Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Interview with Qi Yang director A Gentle Night

Award winning film maker Qi Yang
Qi Yang is a film maker who brings real life tales to the screen, taking events straight from today's headlines and turning them into viscerally packed cinematic stories. His latest short film "A Gentle Night"  a gritty story of a distraught mother living every parents worse nightmare and is currently receiving rave reviews. His heart wrenching  tale won Qi the Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival making him the first Chinese film maker to be awarded this prestigious and much coveted prize. When I spoke with Qi I take the opportunity to congratulate him on his historic win at Cannes.

Thank you very much! It was a great honour for me also. But I think it’s in the past now, so I have been trying to forget about it.

What went through your mind as you heard your name called out?

I wasn’t really expecting it! I genuinely thought another film was going to win. So, I totally blanked out, I just stood there, didn’t know what to do for a very long time. Until my editor Carlo grabbed me and hugged me, then I realised I had to hug them.

Again congratualtions, well deserved. So tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get into filmmaking?

I was born and raised in a small Chinese city called Changzhou. I went to Australia to pursue higher education after high school and unfortunately, I did both the Bachelor’s degree and Masters in filmmaking. So, I pretty much know nothing outside of filmmaking. And even filmmaking was kind of a random pick. I didn’t have any background in filmmaking. I was trained to paint my entire childhood, but I never wanted to be a painter, so when I had the chance to go overseas, I thought I really liked watching films, so I picked filmmaking, without the slightest idea what filmmaking is.

Interesting. What sort of stories do you like to tell?

The stories that mostly happened around me or in my life and the ones that I don’t understand. Filmmaking is sort of a way for me to understand myself and the world around me.

What drew you to the real story behind “A Gentle Night”?

The story was inspired by a report I saw in a local newspaper. In a small local community, there had been a few kids who had gone missing, then a few months later, more kids went missing. And none of them had been found at the time. Then a few months later, a report says all of them suddenly returned, without any explanation. I was really intrigued by this news, I kept wondering why it happened and what happened before and after the kids went missing. So those reports and my fascination stayed with me for a very long time and it came back to me again when I wanted to make a new film. So naturally, I decided to work on this.

Shuxian Li is distraught mother Cai
It certainly is an emotional story and your star Shuxian Li gives a very powerful performance. How were you able to get such emotion from her?

It was all her work. Even though she isn’t a professional actress, she was so amazing, that I didn’t really have to do much. Most of the time she gets what I want and what I say. Working with her was just so effortless. I don’t know how she was able to do it, but I am glad I cast her in the film.

She did a fantastic job. How were you able to tap into that all too very real fear every parent dreads?

Well, like what I said before, I always take real sorties from my life. Growing up I was a very rebellious kid and I had ‘ran away’ a few times”. So, I sort of borrowed a lot from my own experience.

Aside from winning the Palme D’Or what have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

Just being able to keep making films and writing scripts.

To date, your work has mainly consisted of short films. Any plans to break into feature-length projects?

I’m in lock-down mode finishing my feature script at the moment. So hopefully soon!

Who in the world of film would you most like to work with?

Isabelle Huppert!!!

The French film star, that would be awesome. What is the appeal, for you as a filmmaker, of short films as a storytelling medium?

A short film is always a form of an experiment for me. I never set out to make a masterpiece or even a “film”. I always see it as a chance to exercise or experiment something I want to do but never done. It’s a relatively inexpensive chance to fail.

So what do you have lined up in the future?

I’m finishing my feature script and hoping it will happen soon. And maybe one more short before the feature.

I look forward to it. Thank you Qi for taking the time for this interview and again congratulations on winning the Palme D'Or.  I wish you the best with your feature length film and future projects.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

[Film Review] - Women and Wine

Writer and Director Liv Karin Dhalstrom 
Starring Marit Adeceide Andreassen, Turid Gunnes, Jeanne Boe
Running Time 20 Minutes.

When Turid organises a party for her best friend Grete's 50th Birthday she suddenly finds that they might not be as close as they once were. Fearing that they are drifting apart Turid does something that threatens her bond of friendship.

In a funny and lighthearted fashion Dhalstrom explores a deeply rooted fear for those who dread losing their friends through distance or growing apart in mid-life. Telling the story from Turid's point of view we get caught up in her anxiety from feeling pushed out of the birthday celebrations she organised to her jealousy of Grete's apparent closeness to their other friend Signe. Following her narrative Dahlstrom makes us feel Turid's dispair amplifying subtly her increasing feelings of being pushed away. The scene in the car where a masked Signe and Turid make Grete guess who they are touches on this poignantly, whilst the birthday girl easily recognises Signe's voice she fails to recognise her lifelong friend Turid. This carries effectively to the party itself and we can't help but feel bad for Turid, even in her overreaction when the party doesn't quite go to plan. 

Marti Andreassen is delightful to watch bringing to the fore Turid's emotional vulnerability with a comic touch that is almost like a comedy of errors. Her performance makes Turid so likable that we still feel fer her even after she takes her desperate action to save her friendship with Grete. What makes this compelling viewing is the feeling that we have all been there and done equally stupid things out of fear and anxiety. Where the film switches tact somewhat is the tense moment between Turid and Grete, and here Turid Gunnes gives a strong performance in particular her reaction to Turid's betrayal of confidence, powerfully played out during Grete and Turid's recreation of the a comedy skit from their younger days.

