
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Matt Bros in the Hangover Suite with his non-identical twin, Dominic Wells (that’s me). Tiger not included

News today that ‘80s Brit boy band Bros are contemplating a reunion comes as a shock. As the picture above shows, I thought it had already happened!

Seriously, though, the picture records my meeting with the ludicrously handsome Matt Goss in early 2010, on the eve of his reincarnation as a Las Vegas lounge singer. We sat in the suite at Caesar’s Palace where The Hangover was filmed, though there was sadly no tiger in residence that day, and he told me then that he was open to a Bros reunion.

Talent-spotted by the manager of the Pussycat Dolls, Matt Goss was about to start a residency performing Bros hits, old jazz standards and new material on a giant, garishly painted indoor boat called Cleopatra’s Barge. As you do. Giant billboards of his unfeasibly sharp cheekbones and five-day stubble sprang up all over Sin City, complete with the optimistic caption, “This century’s Sinatra”.

I found Matt charming, talkative, and working that dapper British gent look to the max: sharp shoes, a three-piece suit with a watch chain and cool tattoos poking out from under the sleeves, and a hat that he was happy to admit was less a foppish affectation than a disguise for a receding hairline (takes one to spot one).

He had one funny story about growing up with his brother Luke, who is now a reasonably successful Hollywood actor with credits including Blade II and Hellboy II. After moving from Camberwell in south London to the country, the twins used to make their own entertainment by throwing darts at each other across the fields and trying to dodge – until Matt got one stuck in his ribs.

He also described himself as a savvy business-man, having “learned the hard way” when Bros put on a hubristic concert at Wembley Stadium. “The show broke even,” he said, “but we didn’t understand the difference between ‘net’ and ‘gross’, and we were contracted to pay someone 20% of gross profits! It cost us a fortune. So now I pay attention!”

It obviously had a positive effect on Bros’ bassist, too. Craig Logan left Bros at the height of its fame, still aged just 19, and fought six successive legal actions with the label to recoup any share of the money. Logan is now a bona fide music mogul, managing artists such as Tina Turner, Sade and Pink. He’s never been keen on the idea of getting back on stage, so getting him to agree to a reunion is a coup.  

There’s just one snag: how can the three schoolfriends from Surrey who conquered America now sing When Will I Be Famous with a straight face?

A brief history of when I met Stephen Hawking on set

28 Jul
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Stephen Hawking enjoys his 65th birthday present: a zero gravity flight on a modified plane owned by the Zero Gravity Corp.

The paralysed cosmologist Stephen Hawking has already been played by Benedict Cumberbatch on screen, and will be followed next year by fellow “hunk who thunk” Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. Before that, though, is Hawking, a documentary to be released on September 20, which reveals how very nearly none of this happened.

According to today’s Sunday Times, Hawking says in the new film that doctors recommended switching off his life-support back in 1985. He had only just been commissioned to write A Brief History of Time, the book which went on to sell ten million copies and made him so famous he has guested on The Simpsons five times, and the three weeks of intensive care that followed after his wife refused to let him die robbed him of what little remained of his speech. He wrote the book by raising his eyebrows to select letters on a computer program.

By 1991, when I met him on set of Errol Morris’s excellent documentary, he wrote and “spoke” through his voice synthesizer by twitching one finger on a toggle on his wheelchair. I’d known of Hawking for several years before he became globally famous. My elder brother studied Maths at King’s College, and he had pointed out to me the wheelchair ramps which made Cambridge the most disabled-friendly city in the world – built to facilitate Hawking’s passage from college to college.

I also read A Brief History of Time when it came out in 1988 – yes, from cover to cover. The first part is a very accessible overview of the history of physics and cosmology. The final part is a little hard to follow, though fascinating – especially for the Big Crunch theory, which is that at some point in the future there will be a reverse Big Bang, sending all matter hurtling back towards the single point from which it began: travelling backwards through time as well as space, so that at some point, untold billions of years from now, I will be alive again, and typing in the words of this blog, except in reverse; starting from the final sentence, deleting and deleting until I am left with nothing; then I will regurgitate my breakfast, get into bed, and sleep until Saturday night.

