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Film reviewer (don’t mention the word critic!) Danny Leigh has been writing about movies since the early 90s, in everything from indie-zines to nationwide newspapers like The Guardian. He has also published two novels, with a third in the pipeline, and more recently, became the co-host of the BBCs institution: The FIlm Programme.

Danny Leigh Interview The FIlm ProgrammePFR: Danny, thanks for taking some time out to do this interview, it’s much appreciated. First off, what’s it like being a reviewer on the country’s most cherished film show, and how do you cope with the added pressure of being broadcast live?

Danny: It’s always been a privilege to do the show – it still has heft, the audience is smart and curious, and most importantly we’ve never been less than honest and independent of the distributors and PRs. I’m pretty ambivalent about being involved with film criticism, but if you’re going to do it, do it on the Film Programme. The experience of TV has been an interesting one because I don’t belong in that world, so hopefully I’ve been able to stand outside it a little rather than it swallowing me whole. I find doing the show live exhilarating and frustrating in equal measure. 

Personality-wise, you and Claudia are appear to be polar opposites but the chemistry and chat works surprisingly well. Were you initially surprised? and did you have any reservations about working alongside such a large, ‘marmite’, personality?

Claudia is a performer, which is just as well because one of us has to be. If it works between us it’s probably because I’m always intrigued by what she makes of things, and off air I think we have similar priorities and both know TV is deeply transitory. A lot of people in the media are monsters – she isn’t.

Danny Leigh and Claudia Winkleman The FIlm Programme

Claudia Winkleman and Danny Leigh

Are you ever tempted to Google yourself, or read reviews of the Show?

I don’t Google myself, I’m not sure that road leads anywhere good, though a few times during each series of the show I’ve followed the programme’s hashtag on Twitter. It would be silly of me to object to people passing judgement on us given that the show itself is based on exactly that process, you just have to filter it a little when you’re on the receiving end. It’s always nice to hear praise and it’s always unpleasant to be slagged off, but what’s been helpful is that I’ve experienced both of them before – I’ve written novels and had them reviewed very favourably and pretty badly.

Most importantly, are there any freebies or other perks that come with the national exposure?

Not really, other than the gold sedan chair and staff of license-payer funded footmen. I get asked to do more stuff for free than I used to.

Film 2012 aside, you’re clearly very cine-literate, with a huge background knowledge to pull from – did you ever study cinema academically?

Thank you. I didn’t, but film has been a significant chunk of my life since I was very young, I’ve written about it professionally for a long time, and I think if you’re fortunate enough to be able to discuss cinema with any kind of audience, and still more to get paid to do it, then the least you can do is treat the subject with the reverence it deserves. Also, my personality lends itself to sitting and sifting through film history more than it does badgering actors on a red carpet.

Is there a particular author or book ‘on cinema’ – or even a film – that really opened your eyes?

The first film book that spun around the way I thought about movies was William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade – dry, impeccably-written, doubling as a beginner’s guide to scriptwriting and a pulling back of the curtain on the studio system. For illuminating the art and mechanics of cinema both at once, David Bordwell’s Film Art is pretty much unimprovable. On screen La Jetée made me think more seriously than I’d ever done before about what film actually was, and Stalker gave me the purest moment of hardcore, gaping-jaw transcendence.

Danny Leigh - The Greatest Gift - First Book

Danny’s first book: The Greatest Gift AMAZON

Could you briefly describe the difference between a press screening and a regular one? And which experience do you prefer?

I’m not so much of an ingrate that I’m going to complain about being able to see films for free ahead of their release, but I’ve never been a fan of press screenings. They’re generally quieter and less prone to anti-social behaviour from the attendees, but the atmosphere can be a little self-congratulatory and they’re not something I look forward to. In a perfect world I’d just go to see movies with my wife and kid.

A quick Google hit informs us that Mulholland Drive is your favourite film ever – are you able to balance out this by revealing a couple of your favourites that most Lynch fans wouldn’t usually go for?

