Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's a SUNDANCE wrap !

It's been a great week here in Park City, the home of Sundance Film Festival, and I managed to learn even more about Making It In Hollywood from some of the best in the business. Sharon Stone spoke frankly about having had enough of the Catwoman roles in Hollywood and her desire to do more character based acting. The cast of her latest film included Tom Arnold (below left), Jimmy Fallon and Illeanna Douglas and they were all keen to be involved in independent film that didn't pay much but were very satisfying to do. Well, that's what they said to camera, they are actors of course.

Jaycee Chan, son of Hollywood legend Jackie Chan, gave me some insight to the difficult journey of being related to someone already in the business. He used to visit his father on the set regularly, and still does. His latest movie The Drummer required some physical and mental challenges in order to become convincing as a Zen Drummer. When I told him "off camera", that I didn't like his father's movies, he used some of his dad's moves on me and floored me. I staged managed it of course, in order to introduce a cheeky scene.

Randall Miller has made many movies with some of the British stars in Hollywood, including Robert Carlyle and more recently Alan Rickman. I watched his latest, Bottle Shock, just after this interview outside the Egyptian Theatre. I had no idea he was such a prolific director and screenwriter. The movie was excellent and afterwards he introduced me to his producer, who told me he could arrange an interview with Mr Rickman when he is next in the UK in early February. I know it's a long shot but he seemed convincing.

Finally, when I came back to my hotel, I decided to have a final drink before retiring. Just as well I did, because I would've missed out on catching Quentin Tarantino. It was a bit too late and when someone I was with asked him for a photo, he became all grumpy and said he'd been having his photo taken all day. I was therefore wise not to bother him when he left or I could've ended up having had a real knockout punch instead of a staged one.

So, the journey is almost at an end. I will be attending the BAFTA Film Awards on February 10th with Kevin who filmed with me in Cannes. We're going to get a final shot of walking down the red carpet, as I didn't manage to get the ABC news footage from the Oscars last year when I was on US national TV. Someone called out "hey look Kilt Cam" as I was filming the experience of the red carpet walk, but despite calls and emails to the archive teams, nothing surfaced. At this stage it's unlikely I will be attending this year's Oscars which I had planned to finish up at. It's too risky to book flights and hotel rooms only to find that the writer's strike forces it to cancel. I'll let you know how that one develops.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Get ready to be Bottle Shock'd

Clear your palate, clean those glasses and surf back in time to 7 years after Woodstock. This one's got legs.

Bill Pullman, Alan Rickman are just two of the fantastic ensemble cast in Bottle Shock. It wins my vote for the best in Sundance. It's not a comedy but I laughed louder than I have for a long time and so did the entire audience of the Egyptian Theatre in Park City. It's based on the true story of the birth of the Californian wine industry.

Life is easy for Bo Barrett (Chris Pine, above right). His dad (Bill Pullman, above left), quit his job as a partner in a law firm and invested his life savings to setup Chateau Montelena in the beautiful Napa Valley. His days are spent tending to the vines, surfing, smoking pot, boxing, and chilling in the sun. He still has his scruffy long hippy hair and has a casual approach to everything in life. Including his clothes.

His buddy (Freddy Rodriguez, above right), is a true wine connoisseur. He can taste and select wine to the exact grape and year without looking. Which comes in handy when he's challenged with a bet, which if he loses, requires the new girl, Sam, played by the lovely Rachael Taylor (above left), to slow dance with a total stranger.

Meantime, Steven Spurrier a British wine shop owner in France, wonderfully played by Alan Rickman (above), is getting restless with his French based wine business. He wants to create a bit of a stir in the market to show that it's not only French vineyards that can produce great tasting wine. So he sets up an American-French competition which the French were expected to win, but the result changes the entire way we select and drink wine today.

The film takes you through their journey, which was not one of a considered strategy and well-worked out plan. Californians don't work that way, at least not in 1976. It just seemed like a good idea and it evolved. However their latest crop was producing discoloured wine, a term now known as bottleshock, and they are about to lose everything. Tempers flare and the closeknit team start to fall apart. Jim Barrett (Pullman) returns to the law firm to ask for his job back. They've hit rock bottom. How they recover from this creates some of the funniest moments in the film.

