Neds (Peter Mullan)

Non Educated Delinquents. Neds. That’s what we call them in Glasgow. Their language, with its heavy, aggressive tones is familiar to me. Every utterance of ‘square go wee man’ rings true, I’ve heard it many times. Their walk, that cocky swagger, I know well. The scenery, the classroom, I recognise with nostalgia like they were my own. ‘Neds’, Peter Mullan’s newest feature paints a picture of Glasgow some 40 years ago, yet it could be a modern portrayal. However, one can see why he chose to set the film in the past, with the wish to referencing his own memories from his childhood in Mosspark. There are many parallels in the film with Mullan’s life, including the catholic upbringing and Mullan’s admission of his own membership in a gang, he is loathe to say the film is ‘a true story’, instead saying ‘it’s personal, not autobiographical’. Glasgow, the European capital of knife crime, has 6 times as many teenage gangs as London, which has 10 times its population. Although the extreme violence shown in the film is played up for shock value, the rawness with which it is delivered from non-actors is proof enough of what is a deep rooted social problem.

The film follows John Mc Gill (Conor McCarron) from boyhood, where he shows promise and ambition beyond all expectation, to adolescence, where he is seduced by gang culture and falls into the footsteps of his older brother, who is feared throughout the neighbourhood and his abusive drunkard father, played by Mullan himself, whose parenting skills are based on intimidation. Trapped in a vicious circle of kill-or-be-killed situations, McGill quickly picks up the behaviour he needs to define himself as someone you don’t mess with, but he can’t stop there, and before you know it he’s on a stabbing rampage, sniffing glue and mugging helpless strangers. Mullan’s attention to detail, as in The Magdalene Sisters and Orphans, his two previous features, is impeccable. Every punch hits the audience and leaves you reeling- how can it get any worse? is any of this real? What is a hard watch (to say the least) presents the Glasgow people fear and for that, Mullan doesn’t offer us a happy ending but instead the question of John’s future. He hopes that in presenting the extreme, Glasgow youngsters will reflect on their own behaviour and change. I hate to be the bearer or bad news but Mullan, it could be a long uphill struggle.

-Flossie Topping


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How Mark Zuckerberg made “friend” a verb

Ross Dickie reports on David Fincher’s The Social Network and the origins of Facebook.

Based on The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich’s book on the conception of Facebook, and adapted for the screen by David Fincher (Fight Club) and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), The Social Network tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the birth of an internet phenomenon.

The film begins in a Harvard bar, the Thirsty Scholar Pub, with Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) sitting opposite a beautiful girl, halfway through a cringingly awkward date. Dejected and rejected, Zuckerberg returns to his dorm room alone and commences work on the site which would eventually become Facebook. Initially conceived as a way for male students to rate their female counterparts – is she hot or is she not? – “Facemash” went viral within hours of going live and ultimately caused the University’s network to crash.

Outcast as a social pariah for having created the site, Mark quickly finds himself at the bottom of the Harvard pecking order, especially when it comes to girls. But he got what he wanted. He now had the attention of the social elite. The jockish Winklevoss twins soon approach him, pitching an idea for a Harvard based dating site; an idea which Mark subsequently refines to launch Facebook with the financial backing of his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The site’s instantaneous success catches the eye of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), whose lavish lifestyle opens Zuckerberg’s eyes to a world which previously, he could only have imagined.

David Fincher’s latest film is a tale of ambition, betrayal, lawsuits and above all, a desire to be socially accepted. As such, it makes a far more poignant statement about society today than the return of Gordon Gekko ever could. Indeed, Mark’s motivation throughout the film seems to stem from jealousy and resentment of the “cool kids”: all part of a club he wasn’t invited to join. Although the Facebook founder is portrayed in a far from flattering light, those looking for new dirt on Zuckerberg will be disappointed, as Fincher and Sorkin reveal nothing which has not already been well documented in the media. The emphasis is placed rather more on the way in which social interaction has been changed by the advent of Facebook, and not necessarily for the better.

On a technical level, The Social Network is the best film Fincher has made since Fight Club. The dark tones of his earlier movies return in the cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth and contribute an almost sinister aspect to the halls of America’s most prestigious university. The acting – even that of Justin Timberlake – is of a consistently high standard, with Eisenberg and Garfield standing out as two of cinema’s rising stars. The true show-stealer, however, is Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay which holds everything together and keeps the action ticking along at an impressive pace. No mean feat when you remember this is a film about computer programmers. The script is as sharp and edgy as anything Sorkin wrote for The West Wing, even if nobody is really that witty in real life.

Whether or not this film will have any impact on Zuckerberg’s number of friends remains to be seen, but one thing is clear. As Justin Timberlake’s character puts it – “This is our time!” This is the era of the geek and long may it last!

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The Losers DVD Review

James Williamson reviews a comic book adaptation which could have been so much more.