I couldn’t narrow down a favourite film to one, but Mulholland Drive would be among them. Films I love that don’t get enough adoration from the world, Lynch fans or otherwise, would include John Frankenheimer’s Seconds and Henri Georges Clouzot’s Quai des Orfèvres. Even Lynch fans don’t often give enough kudos to Lost Highway

South Korea is our favourite country for film talent at the moment as the calibre of Actors, Writers and Directors has been superb for well over a decade now, do you have one?

I’ve liked a lot of Argentine and Greek cinema in the last few years – not sure if there’s a correlation with economic crises, but I was also just about to say that oddly, Britain is having one of its purplest patches in my lifetime too…

And are there any individual up-and-coming talents in the film industry that you have high hopes for?

Is Peter Strickland still up-and-coming, or has he upped already? Mahalia Belo if so.

And do you have any movie heroes from in front of, or behind, the camera?

Always has been Buster Keaton, always will be Buster Keaton. 

Also, could you reveal something that nobody knows about you?

I’ve never wanted to be on television. 

Finally, some quick-fire questions, What does your A/V setup at home look like?

Comically primitive. 

Danny Leigh - The Monsters of Gramercy Park - Second Book

Book number two: The Monsters of Gramercy Park. AMAZON

What’s the breakdown of films you watch in an average week (i.e. For reviewing / personal / research?)

When the Film programme is on air, I’ll watch four or five new releases a week, and a couple of older movies as a treat. I’ll watch a lot more old stuff when the programme is off, and then other projects generate clusters of films I need to see or revisit – I’ve been working on a documentary for BBC4 about boxing films for the last couple of months, so I’ve been re-acquainting myself with movies like Body and Soul and The Set Up, both of which are glorious.

What’s been your favourite advance in movie technology since your interest in the medium started?

As bland as it sounds, probably DVD – it’s easy to forget how cumbersome, glitchy and unrewarding the simple act of watching a film outside a cinema could be for most of us before the end of the 90s (with all due respect to laserdisc pioneers).

… and least favourite?

The unholy combination of torrents and everything the studios have come up with to foil them. 

Who’s been the most surprising person in the film industry that you’ve met?

I think I caught Juliette Binoche on a very bad day, and after making all manner of snotty comments about the BAFTAs down the years I winced on discovering the man in charge of them was smart, gracious and good company. 

Are you still a resident in the pro Eddie Murphy camp, and what’s it like over there these days?

Pretty much down to me and Brett Ratner these days. We just get a kebab and whack on Pluto Nash.

Any other future projects that we should be looking out for?

I’m writing a novel about a London family, and the boxing movie documentary I mentioned a couple of answers ago will be on BBC4 later this year. 

Finally, in a previous interview you noted – “start a blog, update it obsessively, and ensure every word of it is imbued with your own personality rather than mimicry of popular but often dreary and identikit film sites” – great advice; but can we expect to see a Danny Leigh blog/outlet to keep us going between the series of the Film Programme?

It’s something I’ve thought about, but it won’t happen anytime soon. One of the reasons I stopped doing the weekly piece I used to write for The Guardian because I needed to claw back the time for writing fiction, and for now I’m still committed to that. I know the world favours ever smaller nuggets of “content”, but I’m still in love with the idea of writing books. At this stage I’m more likely to stop doing film stuff and nip through a back door to be an English teacher than seek out more ways to build the brand.

– February 2013

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PFR is marking the 500th post by putting up a bunch of DVD extras this week. This guest paragraph review is from Fogs at Fogs Movie Reviews; an awesome review site that generates a LOT of discussion about films.