I will fondly watch my children grow younger and smaller and in greater need of my care. Having regressed to babies, one day they will be gone, but I will not be sad, it will be as if they never were. I will join The Times, leave it for AOL, then be appointed Editor of Time Out a few months after the chimes of Big Ben count down the historic twelve bongs from the 21st century into the 20th, then after a series of steadily less assured covers I will be moved into the less stressful roles of Deputy Editor, then Chief Sub Editor, then Sub Editor; I will go to Oxford university where I will spend carefree days with the former mother of my vanished children until, one day, we will see each other for one last coffee and part forever, without bitterness or regret.

I will go to school in Winchester; then emigrate to Canada to play in the snow; finally a confused and inchoate period of sleeping and crying and feeding and waking and being cradled in my parents’ arms, my father no longer dead but young and vigorous and beardless so that his bristly cheek would sandpaper over mine, until one day, I would simply… cease to be.

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Stephen Hawking and Errol Morris on set in 1991

I wanted to talk to Stephen Hawking about all this when I met him and Errol Morris on set (right), but the great man typed his sentences so painfully slowly that it was impossible to do much more than say hello. I noticed that, despite this, he still said “please” and “thank you” to everyone he dealt with, a courtesy that, for him, must have been important as every syllable cost him dear.

Watching him, I became obsessed with a thought, a truly terrible thought. Hawking was working, and is working still, on the Grand Unified Theory that will unite the contradictory worlds of Physics and Quantum Physics – “and then,” says he, “we will know the mind of God.”

What if, I thought, the motor neurone disease that paralyses him should progress so far that he loses even this small movement of the finger that, in 1992, enabled him to communicate? It’s all too close. These days, he says in the forthcoming film, he can only write and “speak” by flexing a single muscle in his cheek. One day soon he may lose even that movement. Kept alive, mechanically, for years after, his mind, floating free of earthly concerns, may finally solve the great riddle of science, the secret of life itself – and he will be unable to communicate this greatest of all discoveries to the world.

What will that be like? To apprehend the secrets of the universe but, imprisoned in his cage of flesh and bone, be able to do nothing, say nothing?

Perhaps he’d go mad and become God, like the intelligent bomb with the existential crisis in John Carpenter’s brilliant 1974 black comedy, Dark Star: “In the beginning, there was darkness. And the darkness was without form, and void. And in addition to the darkness there was also me. And I moved upon the face of the darkness. And I saw that I was alone…

“Let there be light.”

#11: Absolutely positively the very last Cannes diary extract from 1997. In which Mike Leigh is a “patronising twat”

26 Jul
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I found myself lunching with Alan Parker, fresh from directing Madonna in Evita

Cannes, Monday May 12, 1997. Having called a halt to post-party drinking at the Petit Carlton last night at 4.30am, I woke up just in time to get to the Polygram lunch at the posh Carlton at 12.30. I introduced myself to legend-in-his-own-lunchtime Baz Bamigboye from The Daily Mail, about whom everyone here has a story to tell.

I told Baz the one I’d heard about him crawling for hours through bushes to get into a closed set, and finally getting caught by a security guard at which Baz says, “It’s okay, I’m a security guard too.” The guy replies – this is in America, mind – “No you’re not, you’re Baz Bamigboye. Now f**k off.”

Jonathan Pryce was there, but having seen his ground-breaking Hamlet when I was 13, where he was both Hamlet and, in a voice ripped from somewhere deep inside of him, the ghost of his father, I was too awed to say hi. Geoff Andrew is an old hand at these things, and told me he’d work out the best table to sit at for lunch. Accordingly he latched onto veteran BBC film critic Barry Norman – a good plan, since host Stewart Till turned out to be sat next to him, and the Guest of Honour, Alan Parker, turned out to be the man whose Reserved notice we shoved one along to make way for Geoff and me.

The director of Midnight Express and Fame was never high on Time Out film critics’ list of beloved auteurs, and his appointment as head the BFI was proving controversial, so I introduced myself as “editor of your least favourite magazine”, and we got on famously. Parker looks completely square, block-headed, compact, like a human battering ram; younger and healthier than I expected, especially after surfacing from filming Evita with Madonna; amusing, articulate and definitely not suffering fools gladly. He was particularly undiplomatic about Mike Leigh, whom he called a “patronising twat” – Parker had offered him the cash to make two films, only to find Leigh taking the piss out of his accent later.