The script is a delight and writer/director Randall Miller, is clearly well versed in the cultural differences with Americans, English and French and the subtleties and nuances of each. These are wonderfully executed and Alan Rickman gives one of his best performances and is perfectly cast. Dennis Farina, who you'll know from Get Shorty and Saving Private Ryan, delivers one of the funniest lines. I won't spoil it but listen out for "the left-handed compliment" remark about English culture during the competition. It was such a truism that I'm sure it won't just be Americans, French and Scots who find it hilarious but amusing to our English cousins as well.

Despite working with some of the more experienced actors in Hollywood, our young stars also did a brilliant job playing their part well and taking us back to a time gone by and educating us with the detail of the event that changed the history of the wine business.

The filming style is traditional Hollywood with great use of focus and camera angles but the editing is noticeably fresh and it gives the film a smooth texture. Much like the fine wine it is portraying.

If Bottle Shock doesn't win an award during Sundance and pick up a major Hollywood deal, I think something is wrong. This is a great story, a great film and deserves a worldwide audience.
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Friday, January 25, 2008

UK Film shines at Sundance

It's the coldest temperatures for several years at Salt Lake City and the snow falls have slowed the normally fast paced traffic down to a standstill. In this climate, any movie that builds up the energy levels was going to be very welcome. I was hoping that The Escapist was going to be one of them. The UK Film Council logo was reassuring and I felt quite proud that a packed press and industry screening was for a film with a top Scots actor in the lead role.

Brian Cox (above) is one of the hardest working actors in the UK and a quick look at his IMDB record shows that he's already completed SIX other films in 2008 since the Escapist and it's only January ! The Escapist kicks off with fast action and pumping music, as several prisoners commence their escape. Wait a minute, you think, if that's the beginning of the film it can't be much of a story. They escape, that's it ? Well, herein lies the beauty of this film. Writer/Director Rupert Wyatt interlaces the two streams of the timelines together in a masterful and unique way. The timeline up until the escape, and that after the first exit. It's a great treat for the brain as you try and build up the characters who you've seen escape and wonder how they all came together and how the planning is put into action.

The casting director clearly cherry picked the best of British talent for this movie, including Damian Lewis (below) and Steven Mackintosh as the menacing brothers who run the prison. Joseph Fiennes is a ruthless fighter who wants to escape before he's beaten up badly and Dominic Cooper, last seen in The History Boys and soon to be seen in the film version of Mamma Mia, plays Cox's quiet cell mate who is abused on his first day inside.

It's a fantastic film which comes to an incredible and emotional climax right at the last second of the film and earned a loud and long applause from the appreciative Sundance audience, after the hankies had wiped away the tears. Brian Cox deserves awards for this stunning performance.

Who will escape, how will they escape and will they escape ? You'll need to see the film to find out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

American Beauty Part 2

During festivals it's good to watch films which you know nothing about. Often you'll find something that you may not have watched if you knew the storyline or heard it from someone. Towelhead is one of those, so don't read on if you don't want to know more.

It's Alan Ball (above right), in the directors role this time. He wrote the screenplay for American Beauty, and he's taken that theme to the next level. Aaron Eckhart (below left) is the equivalent of Kevin Spacey and Summer Bishil (above left and right and below right), is in the Mena Suvari role.
This time however, there's a strong mixture of racism, underage sex, menstruation images and pedophilia to help challenge the morality of even the toughest of audiences. Summer is an up and coming 19 year old Hollywood actress who plays a very convincing 13 year old, ably directed by Alan Ball to get the right mixture of innocence and sexual awakening. Her father is Lebanese and has strict views on who his daughter should be seeing. Meantime, she's mixing with all the wrong people and she stumbles from one cringing moment to the next. The Sundance audience were very animated and laughed at the audacity of the script to take it's audiences to places never before seen on film.

This is a film that would never have worked without an extraodinarily talented cast. Toni Collette (above right), plays the morally balanced expectant mother who looks out for the new girl on the block, after seeing some worrying interactions in her neighbourhood. The film challenges the way we think about each of the circumstances she finds herself in and doesn't let up from the first scene in the film to the end. It's a tough film to watch but a very honest, carefully constructed, beautifully shot and wonderfully acted film based on the novel by Alicia Erian. I'm sure it will be talked about many times this year and is likely to do very well at the box office. Whether it will win an award in the heart of Mormon country remains to be seen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Sometimes it's a culture shock when you travel. We get locked in our own culture and go about our daily lives without observing or realising how we act and how others see us. When you travel abroad, your eyes open and you observe.