Directed by Sylvain White

Release Date: 11th October 2010

97 minutes

2/4 Stars

Released two months before The A-Team, it was inevitable that The Losers would end up being the other film about a close-knit group of soldiers who find themselves on the wrong side of corrupt forces, and despite a distinctive comic book heritage, The Losers never quite succeeds in differentiating itself from the crowd.

The Losers are led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen) as Clay, who with his greying stubble and disheveled suit seems to be channeling Robert Downey Jr. While Clay’s closest friend Roque is given some complexity by Idris Elba (The Wire), Peter Berg’s (Friday Night Lights) and James Vanderbilt’s (Zodiac) screenplay glosses over Roque’s tough choices and their effects on the team.

Rounding out the roster are Aisha (Zoe Saldana), another iteration of the same character Saldana has played for years, the obligatory goofs Jensen (Chris Evans) and Pooch (Columbus Short), and the stoic Cougar (Óscar Jaenada), whose most significant relationship is with his hat. Their goal: to seek revenge on the cartoonishly villainous Max (Jason Patric).

While Sylvain White’s direction maintains a sense of fun that makes the film watchable, it fails to rectify the film’s flaws and tends to linger too long on the conspicuously CGI explosions. The DVD itself is decent for a one-disc edition, featuring several short documentaries on various aspects of the production. The UK version contains an audio commentary from Andy Diggle and Jock, writers and artists of the comic books, whose enthusiasm for seeing their creation on screen almost makes the adaptation’s deficiencies endearing. Through their ruminations on changes made to story and characters, one wonders if somewhere in The Losers, there is a better film trying to get out.


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A fresh perspective on the Freshers’ Film

Mariko Primarolo and Elyssa Winn consider getting involved in Rogue Productions.

Mariko: Awww, I really want to do the Freshers’ Film now.

Elyssa: Yeah, I know, it’s great that this year anyone can submit an idea, no matter what it is. I’m thinking of something along the lines of: “St Andrews’ resident rabbit decides to enrol on a Theology course and meets an evil anorexic squirrel who…”

Mariko: Yeah, yeah, ok. Isn’t it cool though that everyone’s now a member of Rogue? For the first time we don’t have to pay for membership. All we have to do to get involved is contact Rogue by October 15th with a concept in less than 100 words. And even though it’s called the Freshers’ Film anyone can take part, not just Freshers. I think I have some ideas I would want to submit but I’m worried I’ll be a bit too busy with studies to commit to being a writer or director.

Elyssa: But you don’t need to take charge of everything. Remember Kat was saying that one time she just took on a cameo as a corpse. Even though she had meat thrown on her and had to endure the horrible St Andrews weather, she still said it was great to be a part of something like that. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see yourself on the big screen? Well maybe not as a dead person but…

Mariko: Yeah man! I helped with the set design for the Freshers’ Film last year. Totally saw my post-it note on screen – BEST FEELING EVER!

Elyssa: You were in the Freshers’ Film last year?

Mariko: Yup, just to start me off. I just came in and was like ‘”I don’t know how to make a film… but I want to take part.”

Elyssa: Yeah I saw the film. It actually looked quite professional. They obviously knew how to use a camera; the quality of some of the shots was really impressive.

Mariko: The effects were wicked weren’t they? A simple technique, getting things to fade off shot, but it worked well in the film.

Elyssa: Didn’t they say it was based on a dream their roommate had?

Mariko: I think so. Turned out to be like a calm apocalypse, where things slowly disappear. Like the end of the world but without the screaming. I really liked that idea. Quite indie…

Elyssa: Totally. The concept is quite spaced out and ambitious but they really pulled it off. It just goes to show it doesn’t matter how far-fetched your concept might be, just write it down and send it off. Maybe even my rabbit idea is worth a shot…

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No Ugly Duckling: Black Swan

Flossie Topping reports on Darren Aronofsky’s latest from the Venice Film Festival

On hearing about Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, a psychological thriller set in the New York ballet, I assumed quite a departure from his last, award-winning film The Wrestler (2008) but Aronofsky claimed he saw many similarities between them – “The more I looked into ballet, I actually started to see all these similarities to the world of wrestling. They both have these performers that use their bodies in extremely intense physical ways”. Natalie Portman, who stars as the swan queen in a fictional production of Swan Lake, is said to have undergone intense physical training which can be seen in the film’s complex choreography. The film views as if you were watching the ballet, only every emotion is heightened as it uses the medium of cinema to delve further into the story. Portman’s transformation from girl into swan is frightening and grotesquely literal in its portrayal. She plays the role perfectly, from the dancer who is determined to succeed and devoted to her craft, to the perfection-obsessed performer on the verge of insanity. Her choreographer, played by Vincent Cassel, is suitably cruel and his creepy sexual advances add a corrupting slant to the dancer’s innocent world, penetrated by the pressure of the lead role and by her understudy (Mila Kunis) who pushes her towards a life of drinks and pills.

The media’s fascination with the suggested sex scene in the trailer between Portman and Kunis was commented upon in a press conference where Portman enigmatically said “Darren described it as having a sex scene with yourself, as the character undergoes a battle with her ego” and that she found the role “challenging and interesting”. When we first meet the females, their interactions are coy and reserved, but as the plot unfolds their relationship becomes aggressive and passionate as the competitive spirit of the dancers takes over.