Dhalstrom manages to get incredible performances from his talented cast drawing in the audience making us feel what the players feel and keeping the performances from going over the top. "Women and Wine" is a delightful story with some laughs, and a little tension leading to a heart breaking yet warm ending, a powerful relate-able film of friendship and the dreaded mid life crisis.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

[Film Review] - A GENTLE NIGHT

Written & directed by Qiu Yang
Running Time 15 minutes 
Starring Shuxian Li, Zhongwei Sun

Set in an un-named town in China, the film focuses on the worries of distraught mother Cai, whose daughter goes missing. Ignoring the her husband's call for patience, and the police's instructions to wait, Cai takes to the streets in search of her little girl.

Every parent has lived this fear on some level, of losing sight of their child in a busy city. For some it is a nightmare made real, a dread that writer/director Qiu Yang taps into by bringing this story, inspired by true events, horribly to life. Yang manages to capture the emotions of this very real horror by leaving all other characters in the background and focusing solely on Cai's ordeal. 

In her debut film role, Chinese opera star Shixian Li, brilliantly conveys the visceral turmoil of Cai, a despondent and frightened mother with poise. The emotions are shown not throw over the top teary eyed bawling but more of someone in an state of almost comatose immobility; we can't be feel caught up with little lump in the throat as we watch Cai slowly process the extreme emotions she feels. As the viewer one may find themselves caught up in Cai's tumultuous, state of mind, thanks to Li's stoic and stirring performance, all the way to it's stomach churning climax.

"A Gentle Night" is an emotionally charged drama that every parent can relate to and many pray never happens to them. This award winning tale - it won the coveted Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival -  maintains its tension throughout without coming up for air keeping the viewer emotionally locked in and invested till the end.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Interview with Alexander Bedria

For Alexander Bedria the world of film is not just a profession but a calling, one which he has answered and embraced at every level. With his latest short film "The Zim" Alexander has put himself behind the camera, as director, writer and co-producer, as well as in front as Daniel Silva, a native Zimbabwean famer caught up in the country's violent land invasions of the early 2000s. As a film maker Alexander shows us a country torn apart in an effort to redress its colonial past and as Silva, a man who suddenly feels like a stranger in his own country. 

Although still early in its run, "The Zim" garnering some positive reviews (mine will follow) and impressed judges at the LA Shorts International Film FestivalAlexander took time out from his busy schedule to talk to me about his life and passion for acting, and what led him to undertake such a powerful story as "The Zim".

I was born in New York to immigrant parents and lived on Long Island until I was around 12, when my family moved to Florida. Acting came into my life my freshman year of college while taking an introductory drama course. I remember doing my very first scene and finding a profound sense of purpose and freedom in the work, which has stayed with me. As for highlights, I’d say working with Aaron Sorkin on The Newsroom was a pretty big one. Ray Donovan was also a lot of fun. Though as a personal highlight, "The Zim" tops the list.

I am sure it does. So what led you to want to try directing?

Movies have always been a focal point in my life, and I hoped that the opportunity would come to explore directing. Eventually I realised that I had to make the conscious choice to do it, or the opportunity might never come otherwise. With "The Zim", I had a strong instinct as to how to tell the story, and that evolved into the confidence to make it happen.

Alexander Bedria as Daniel Silva in The Zim

Speaking of which, aside from the documentary “Mugabe and the White African” I don’t think any film inspired or based on the land invasions in Zimbabwe has been made. What inspired you to tell the story of this particular dark chapter in the country’s recent history?

The conflict of the story felt universal to me. There were a lot of themes - racial and national identity, family and brotherhood, humanity in the face of violence - that transcend borders and geography. You mentioned Mugabe and the White African, which was incredibly powerful, and really shed a light on the human experience of these events. I wanted to dramatise the land invasions and bring a sense of balanced perspectives to the story, taking the audience on an emotional journey through the cinematic lens.

Wow! How much research went into this project? Did you learn anything interesting that perhaps escaped news reports you’d care to share?

I read everything I could find, starting with the reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO. There were also pieces from major news publications and hours of documentary footage that I went through. But speaking to people who were directly affected by the events offered a deeper insight into their personal experiences. Hearing the emotion in their voices and the passion of their beliefs was the emotional element that couldn’t be communicated in a report.

"I had a strong instinct as to how to tell the story, and that evolved into the confidence to make it happen."
Are any of the characters in the film based on people you have read about or know personally?

The characters are fictionalised, inspired by the real people I came across in the research.

What challenges as an actor did playing Daniel Silva present?

Daniel holds a lot of conflict about his place in a changing world. A lot needed to be communicated quietly, through his internal life. Also, the Zimbabwean accent was very specific, and I wanted it to be as authentic as possible.

You certainly succeeded. How did you handle juggling dual role of star and director?

I found the experience a surprisingly smooth one, which is more a testament to the amazing team I had supporting me on set. I also went in extremely prepared. By the time we finally started shooting, I’d already lived with the story for a few years, so I felt confident in trusting my instincts.

Your co-star Tongayi Chirisa, who plays Daniel's friend William Zimunya, is a native Zimbabwean. Did he offer any insight or personal input to the story? Was he able to relay any recollections of that time?

Tongayi was invaluable to this project. He had an intimate knowledge of the subject and offered countless insights to help us tell this story. It was especially important to him that we convey a balance of character perspectives, and he encouraged me to keep finding ways to further this in every incarnation of the script. He also offered technical advisement on all aspects of production design, helping us achieve as authentic a representation of Zimbabwe as we could.