Searching for Bobby Fischer: Directed by noted screenwriter Steve Zaillian (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Moneyball, Schindler’s List), “Searching for Bobby Fischer” is an intimate look at the challenge of growing up “gifted”. It’s the story of young Joshua Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc), and what happens when it’s discovered that he’s a chess prodigy. Joe Montegna and Joan Allen play young Josh’s parents, and the two do a great job of showing the pride, anxieties, and inner conflicts involved in raising a brilliant child. How far do you push him? How much time do you have him dedicate to his gift vs a “normal” childhood? As they begin to train Josh and enter him in competitive events, he meets two very different mentors. One is a “speed chess” hustler in Washington Square Park (Lawrence Fishburne), and the other is a very exclusive, private, traditional tutor (Ben Kingsley). The two clash over the boy’s training, as you might imagine, but the true conflict of the film revolves around just how hard a child should be pushed to grow up, to compete, and to hone a killer instinct that might jeopardize the innocence of youth. With such a great cast (it also features small roles by William H. Macy, Dan Hedaya, and Laura Linney), and such a compelling story, “Searching for Bobby Fischer” winds up being a very moving, heartfelt film. It’s sitting at 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert gives it four stars, and I myself recommend it very highly.

 

Score 8/10

Evidence arrives on DVD on 12th March! Check out what the critics have to say... “SO AMAZING IT TAKES THE WHOLE SHOCKUMENTARY FORMAT TO ANOTHER LEVEL.” Film4 Frightfest "EVIDENCE DELIVERS THE UNEXPECTED LIKE FEW FILMS DO" DreadCentral.com "EVIDENCE IS TRULY SCARY" Fangoria "A SMART AND TERRIFYING THRILLER FILLE WITH UNEXPECTED SURPRISES" Horrornews.net

Evidence: while shooting a documentary four young campers find themselves in the middle of an increasingly creepy situation. The opening half is front-loaded with the standard box o’ tricks to pull you through the slow, familiar, setup – dead animals, tits, lesbian kissing, howling, mysterious sightings, jumps… no trick is left unused and it’s all a bit ‘meh’. Hand-held found footage documentary style is an instant disability these days for several reasons: 1) it’s a hard sell to viewers. 2) Plenty shaky, out-of-focus or focusing footage. 3) Characters constantly drawing attention to camera. 4) What they go through, nobody would drag a camera around. 5) First person in the woods, just screams Blair Witch… Despite all of this, the second half is where it picks up, the action kicks in, the critters come out to play. No monsters is left unrepresented: critters, ghosts, bigfoot, rabid zombies, lurching aliens (very Attack the Block-y) all chasing after the campers. This section is solid horror, and reminded me most of the first few Resident Evil games – the docu cam also works best here as it plays out like a rapid pace first-person shooter. Technically, the film’s decent given the budget; the picture is sharp when it has to be and the scares / jumps work well. Having a boring setup and killer payoff split the film down the middle, but it is worth sticking to the end of this.

Score: 5.5/10

What’s your favourite seat at the cinema, and why?

Anybody that goes to the cinema regularly will undoubtedly become a creature of habit. Whether it’s getting there just in time to miss the repetitive adverts or film-spoiling trailers, buying / bringing your favourite snack (must be a silent one), hogging your ideal parking place, hitting on unsuspecting student staff, sitting in your favourite block, row; or more specifically – that perfect seat. Even the finest critic in the country has his favourite seat, which reassures me somewhat. Here’s where my one is and why I love it.

Position: smack-bang in the middle of the back row, of the flat front section, and here’s why…

  • The high seat back blocks out most sounds from the tiered section behind, where everyone else is sitting. There’s also an aisle-length gap between you and the nearest person behind. Bliss.
  • There’s never anyone in front of you – unless the screen is unusually busy. This eliminates fidget, hat, afro, giant and mobile phone based distractions in view.
  • The screen looks enormous, like it should! What’s the point in sitting in the back row (unless you’re with a hussy!) where the screen takes up the same percentage in your field of vision as your TV would at home?!?! This is the cinema, it’s supposed to be massive!
  • You’re right next to the chest-thumping bass speakers underneath the screen, and the Dolby/THX sound design is optimized, coming from the front, sides and behind your seat. Meanwhile the hussy in the back row is only getting stereo sound.
  • As all other seats in this block are generally empty, essential toilet breaking is swift and effective, and you avoid the embarrassment of accidental lapdancing.
  • You don’t notice when the anti-piracy staff come in and do their rounds with the night-vision goggles – this always distracts and angers me more than it should – install a camera on the roof!
  • When the film ends, you’re right next to the doors and don’t have to wait for the token slow-mos to begin their epic descent from row J – swiftest exit in the screen.
  • Every wrinkle, hair, eyelash, scar, mole, shadow, surface, texture, button, background, minute detail is there… cinema screen resolution this close is absolutely unbeatable.