Aronofsky has said that he is “terrified of ballet backlash” as he confidently comments on several controversial issues surrounding the industry, including the attitude towards age, with Winona Ryder playing the ageing prima ballerina driven to a bloody suicide on hearing she must retire. He also exposes the fine line between tutors who abuse their students and dancers who use sexual prowess to secure roles, as well as commenting on the array of eating disorders present throughout the company and the widespread use of narcotics, especially those with muscle relaxant properties.

The film revitalises and rejuvenates the popular ballet into a seat gripping, nail-biting spectacle. The almost unbearable tension created by Aronofsky is reminiscent of his Requiem for a Dream (2002), keeping audiences behind cages of fingers and provoking audible gasps. Not to mention the powerfully dramatic score which lingers well beyond the credit sequence. With Portman already being talked up as a serious contender in next year’s Academy Awards, Black Swan is a sure-fire hit this winter!

Black Swan is on UK release from February 11th 2011

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An introduction to film in St Andrews

James Williamson provides a rundown of film in St Andrews

Whether you have come to St Andrews expressly to study film, or want to flex your own film-making muscles, or if you simply like watching films, St Andrews has something to cater to your tastes. The town has its own independent cinema, the New Picture House, located on North Street, where you can watch all the latest releases or one of their weekly late-night showings of classic films.  If you would rather rent a DVD, there is the Alphabet Video store on South Street which offers a wide range of titles for a quiet night in front of the TV. Alternatively, you can get free 3-day loans from the university’s very own audio-visual collection, found on level 3 of the library.

There is also a vibrant film community within the student body. For those who want to get together with other film buffs or just wish to enjoy an informal showing with fellow students, there is the St Andrews University Film Society. On the other hand, if you’ve always wanted to try some aspect of filmmaking and never had the chance, or if you’re already experienced and want to get involved with a project here in St Andrews, the university has its own Film Making Society, Rogue Productions. Rogue aims to support the budding student filmmaker through offering a range of resources whilst providing a means of getting involved in the university’s filmmaking community.

Rogue Productions also hosts the Half Cut Film Festival as part of the annual On The Rocks arts festival. Half Cut was conceived with the aim of showcasing the best in student film from across Scotland, and has already drawn the attention of acclaimed studio Pixar (Up, Toy Story 3), who this year provided two of the judges, animators Jaime Landes and Lindsay VanderGalien. They were joined by BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Robert Sproul-Cran and Kevin Dunion, the university’s rector.

But while Half Cut may be the most notable film-related event in the student calendar, it is far from being one of a kind.  In May the St Andrews Feminists, one of the newest societies, hosted a Feminist Film Festival, while last year saw St Andrews’ first French and Italian film festivals, which were supported by the university’s Film Studies department. Back in November, the town also played host to the Africa in Motion Film Festival, the UK’s largest African Film Festival.

In a relatively short time, St Andrews has seen the development of an active film culture, embracing everything from mainstream Anglo-American blockbusters to a wide range of foreign and artistic films, while also nurturing home-grown filmmaking talent – a contrast which befits the eclectic nature of the university and town.

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Is the UK film industry facing a slumdog future?

Ross Dickie ponders the fate of the UK Film Council

On July 26th the coalition government announced that the UK Film Council is to be abolished, with a view to reducing bureaucracy and ultimately saving the taxpayer money. However, in light of the recent success of The King’s Speech at the Toronto International Film Festival – a movie partly funded by the council – is this merely another example of shortsighted cuts and political expediency?

Having previously supported films such as Slumdog Millionaire, Gosford Park and Man on Wire, the council has spent the last ten years at the forefront of homegrown cinema. They have also been actively involved in aspects of film education at school level, along with the rolling out of digital cinemas across the country: the UK now has more digital cinema screens than any other country in Europe.

As of yet, it remains unclear how the quango will be replaced, with the BBC, Channel 4, the BFI and Film London all possible successors. The primary responsibility of whoever takes the reigns will be the distribution of government and lottery funding whilst keeping administrative overheads at a bare minimum. In the eyes of the government, it is failure in the latter which has led to the demise of the Film Council.

The concept of more money for filmmakers and less money for bureaucrats may seem like a noble ideal, however, given the current economic climate, is this really the best time to meddle in an industry which is actually growing? According to the Film Council’s website, 2009 saw independent British films “take their largest market share in a decade”. They also claim to “generate £5 for every £1” they invest. If that doesn’t constitute a viable economic model then what does?

The move to abolish the council has met with widespread condemnation, particularly from within the industry. Director Mike Leigh (Vera Drake) recently described the decision as akin to “abolishing the NHS”. Melodramatic perhaps, but the message is clear. UK cinema is entering a new golden age – to change a formula which, for all its flaws, has proven to work, seems a very risky strategy for deficit reduction.

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