William and Daniel share good times before the storm
Interesting. There are some multi-faceted qualities to the three male protagonists; Silva identifying himself as African, Zimunya’s difficult dilemma and even Matonga is more than he seems. Was it your attention to avoid any absolutism in the situations you depict?

That’s a great question. Yes, I’m always interested in the human complexity behind moral or political beliefs. The conflict. I believe it’s always there…people are not machines…and absolutism can very easily slide into extremism, and the loss of rational discourse. That’s the dark space where humanity is lost.

Very true. So are there any plans to turn this into a feature film?

The material certainly calls for it. It’s definitely a discussion that’s ongoing. We’ll see what happens with the short.

I look forward to it. How well has “The Zim” been received? Have you heard from anybody who lived through the land grabs to give you their thoughts on your film's depiction?

The film has been received quite well so far. We premiered at LA Shorts International Film Festival and took home their Best of Fest prize, which was a huge honor. I haven’t heard from anyone who has lived through the invasions yet, but we’re still very early in our run, and hope to hear their reactions.
"people are not machines…and absolutism can very easily slide into extremism, and the loss of rational discourse. That’s the dark space where humanity is lost."
What’s next for Alexander Bedria? Any more projects lined up?

I’m currently working on a feature screenplay and meeting on some new television projects. A bit too early to make any big announcements yet!

Sounds exciting, hopefully you'll keep me in the loop. Thank you for taking the time for this interview. I wish you the best of luck with the film.  

Thank you very much, I enjoyed your questions!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

IBM Crowdsourcing Study on Human Microbiome

Can the bacteria that resides inside us help tackle diseases that run rampant with our immune system? This is a question IBM hopes to answer; with help from a variety of academic institutes including Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T), Harvard, and the University of California. The multinational technology giant has launched "The Microbiome Immunity Project" an initiative that will feature these institutions collaborating with IBMs largest crowdsourcing platform the "World Community Grid" to create a map of the human microbiome. The effects of bugs and bacteria inside the body on human health is still a mystery one which this project could potentially uncover and discover life changing treatments and cures.

The human microbiome is a collection (or community) of bacteria that live in the intestines influencing everything from the workings of our metabolism and immune system to moods and behaviour. Many studies are carried on the microbiome including the very possibility that certain strains of bacteria are in fact endangered. According to a study carried out by Dr. Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford University, these bacteria are disappearing fast, with western lifestyle, namely our diet of processed and refined foods being the main cause. "the Microbiome Immunity Project", IBM's crowdsourced initiative seeks to better understand how the microbiome works and its affect on the human autoimmune system.

Along with with top academic institutions, IBM is tapping the knowledge of its "World Community Volunteer Grid" one of the world's largest collaborative crowdsourced platforms. It currently accepts contributions from over 740,000 individuals, and 460 organisation around the world all dedicated to help in the search for scientific advancement. To date it has supported over 29 ground breaking projects. The grid harnesses such high volumes of the online crowd's vast knowledge it has proven itself to be as powerful as some of the world's fastest supercomputers. 

The microbiome project will attempt to map over 3 million bacterial genes found in the human gut in the hopes of better understand their affect on diseases such as type 1 diabetes and crohn's & ulcerative colitis and to find a way for these bacteria to treat these increasing diagnosed illnesses. The project is inviting you to participate; simply download this secure software program  which will allow IBM to tap your machine and run virtual experiments on behalf of the scientists. The data gathered from these experiments will becollated and analyzed by the project’s team, and be made publicly available to other scientists with the aim of better enabling the capacity to treat autoimmune diseases.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

[Interview] Rob Hill - The Bad Movie Bible

Let's face it; we all love bad movies in some shape form or fashion. It's okay to admit it because we have all watched one or two movies where we knew the plot wasn't great, the quality just a touch shabby, and the acting at times as dire as the dialogue. Yet in their "badness" there is something inherently enjoyable otherwise the phrase "so bad it's good" simply wouldn't exist. So in the vain of Kim Newman's encyclopedic horror tribute "Nightmare Movies" and Mike Fury's explosive examination of the the action genre "Life in Action", author Rob Hill has brought together some of your favourite titles (and his) in the epic "Bad Movie Bible". If you love reading insightful and fun-filled books on the subject of films then this is definitely the one and you can read my review of it here.

If you don't believe that people (and yes you) have and continue to enjoy one bad movie after another then consider how Cannon Films in the 80s and 90s made a decent living on a string of bad movies such as "King Solomon's Mines", and a whole host of titles too numerous to mention. Since the 1950s B Movie king Roger Corman has churned out one cringeworthy title after another more recently with some cheap and cheesy monster trash such as "Sharktopuss". Then there is the king of the "mockbusters" The Asylum who are currently riding high on their "Sharknado" film saga. Focusing mainly on 80s and 90s with over a hundred cinematic and straight to shelf titles across many genres Rob Hill's bible examines the bad movie phenomenon, and why they hold such appeal. 

It was at this year's packed out London Film and Comic Con event at the Olympia that I met Rob, a very articulate and intelligent chap whose nerd-like love of these types films was matched only by my own. After some pleading (it really didn't take much) Rob took time out from his busy weekend promoting and signing, to talk to me about bad movies and what led him to put together "The Bad Movie Bible".