The only time this location doesn’t work is for 3D (it’s best to be in the middle of the screen’s height) and the only possible downside with my favourite seat is that people with bad necks or eyes may struggle to last the duration.

Feels like I’ve just given away a trade secret… which leaves me wondering, does anyone else have a preference when it comes to seating in the cinema, or is it just me being a total weirdo?! Feel free to comment, or ping back your own post.

/Paul

This is where you'll find me...

Because I don’t have enough of opinions, passion or conviction to finish off these – here’s a catch-up / rundown of the movies I caught over the past 12 months that won’t get full reviews.

Super 8
Nostalgic love letter to 1980s action/adventure/family films
Fist-bitingly self-referential through the junior filmmaker angle
Kids were annoying beyond belief and all spoke like adults
The two fathers were the best thing about the cast
Poorly judged humour throughout, none of the ‘jokes’ were funny
Story was a faily textbook alien / monster mash
Nothing new or special.
Like JJ was more concerned about giving Spielberg’s a hummer
TAGS: Aliens, Cubes, Roswell, My Sharona, Braces, Annoying kids, Theif, Tutting.

Score: 6/10

—–

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Biggest boob is that you know so little about the 4 potential traitors that you can’t really hazard a decent guess, which makes the massive reveal obsolete and emotionally redundant
Never really picks up the pace, and gets bogged down in the massive story
Period settings were impressive
Acting was solid, but spread too thinly to provide a dominating lead / outstanding performance
Stodgy film, never breaks walking pace
Disappointing overall given the mega cast.
TAGS: Faceshot, Everyone Smokes 20 a day, Lighter, Vodka, Ugly Glasses,

Score: 4/10

—–

Cowboys and Aliens
Steady, interesting mix of two blockbuster genres. Did make the film a bit confused and borderline silly at times
Aliens and the CGI were solid.
Daniel Craig plays the man with no name well; Ford does his grumpy old man routine again. Making the most of the woman, it’s nothing short of eye-raping fanboy praise for the body of Olivia Wilde – any opportunity to showcase the curves.
Good fun, dumb blockbuster, big action and entertaining enough.
TAGS: Knife, Scarface, Hand…Ouch, Beard, Lasso, Stiff Nips, bracelet, wrist gun, bad teeth

Score: 6.5/10

—–

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Racist robots, loads of ridiculous in-your-face advertising.
Become de-sensitised to the big, loud, dumb action very quickly
Feminism fail.  EPIC feminism fail
Annoying small Beavis and Butthead robots are up there with Jar Jar Binks
Too many poorly judged comic relief moments and characters.
The NASA link and story was pretty interesting, Karma’d out by the Chernobyl bit, which was completely tasteless.
Whatever happened to Michael Bay?
TAGS: Pout, Cleavage, Cisco, racist robots, crash bang wallop,

Score: 3/10

—–

Attack the Block
Heroes are a bucnh of knife-criming kids from the ghetto… strange choice
Some top-drawer gore for a teen film – neck being chewed off and brains being squashed out of someone’s mouth.
Monsters are cool,
Although people drop off for the duration, there’s not much sense of horror / danger.
TAGS: Black, Glowing Teeth, Gore, Blood, Hoodies, Yobs, High-Rise, Drugs