I also asked Barry Norman what he thought of Dennis Pennis, who asks embarrassing questions of stars on the red carpet by pretending to be a “proper” BBC interviewer, which I imagine makes life hard for the real arts journos. Barry said he saw him chased by some bodyguards last year after some prank and all but shouted out “Yes! Get him!”

After which, my time in Cannes was nearly up. I just had time to look in on the New Producers’ Alliance party on the way to the station, carrying my bags with me, but for the first time fell foul of Cannes accreditation bureaucracy. Instead I found a BFI party at the British Pavilion to spend my final hour with. And then, too soon, it was time to go. Will I ever make it back here?

Little did I know that, 15 years later, I’d be back with a short film of my own I had co-written, Colonel Badd: see here. My previous 1997 Cannes diary extracts start here.

#10: Secret Cannes Diary of a Time Out Editor, Aged 33¼. Spice Girls v James Woods!

25 Jul
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Spice 1997: the Spice Girls bring girl power to a Cannes rooftop

I have finally been reunited with my Cannes diary from 1997, so I can at last continue with my extracts. (You can read the first 1997 extract here.) Is it just me, or was life more colourful back then? 🙂

Cannes, Sunday May 11, 1997: Jon Ronson [with whom I was staying while he wrote gags for Dennis Pennis, see past 1997 Cannes diaries] went to cover the press conference for Spice World this morning. I didn’t bother, but I did see the Spice Girls posing on a roof above the Croisette, the tarty little troopers, Geri Halliwell at one stage running right across it ostensibly to blow someone a kiss, but really just to make her breasts jiggle up and down; Victoria competing by showing more cleavage than the norm but looking as vacant as ever. (I love the story of Frank Skinner impersonating her by looking completely blank from different angles for a good two minutes, as the laughter built.) Each Cannes needs a starlet, and this year it’s our Spices.

Which reminds me: Emma from Electric was furious last night at Demi Moore’s upstaging antics: she rushed into Woody Harrelson’s car at the lights and went up the red carpet with him and tried to deflect the snappers’ bulbs on to her, which apparently just isn’t done my dear, all because she hadn’t got quite enough attention for her own film a couple of nights back.

I bumped into two people I had previously met at the peculiar 18 Awards which I judged at the Savoy, where they literally pushed my partner off the dancefloor in order to snap me with two nude body-painted showgirls – made me sympathise with set-up Tory MPs. The first was Nigel Wingrove, head of Redemption Films and director of Visions of Ecstasy which is the only film to have been banned on grounds of blasphemy; the second was Mark Deitch, programming director for cable channel Bravo, who waxed irate about censorship laws. The BBC is governed by the BBFC, whereas other channels are by the arcane and loosely worded code of the ITC – meaning that films shown uncut on the Beeb such as Day of the Dead can’t be shown on Bravo, which is arguably a cultier audience more likely to know they are getting transgressive material.

That evening I met up with Jon and Bugs actress Jaye Griffiths at the Soho House boat, chatted to Nigel Floyd finally, and headed off a beach party, which we weren’t kicked out of till 2.30am. Metrodome’s Tony Kirkhope apologised to me for trying to pour his G&T into my trousers at the London Film Festival party last year – I’d seen the mischievous glint in his eye and jumped back just in time. He claims to be sober now, and looked miserable. [Foot-note: he sadly died in his sleep a few weeks later, at just 47 years old.]

The best thing by far about the party was seeing livewire actor James Woods, a great hero of mine: shorter, fatter, older in real life, but Jesus! What a great dancer! He was with this preposterous bimbo woman, to whom he’d apparently just got engaged that afternoon. She was so straight and brittle you felt she’d break if anyone put their hand around her wasp-waist, a plastic face under blonde hair, and there was a great to-do over a purse she thought was stolen. She had PR Annabel rushing all over the place looking for it until eventually she saw the woman with it after all: “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, not very apologetically, “I should probably have told you. I found it already.”

“I’m sorry,” I mimicked to PR Tina, “I should have told you, I found it was lodged up my ass all this time…”

For my 2013 Cannes blogs, click here. Final 1997 extract is here.