Like most people who end up working in film in one way or another I was just an obsessive fan growing up as a child in the 80s particularly in the time of genre movies and then after university I started working in the post production industry because I thought I wanted to work in film. I started working in visual effects spent 15 years doing that. Then whilst that was happening I wrote a couple of puff piece books “501 must see movies” or something like that. I then wanted to try and get a publishing deal to write a book about bad movies, and managed to pull that off, left post production and so for the past year I’ve been doing this full time.

Is the book self-published?

No, I actually got a publishing deal for a series of books all in the same sort of wheelhouse. I wanted to do good bad movies first simply because I’ve always loved these movies but I have never been much of a social media or internet person so I didn’t realise how many people there were around the world who also loved these movies. I couldn’t really find a book that really with it and was a fun guide to it all so I thought that was a way to go. Now we’re trying to decide whether to do a follow up to this or to spin off slightly into other cult movie areas.

Let’s go onto the subject of bad movies. They’re quite an interesting - I don’t want to call them a genre or sub-genre but they are in a class of their own, so perhaps they should be. What is it about bad movies as we loosely term them that hold such appeal?

It is difficult isn’t it? I think a lot of the things that appeal to us about them aren’t things that we necessarily want to admit we feel about these as people. Without a shadow of a doubt when it comes to really bad films there’s a big element of schadenfreude, of feeling like you could’ve done better and laughing at other people’s failures. At the end of the day it’s a basic human tenet whether you want to admit it or not. That’s only the hardcore stuff; before you get to those movies, and I’ve said this to many people before, everyone is a bad movie fan to one degree or another. If you like “Roadhouse” “Dirty Dancing, “Grease” or “Rocky IV” then you’ve dipped your toe in these waters, you ironically enjoy the excessive cheese, violence or whatever it might be. And who doesn’t, a vast generation certainly, have a soft spot for those movies? I think it works on different levels and different extents, and I think there are people who just like a silly, cheesy, crappy movie and then there are people who go for the full fat movies like “The Room”, essentially the complete debacles, and that’s where the schadenfreude definitely plays a big part. I think whichever way you like at it, they are a genre as you say, no matter whether they are sci-fi, or dramas they work on us in the same way. They’re essentially comedies, so really bad movies are a sub-genre of comedy in a lot of ways.

One of the things people often say about these films is that those involved couldn’t have taken it that seriously because they are so bad they must be intentionally so, however it is hard to tell what the film makers intended, do you think that is the case?

It’s doubly difficult to tell particularly going back – nowadays that kind of movie is very well established as with The Asylum’s “Sharknado” series and all that kind of rubbish, but if you go back to the 80s you get these movies where they will inject a tiny bit of irony or tongue-in-cheek humour into it. It is difficult to tell, difficult to judge but it is obvious I think with the movies that are in my book they are 100% serious, nobody wanted anyone to be laughing at these movies. There is certainly a big grey area with certain movies like “Flash Gordon” which I’ve kind of steered away from, but it often can be difficult, so all you can do is research and try to work out where the film makers are coming from.

And I guess the biggest surprise of these films is that they have big name actors in them from Christopher Lee to Peter Cushing to, well take your pick really, Joan Collins. They also have big name directors attached, so do you think possibly thinking along same lines that they go into these films knowing they are a bit off key?

Big successful actors end up in terrible movies for two different reasons; one is, a movie like “Batman and Robin” which on paper shouldn’t have been a terrible movie, yet somehow George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger inadvertently found themselves in a big pile of crap basically [I totally agree with this – Ed]. Then there’s a whole other family of actors, which Christopher Lee certainly used to belong to but he managed to pull himself out of it – actors who made a name for themselves in either sport or music or popular TV series. They then have some star power who can’t get work in a proper movie so someone with a low budget and bad script can buy instant credibility by hiring a name. It doesn’t have to be an actor people respect just one they have heard of; Christopher Lee was doing a lot of this in the 80s, Reb Brown a former American Football star is in so many of these movies. One of the most perfect examples of these movies is the star of TV show “Grizzly Adams” Dan Haggerty he is an appallingly bad actor but he was in one show that made him huge and so for the rest of his career he cropped up in half a dozen or so of the worst movies you’ve ever seen each year.

It seems now though making “bad movies” has become profitable. Cannon Films for example did very well making mostly bad movies and now we have studios, like “The Asylum” who are churning them out” day after day. So again we know they’re bad, why are films that are deliberately bad doing so well today?

I think it probably goes hand in hand with the increased interest in genuine, inadvertently bad movies, so a movie like “The Room” makes a lot of money. I am not sure it would’ve done 20 or 30 years ago because I think our sense of humour is a little more cynical, we’ve seen everything so many times now. It’s very hard to make a superhero movie say, with an action sequence which is truly original. So everyone kind of feels like an expert, that they’ve seen it all before and so they’re more willing to say “ha ha you’ve failed at that.” I think the sense of humour of younger people is generally a bit more, not snide, but they’re more willing to laugh at people hurting themselves by accident than maybe it would have been the case a couple of decades ago.

And I guess with Hollywood still trying to take itself too seriously it’s refreshing to have an output that is poking a little fun at the system, like The Asylum does with Mockbusters.