Score: 6/10

—–

Source Code
Decent, but not as good as Moon
Tight, solid sci-fi blockbuster.
No matter how big, expensive and mainstream films like this get – you still can’t beat Primer.
TAGS: Train, Groundhog Day, Quantum Physics, Brains, frostbite, drty bomb,

Score: 7/10

—–

Rango
“I once found a human spleen in my fecal matter” – out of nowhere. Line of the year contender.
Four owls were pretty annoying, much like the singing mice in Babe.
Would probably be offended if I was Mexican
Depp’s voice acting is bizarro – doesn’t really sound like him
Overall very strong voice cast,
Almost no original ideas or imagery – it’s a ‘homage’-o-rama
Tags: Talking Animals, smoking animals, drinking animals, Water, water shortage,

Score: 5/10

—–

Drive Angry 3D
Accountant Fitchner is the best thing by a mile.
If seeing Nicolas Cage roll about shagging a girl in the middle of a gunfight and winning if cool – this is your lucky day
Amber Herd – huba huba huba huba huba huba huba…
Tons of attitude
3D’s great and gimmicky – the way it should be
Mark it down as another Hammy and OTT Cage film; standing like a douche with really Bad Hair,
It’s good, but not half as good as it could and should have been given the trailers and premise
TAGS: Alcoholism, Tits, Legs, Denims, Everythingshot!!

Score: 6/10

—–

True Grit
[Ultra positive Metro, Pro-Oscar review in the Metro with Ross Vs Ross]
Bridge’s incoherent accent grates by the end of the picture, I’d just given up trying to figure out what he was saying
Some strange humour laced throughout
Some overdrawn scenes like the bartering / campfire chats – just seem to go on and on.
Solid enough picture, but had expected a lot more from the Coens and Oscar-heavy cast.
TAGS: Horses, Horseshot!, Bad teeth, moustaches, Bear Man, Subtitles PLZ

Score: 6.5/10

—–

The Green Hornet 3D:
Seth Rogen just babbles and babbles 99% bullshit filler and 1% actually funny jokes / immature insults.
Ghondry has absolutely no stamp on this maybe other than the very last scene.
3D was far too subtle and only served to dull the picture
It did have a really nice/cool retro vibe, from the clothes to the cars and sets
Snapped table legs being rammed into someone’s eyes stood out as being a bit mental for a 12A
Total buddy cop/hero flick by the numbers: everything’s cool -> OMG they hate each other -> Everything’s cool again.
Harmless comedy vacuum with a couple of laughs, none memorable.
TAGS: Date rape smoke, beers, 3D,

Score: 4/10

Tree of life:  I’m never normally bothered by how arty or pretentious a film gets – if anything, it usually makes a film at least a little interesting… Despite this my cinema buddy and I endured around 30 minutes in to this before we realised that there was nothing on the screen that could hold down the film and tie together all of the random imagery that we were seeing. Entire segments featuring dinosaurs, stellar galaxies, wildlife, nature, scenery… for what purpose? Could someone please explain this to me? The Tree of Life takes the idea of a ‘narrative’ and clubs it in the face until all that’s left is a few recurring characters at 20 minute intervals. Non-linear storytelling can also be awesome, but if you could find the story in this, you’re a better man than I.

Despite being hooked in by Pitt and Penn, we realised there was around another 1 hour 50 minutes (total runtime of 140 minutes) – this was definitely a case of Tree of Life 1, Paragraph Film Reviews 0.

Alternative plans – 2 bonus hours of Call of Duty: Black ops.

Because of my awesome unlimited cinema card with Cineworld, infinite online streaming with Love Film and more generally having a massive DVD/BD collection I’m getting to the point where I’ll be damned to sit through an entire film that I’m not enjoying and waste another 60 / 90 / 120 minutes of my life. As the years go on the tolerance level seems to be decreasing rapidly, so much so that it’s now worthy of it’s own feature and category.

For these films I’ll tell you how long I lasted, why the film wasn’t doing it for me, and what the alternative plans were – plans that were much better than watching the film – at least at the time…