My flight to America started off with an introduction to airline class systems. First class passengers may board at their leisure around the same time as those requiring assistance. Business class are called shortly after. Then the rest of us are called in groups. I was group four, so it seemed like I was last to be called as I looked around an empty lounge. Then it was the walk of shame, past those in the wider aisles and leather seats with space for stretching your legs. I diverted my eyes as those paying ten times more were keen to be seen in the expensive seats. It appears to be ego food for them as they stare at every passenger coming on board.

There was no-one next to me, so I had lots of room and the cloth seats were just as comfortable and the service just as helpful, though I did notice that our cabin crew were at least ten years older and smiled a lot less. I guess my seat was subsidised by those with more money than sense who pay a larger part of the staff and fuel costs. Maybe I should shake their hands next time. I paid around $3500 for my seat, but I felt like I had the cheap seats on the Titanic. I started to wonder if there were some safety benefits that I am also being denied. Does my oxygen mask come down only after sufficient gasps have been taken by my higher paying colleagues ? Are there fleece-lined life jackets available as an optional extras ?

The Sky Mall magazine is another reminder that America is a nation of people with too much money. It's full of things that no-one needs but claim to solve a problem in your daily life. How about huggable hangers which have a velvety surface and keep your clothese firmly on that hanger ! I bet that's something that's been a problem for you ? A watch storage case which stores 11 or 24 watches. How many watches does one need ? I must admit, I spent the first hour of the flight flicking through it and I did like the ice-cold beer on tap device which "pours a beer just like at the bar". Oh No ! I'm becoming hooked on this culture of want rather than need, and I've hardly left UK airspace. Boy is it infectious. The massive seven foot cabinet holding 2,500 CDs is something that you don't see in the UK. Everything seems to be $99.99, whether it's a self-propelled pool float for your garden pool, or a dog dazer, which emits a high pitched tone to stop that annoying dog barking next door. This book will convince you to buy something that you don't need.

On arriving in Sundance, it's dark, very cold and it's a far cry from sun, sea, sand, glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival. I'm amazed that any millionaire Hollywood star would want to be in these uncomfortable surroundings. The next morning and it's different. The sun is shining and giving a warmth through the cold air. The snow glistens in a way rarely seen in the UK and makes the snow-capped houses look incredible. Everyone is ultra friendly and you only need to look lost for 10 seconds before someone will ask you if they can help. The buses take you around the various locations of Sundance which is based in the hotels of Park City.

Lots of films to see today and more tomorrow. I've also got some exclusive film clips and images to upload but my broadband is not that fast and I may wait until I get back. I'll post another update later tonight.
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Monday, January 14, 2008

What Just Happened ?

Well, let me tell you what just happened. I got the Sundance magazine out at the weekend and decided to brave it and ask for interviews with the best in the business. Aim for the sky and you'll land on the clouds is my policy.

I started off by short listing a few films which had some big name actors. What Just Happened ?, jumped out. It's a behind the scenes look at Hollywood and follows the trials and tribulations of a producer. It fitted well with Making It In Hollywood. I looked at the cast. Robert De Niro was playing the lead role of the Producer. Then I noticed that Bruce Willis and Sean Penn were also in the film playing themselves.

I spent a few hours today doing some googling today and eventually found some contacts from the production company. Tonight, I carefully crafted an email giving some details about UK Theatre Network and Making It In Hollywood and requested a brief interview and gave them the dates that I was in Salt Lake City.

Within two minutes a reply came back with three others copied and requested to deal with my request. Ten minutes later a reply came back from someone else who had been forwarded the email. "Bruce Willis and Sean Penn are not going to Sundance and DeNiro is only interviewing on the red carpet on the 19th". I couldn't get accomodation on the 19th when I attempted 2 months ago, so I've just missed out.

A quick request for some images and two minutes later my email was forwarded to someone else who was asked "Please send Douglas some art". Six minutes later, the following three images arrived and I was immediately online and posting this blog out to around 10,000 people.

The power of the internet.

I'm looking forward to seeing the film when I'm over there. Enjoy the pictures. I'll let you know how I get on with the other requests.

Robert De Niro and Moon Bloodgood

Robert De Niro and Barry Levinson (director)

Catherine Keener and Robert De Niro