Yes the rip-offs of the big Hollywood movies, but I think that’s why Cannon Films and movies like that are so popular now; people are tired of the ultra slick, kind of almost insulting Hollywood blockbusters of today. The simple pleasures of an action movie where Charles Bronson shoots people in the face, that’s very appealing now.

So onto your book, it’s called “The Bad Movie Bible” and it is a bible really, not just a top 100 list. A lot of thought and insight has gone into this, there’s even a little science to determine what makes up a "bad movie". How long did it take you to research and compile the book?

I spent about nine months from getting the green light from the publisher to printer. That was nine months of very long days and I had done a lot of preliminary work anyway so it’s probably a good year’s worth of work in total.

Well you’ve clearly done a lot of research and you’ve actually managed to interview some of the cast and crew. How did you come up with idea to approach them and what was their response when you explained why you wanted to interview them?

It was tricky because I am not an interviewer but I liked the idea of getting that first hand impression of what it was like to work on the sets. I mean the classic question I wanted to ask was – I asked Whitney Moore this about “Birdemic” - “did you know at the time what you were getting involved with?” At the same time of course you’re confronting these people and it’s not as easy as you might think to go “ha ha you’re in a terrible movie aren’t you, would you do me a favour and talk about how crap you are?” So it was a difficult thing to juggle but surprisingly most of the people I approached have cottoned on to the fact that there is a market out there for something that is so bad and they’re making money out of it a lot of the time so they were quite happy.

So you mentioned earlier about a follow up – please tell me more about what you have in mind?

So many people have recommended movies and I am still watching at least a couple a day when I am not out promoting the book. I am still finding things that could go into a straightforward sequel with more of the same. At the same time part of me wants to go backwards -  if you notice I’ve got this bee in my bonnet about comparing 1950s drive-in B movies to modern disasters. We can say the acting in “The Room” was terrible because it is but you say the acting in an Ed Wood movie is terrible (and yes it is) but if you look at the acting in a good 1950s B movie it is by modern standards terrible too so it’s a case of what are we comparing? I’d quite like to go back and do that otherwise I like the idea of a similarly structured book but looking at the cult movies that really are cult movies; not “The Blues Brothers”, nor “American Werewolf in London” but any number of more obscure wonderful movies that are so clich├ęd as cult movies.

Just to backtrack then; in your introduction you write about “what makes a bad movie” in doing so you seem to blur the line of the absolutist view of good and bad. Without giving too much away about what you say in the book, could you briefly point out the many aspects of a bad movie?

It kind of ties in with what I was saying earlier that you have your entry level bad movies that have a really excessive action scene which is ludicrously over the top and punching each other in ways that should kill them on the spot. You could call that bad because it is not realistic, and your cheesy stuff would fit into that. Then you could get into technical ineptitude which is a very different thing – the camera’s out of focus, someone wanders onto the set, or the editing gives you a minor neck injury. Then at the far end of the scale you’ve got the alien film makers, the people who’ve seen movies and thought “I can do that”. It’s as if an alien has come from another planet and copied your idea for a movie.

Care to share with me some of your favourite bad movies? I know you’ve listed some in the book, but are there any that hold a special place in your heart?

I was constantly fighting to keep the book not just an 80s action movie list. The thing is I think that’s what people in general seem to enjoy the most as well so I wasn’t too worried about going heavy on that kind of thing but there are so many obscure 80s action movies any number of which that could count as – there is a film maker called Robert Rundle who is very obscure, no one seems to have seen his movies and he only made three. He made a movie called “Cybernator” which is a sci-fi action movie and is utterly ridiculous. I had to drop that from the book because there was just so many similar titles in there – that’s a favourite. In terms of what’s in the book I love “Raw Force” that’s another 80s action movie. Neil Breen an American film maker from Las Vegas who self-finances (he’s made four so far), he is what people think Tommy Wiseau is - narcissism and delusion to the Nth Degree. He is utterly insane, his movies are just fantastic, and he takes them completely seriously.

Thank you Rob for taking the time to speak to me, it topped off what was an incredibly fun weekend. The Bad Movie Bible is available to buy now, along with many of the titles featured in the book. More bad movie fun can be found on

Webiste www.badmoviebible.com
Twitter @BadMovieBible
Also check out some of the best bad movie moments on YouTube

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Fighting Spirit Film Festival Returns

After a successful kick-ass debut last year the "Fighting Spirit Film Festival" returns for another celebration of the best martial arts has to offer. This year the event will be held on 16th September at the Boleyn Cinema in East London for which the organisers are using crowdfunding to ensure a fun filled action packed festival. 

Launched in September 2016 the Fighting Spirit Film Festival promised to showcase the best talent in martial arts performance and film making. Held at Cineworld multiplex @ The O2 the festival featured 12 screenings of short action films and documentaries showcasing some of martial arts' finest talents in front of and behind the camera. Throughout the day the festival also featured live performances and demonstrations from top clubs and dojos around the country. The festival also screened three classic and contemporary feature length martial arts films for all ages; the Jackie Chan epic "Drunken Master", "Kung-Fu Panda 3", and" Ip Man 3". 

This year, the festival once again is working in partnership with marketing and management agency Fighters Inc. and publication CombatandStrength.com, for an even bigger event featuring 22 short films this time, as well as more live martial arts performances and demonstrations. The festival will also include three feature films two of which have been announced and centre on the rise of the underdog. First up, and in tribute to the late John G Avildsen, there will be a screening of the 1984 classic "Karate Kid" starring Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita. Also screening will the Shaw Brothers classic which is the ultimate underdog story that features a multitude of intense training scene - Lau Kar-Leung's "36th Chamber of Shaolin" starring Gordon Liu. 

The festival certainly promises to be a larger event and to make it happen the organisers are running a crowdfunding campaign for £1,500 through Indigogo. The sum will cover the costs such as venue hire, film fees and promotional materials. In return for their pledges, supporters will receive a variety of rewards including short film compendiums, free day passes, film location visits and a chance to meet the film makers, even a chance to sit on the judging panel as one of the events patrons. To date the campaign has raised around 30% of funds with fifteen days left to reach their target.

Fighting Spirit might seem like a low key event but the brains behind it have big goals and the means to make this more than just a film festival but an event for martial arts communities the world over. In creating this global community Fighting Spirit looks to become THE event to feature in the martial arts calendar. For more information and to make a donation click here to visit the campaign's Indigogo funding page.
Through martial arts cinema we aim to entertain and inspire people, promote martial arts culture, and support those who have chosen it as a career. Soo Cole, Director and Co-Founder Fighting Spirit Film Festival

Saturday, 5 August 2017

[Interview] Harry Markos - Putting the Comic in Comic Con

July is the time of year nerdists the country (and even the world) over converge to the city of London for Showmasters’ annual extravaganza, London Film and Comic Con. From Friday to Sunday the Olympia Exhibition Centre is taken over to make way for floods of merchandise dealers, props, stages, photo booths and signing areas whereby eager fans can collect autographs of their icons of yesteryear and today. It was whilst strolling along the event’s “Comic Zone" that I met the humble brains behind a small publisher that is a giant in the field of graphic novels in the UK.

In a market that is challenged by the increase in digital content and popularisation of stories through the medium of film and television shows, small companies like Markosia Enterprises Limited continue to thrive. What is their secret? How do they stay creative and competitive in an increasingly competitive industry and still remain one of the country’s top publishers of graphic novels? These are questions I posed to the founder of Markosia, Harry Markos.  After purchasing my very own copy of "Harker" the official sequel to Bram Stoker's Gothic classic (and officially endorsed by the Stoker family), Harry and I sat down for a chat about the challenges of the publishing industry and how graphic novels (for which he as an undying passion) can shape the minds of our young.

What’s your background then Harry what did you do before setting up Markosia?

Well it’s not what I did before but what I was doing at the time. I had written a book that I was very proud of, it was a fantasy book. It was signed up by a UK based comic publishers to be adapted into a comic series. Then I had a full time job in security, then I had a back injury that kept me off work for five months. During those months I got to learn about the comics industry as I loved comics as a kid and that kind of brought me back into it and I realised that there was a lot to be gained from being in the industry again. So I got the rights back to my book, and took over the publication of the comic series. I hired the publisher that had signed it originally to be my editor in chief, formed the company, and signed a couple of their books over to us as well. That turned into a snowball effect and within six months we became the leading publisher of comic books. We had things like the “Starship Troopers” license, we published the “Kong; Skull Island” book which was very popular and we’ve now been around for over thirteen years.

You said you published book that you then turned into a comic book series. Was that the Lexion Chronicles?

Yes it was “The Lexion Chroinicles” I wrote it under a pseudonym because I have no hankering for being recognised or anything like that so I was quite happy to fade into the background. That book was really the seed that the company was based on so that’s why I kept the name.

So this is more than just a business for you this is actually a passion. Growing up on comic books as a kid what did you enjoy reading?

Believe it or not I was never into the American comics, I was always into the British comics and so the comics that I loved most of all were, well I bought the very first edition of 2000 AD, and I bought the issue religiously every week. It was a very popular book back then. I also bought "Roy of the Rovers" and "Tiger". When some of the American comics came over, the first ones that got me into the American style was Star Wars which was done by Howard Chaykin who ironically is now a good friend of mine. I just had a love for it, it was a medium that helped me with my reading and writing skills, it gave me a love of imagination. I owe a lot to the medium and it’s a shame it’s as underrated as it is nowadays.

Harry Markos talking with a potential customer at London Film & Comic Con 2017

Well it is growing although do you think maybe that the cinematic adaptations certainly of mainstream comics do you think it’s hurting it or helping?

I wouldn’t say it was hurting it but I don’t think it’s grown as a medium. I think the perception is that, but I don’t think that’s true because what people are flocking to are the movies, they are not buying more comics. Kids are not buying comics like they should be or used to. They’re getting into the whole superhero and action hero genre by means of the cinema, TV, or games. They’re entering the medium that way as opposed to buying the comics, which for me is sad because I personally think there are many useful ways that comics could benefit society. I think graphic novels should be used in schools for example as they would be a fantastic tool in the syllabus to teach. I mean how many reluctant readers are there in schools?
I just had a love for it, it was a medium that helped me with my reading and writing skills, it gave me a love of imagination. I owe a lot to the medium and it’s a shame it’s as underrated as it is nowadays.
Quite a few I would imagine. Actually touching on that are there any titles that you think should be read and studied in schools?

Absolutely, in fact much of the classics have been adapted into graphic novels. There’s a company that’s adapted most of the works of Shakespeare into graphic novels. We [Markosia] adapted “A Christmas Carol” and we’ve done "Beowulf", also we’re in the process of adapting “Robin Hood” and “Boudicca” as graphic novels. These are existing characters from our past that we are studying in our history, and graphic novels are a fantastic way to get children interested but I just don’t think they are being used enough sadly.

The official sequel to Bram Stoker's "Dracula" just one of the many big titles brought to
you by Markosia

That’s quite fascinating to hear. So coming back to your company Markosia, generally what titles and genre do you like to publish?

Well I don’t like to be pigeon holed and we’ve been criticised for that. We are mostly known for our horror and dark materials. I am not a fan of pigeon holing us in those genres because I want us to cover every genre. We do books for all ages and I want to publish more for all ages make kids more interested in graphic novels. I also want to cover more sci-fi, we simply don’t do enough sci-fi. However we are starting to expand now, into humour, cartoon books and we’re starting to publish novels and prose again, and would love to publish more of these.  I am even talking to people about publishing books on photography. I just wants us to become more diverse as a publisher and I won’t turn down a book based on genre…ever.

And of course of you do invite artists and writers to pitch ideas to the company. Would you mind explaining the pitching process, and how people can go about submitting their work to you for consideration?

We’re not tied to a genre like I said before if the story is good enough we’ll take a look at it. What we want to see in a submission is at least a short synopsis and six pages of completed art. That would give us an idea roughly of what the books are about which helps us a lot. The six pages of artwork, that would generally be enough to tell me if the quality of the art will be good enough for publishing. Now if I like what I see I’ll be on the phone asking for more details and more art but generally I’ll make a decision based on that.
These are existing characters from our past that we are studying in our history and graphic novels are a fantastic way to get children interested but I just don’t think they are being used enough sadly.
To wrap up on a sour subject but hopefully with a positive note, we talked the other day about the challenges facing the publishing industry and you’ve said that despite those challenges you’ve managed to stay in business. What challenges do you think are facing the industry at the moment, especially the publishing of comics and graphic novels?

The publishing industry in generally is going through, in my opinion, quite a dip in particular with comics and graphic novels we’ve seen a reduction in sales across the board, despite the increase in quality and diverse titles it’s going through a tough time.  We mentioned before the films, certainly the success of the films should bring more people into it but it’s not encouraging more sales. I don’t know if they are pushing them away but it’s certainly not having the effect that it should. The problem is the studios don’t care about that, they’ll go where the money is and if the films are making money then they’ll push the things that will continue to make the money. Sadly as is the case with many small publishers like us, we struggle regardless but we’ve managed to evolve our business into something that is profitable and the risks are minimised because of how operate as a publisher. We use a print on demand system, so we don’t have to store thousands of copies in a warehouse anymore, making our books available all over the world, as well as digitally, and at local shipping costs so that’s a huge advantage. The downside of what we do is that being a small publisher when we bring out press releases and information about new launches, no-one pretty much publicises it so our PR and press launches get lost in the midst of 20 new Marvel titles. So it’s a hard because we’re not a recognisable brand but we’ve soldiered on for thirteen/fourteen years now. We’re a solid little company and we consider ourselves a close knit family. We might have the occasional spat but we have great relationships with our creative partners and we always look to the future with confidence as opposed to negativity.

And of course events like London Film and Comic Con are a great way present your work and let potential customers see what you’re about.

This is a show where the people come to get autographs from famous people but we are the bonus for them, the comic zone is more of an additional bonus. If we can entice a few people to encourage them into the medium and to us as a company then for me I consider this weekend a success.
We’re a solid little company and we consider ourselves a close knit family. We might have the occasional spat but we have great relationships with our creative partners and we always look to the future with confidence as opposed to negativity.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

[Review] - The Bad Movie Bible

If you're looking for the definitive guide to some of the best bad movies of the last 50 years look no further than Rob Hill's "The Bad Movie Bible" (BMB). We've all heard the expression "so bad it's good" well in his book Hill takes a more detailed look at the moniker to challenge the notion of what makes a good movie bad which makes it good.Rob Hill knows a thing or two about this having worked over 15 years in post production on films such as "28 Days Later" and "Jupiter Ascending. Bringing his experience along with knowledge and passion for film into the fore Hill looks at this phenomenon  with an in depth analysis that is as a tongue in cheek as it is insightful.

It would be hard for some people to imagine that a bad movie can be enjoyed by so many. No doubt then that the idea of a book about bad movies would be practically unthinkable. Yet bad movies have become a phenomenon of the movie world to the point where an entire studio (The Asylum) is geared to making them. There are even special bad film clubs dedicated to screening the best of the worst. Now this might seem a little like I am deriding these films and the studios that produced them but nothing could be further from the truth as I love bad movies with "Battle Beyond The Stars" being my personal favourite. In fact Hill makes a similar confession that his stating a movie is bad is not on his part an attempt to snide or sneer. Far from it as one of the many impressions you get as you turn each page is Hill's love of these films. 

Hill's analysis from the start is fun to follow and highly informative as he blurs the absolutist line between good and bad. Challenging this notion when it comes to film is the perfect start with some great analysis balancing detail with humour, to what then becomes a surreal yet enjoyable ride. In looking at the films themselves Hill does more than just give opinions; he creates the BMB scoring system rating the films according to Cheese, Acting, Excess, Ineptitude and (my favourite) What? along with an overall score. The addition of his interviews with directors, producers and actors involved in some of those films is a real treat for film lovers in general and bad movie fans in particular. Nothing adds more depth than someone commenting on their own work that has been deemed "bad". 

So what titles can one expect to be featured in this hardback homage to the truly bad? From action to horror, even musicals (anyone remember "Can't Stop The Music"?) there is certainly much from which to chose. Yet no such book would be complete without featuring titles from the kings of cinematic schlock Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus the brains and brawn of Cannon Films, and fans will not be disappointed to see "Ninja III The Domination" and "Superman IV The Quest for Peace" to name a few included in the line up. The works of Roger Corman and Herschel Gordon-Lewis also get a look in but if you think the focus is on low budget independent films then think again; big studio productions get the BMB discerning eye such as Paul Verhoeven's "Showgirls" and the film that invokes nausea and rage amongst DC fans, "Batman and Robin." There literally is something here for lovers of every genre although one gets the feeling from reading this is the idea that perhaps bad movies should be a genre in their own right. Hill doesn't pull any punches in his analysis but throughout he remains true to his mission statement and keeps it all fun-filled and affectionate.

Film fans will enjoy this book and gasp with nostalgic wonder at the titles listed. The analysis and lovingly composed tongue-in cheek observations with interviews from the horses mouth - cast and crew of some of the films - makes "The Bad Movie Bible" akin to Kim Newman's encyclopedic love letter to horror that is "Nightmare Movies." and a must have addition to a film buff's library. 

Friday, 30 June 2017

Barry Seal - Made in America, Cruising to the Big Screen

So it seems that Tom Cruise can tank at the box office after all, with reports that his remake of "The Mummy" is set to lose money, domestically anyway. Of course this won't tarnish the Cruiser's reputation for reigning in the cinematic big bucks and I am glad of this because much of his fare is of a high caliber (where is Mission Impossible 6?). Far from resting on his laurels it seems Tom has another film out this year and one that should peak everyone's interest; "American Made" is the true story of Barry Seal, pilot, smuggler, informant spy, and is directed by "The Bourne Identity's" Doug Liman. "Barry who?" I hear you shout, and I guess that is a fair question to ask. So who is Barry Seal?

I first heard about him in the early 90's when a film was made of his life starring the late and great Dennis Hopper called "Double Crossed". It was released at the height of the US's absurd war on drugs as a poorly underfunded DEA (along with unsubstantiated rumours of CIA involvement) battled the mighty and brutal Medellin Drug Cartels principally led by none other than that famous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. It seems that Barry Seal's involvement in helping bring down some of the cartel's most vicious and notorious figures was so clandestine that his death barely registered a blip on the worldwide media radar. So here is what we know.

Adler Berriman "Barry" Seal was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1939, and was thought to have started learning to fly at the age of 15. From 1966 to 1974 he was pilot for TWA Airlines until his dismissal. Now here is where it gets really murky; official reports indicate that Seal, in need of money went to work as a pilot and smuggler for the Medellin drug cartel transporting shipments of cocaine from Columbia to the US earning as much as half a million dollars per flight. That much is confirmed however stories have circulated that Seal worked for the CIA as far back as 1958 helping with the overthrow of Cuba's Batista regime to tenuous links to the assassination of John F Kennedy. Seal's drug enterprise was thought to be a CIA front with DEA support to aide the Cartel whom the agencies viewed as allies in the fight against Marxist revolutionaries in South America. Of course much of this has been denied which should come as no surprise.

What is recorded was that Seal ran his operation successfully from 1976 out of Arkansas before moving to Florida. In 1983 he was arrested for smuggling cocaine and marijuana and faced a prospect of 10 years in prison. Not surprisingly Seal negotiated a deal with the DEA to act as informant on his employers. The DEA ensured that his fleet of planes were equipped with the best surveillance equipment which coupled with his testimony resulted in the arrest of some of his former associates, all senior cartel figures. One of his most famous operations, and which sadly led to his disclosure as an informant and his death, was the 1984 Nicaragua sting operation. Armed with surveillance cameras,courtesy of the CIA, that were installed on his C-123 transport plane Seal presented pictures that showed soldiers of the country's Sandanista government alongside the Jorge Louis Ochoa Vasquez and Pablo Escobar loading huge cocaine shipments into the plane bound for the US. Seal testified that senior officials of the Sandanista government were involved in the deal though widely refuted. 

In July 1984 a Washington Times article outed Seal as an informant, which made an already suspicious Medellin cartel angry enough to put a contract on his life, one that was carried out in 1986 when he was brutally gunned down by a Colombian hit-man. Interestingly enough rumour has it Colonel Oliver North, the king of plausible deniability and a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal leaked details of the operation to the press. This was most likely done to bolster support for the Contra rebels by showing the Soviet backed Sandanista government as both communists and drug dealers - not the sort of things you want to be accused of at the height of both the drugs war and the cold war. 

Officially Seal is on record as a pilot, smuggler, money launderer and gun runner who turned informant on his bosses and paid for that with his life. Those who knew him denied any involvement with US government agencies outside the DEA. That has never put an end to the speculation of his working with the CIA and the more it is vehemently denied the louder the conspiracy theorists' voices raise.

A quick look at the trailer and it seems "American Made", a film reminiscent of the excellent "Air America",  is playing on Seal's link to the CIA and their collusion to build a drug smuggling operation to get close to the Cartels. It has already attracted some controversy as to factual inaccuracies but with such a big shadow cast over Barry Seal's activities whose to say what is true or not?