The Screening Room Blog
Thursday, October 30, 2008
A meeting with Mr Bond
LONDON,England -- As I enter the room I realise I have Bond at a disadvantage. His trigger-finger and indeed his right arm is trapped in a sling -- a reminder of recent skirmishes on behalf of Her Majesty's Secret Service. I raise my right hand and move in.

His injured arm flails helplessly but at the last minute, with the cat-like reflexes that have made 007 the most fearesome opponent, his left hand moves like a flash, intercepts and parries. Bond, it seems, can give a handshake with either hand.

A black cardigan would make me look like I need a pipe, a pair of slippers and a nice log fire, but somehow on James Bond it seems the epitome of causal elegance.

Our eyes lock and we each take stock of the combatant before us. I make the first move, telling the hitman that he is not unknown to me: "I believe we have met before Mr Bond."

"Really, where?" he responds, "'Casino Royale'"? I can tell he's stalling for time.

"No, no," I tell him, "Golden Compass," I add, savouring my triumph so early in the encounter. I remember him but he could not remember me -- I put it down to my mastery of disguise and ability to blend in with other, lesser reporters.

I long to add, "And if I recall correctly you were wearing the same cardigan," but he recovers before I have time to press home my advantage.

"Then it must have been in this very room!" His eyes flash as he surveys the plush chamber within the sumptuous folds of The Dorchester Hotel -- home to many a movie junket, and as British as MI6 itself.

"Who do you work for?" he demands. Suddenly the tables are turned. "I'll ask the questions if you don't mind, Mr Bond," I parlay smartly, but he's undaunted: "Who do you work for?"

"I work for CNN Mr Bond, and I must warn you -- we have people EVERYWHERE!"

The stand-off ends in a draw. We both take our seats and the interrogation begins. Five minutes later I realise I'm as far as I'm going to get with this Agent Bond.

Through the glare of a camera light to his left I notice two fingers being drawn across the throat of a shadowy figure. It's the globally acknolwedged sign for terminating -- either an enemy or a tv junket interview.

One final question Mr Bond: "What is your blueprint for achieving success at an audition?" Quick as a flash he responds: "Keep smiling."

Behind him, the fingers are being drawn across the throat more urgently now and it's time to plan my exit strategy: "Thank you for your time."

I cannot resist a smile as he hesitates for a moment, clearly scanning my words for hidden meanings, secret messages or clues to future missions.

We rise together and repeat the ambidextrous handshake. As I leave the room two tapes are pressed into my hand by strangers disguised as cameramen.

At the door I encounter the agent of a rival organisation -- BBC or maybe Fox. We regard each other suspiciously. "I'd be careful." I remark pointedly, "He's in a foul mood."

Judging by the expression on my enemy's face, my campaign of disinformation succeeds.

I smile and turn up the collar of my coat against the biting cold of a November morning in London and head for my meeting with "N", CNN's London Bureau Chief.

-- From Neil Curry, Screening Room Agent

To watch or read The Screening Room's interview with Daniel Craig go to or watch more videos on CNN's YouTube page.

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Monday, October 27, 2008
Return to form for Woody Allen
LONDON, England -- Lust, passion, laughter, art, a beautiful city and a ménage a trois with two of the world’s most beautiful actresses -- you couldn’t ask for more perfect ingredients for a great Woody Allen tragic-comedy.

What some are calling a true return to form for Allen with “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona,” is actually the evolution of a form he has been experimenting with for quite some time.

Allen, a self-confessed neurotic, seems to have found a new self in Europe, filming most of his latest movies on the continent which has often been more appreciative of his talents than his native United States.

Mostly, his new-found confidence has paid off. “Match Point” was received in the main positively and while 2007's “Cassandra’s Dream” is one of only few movies that made me fall asleep, he has now succeeded in most critics’ eyes with “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona.”

Scarlett Johansson and equally luscious-lipped co-star, Rebecca Hall, who play respectively Cristina and Vicky, are best friends spending the summer in Barcelona. While Vicky, who is engaged to a good but terribly lackluster man, believes that true love can only mean commitment and stability, Cristina is a fervent soul who insists love can only mean deep passion and bottomless pain.

Both their worlds are turned upside down when they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a confident, passionate Spanish painter with a taste for ménages a trois -- Bardem being infinitely sexier in this role than he was as a serial killer with a bob haircut in “No Country for Old Men.”

But the incontestable star of the movie is Penelope Cruz, who plays Maria Elena, the psychotic but brilliant ex-wife of Juan Antonio. Cruz brings a depth to the character that Allen rarely elicits from his actors and that Johansson and Hall could only dream of.

In the end, the movie works because it deals with a theme to which most women can relate. Should I stick with that great guy, who guarantees a stable and fine life-partnership, or do I leave him to roam the world in search of the passionate, sexually-charged, volatile artist-type more likely to leave me in pieces?

I somehow hoped that Woody Allen, who has himself been through the torments of love, would provide that magic answer. As usual, however, Allen offers only questions.

But while parts of the movie come off tragic, he takes the theme of love with a pinch of salt. A choice the audience seemed to appreciate responding with little other than laughs and applause.

Do you think "Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona" is a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars?

-- From Anouk Lorie for CNN

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Friday, October 24, 2008
Fact and fiction meet in "W"
(LONDON, England) -- Could it be more timely? As America prepares to go to the polls, “W,” Oliver Stone’s biopic of the still incumbent president, George “Dubya” Bush tells the story as that of a heavy-drinking frat boy who found God and made it into the White House -- twice.

Stone’s treatment of a man he presents as the world’s most influential idiot is, in fact, surprisingly gentle. Dubya’s deep unpopularity and catalogue of political blunders would have been the perfect license for a damning portrayal.

Instead, while not exactly giving him the kid glove treatment, Stone’s film takes a sometimes mocking (check out the multitudinous close ups of Bush’s patriotic belt buckles with Texas flag design -- and later the Presidential seal) sometimes sympathetic look at Dubya -- and it is an effective psychological portrait of the man who somehow became president.

Stone is helped along by Josh Brolin as the lead of an impressive cast, who, while ‘getting’ Dubya’s mannerisms and ticks, doesn’t ham it up with a straight impersonation. The film portrays Dubya as the quintessential moneyed jock with nothing much in his head -- “Don’t think about it too much, Pappy. It’ll screw you all up,” he counsels Bush Sr. on the subject of whether or not to invade Iraq first time round.

The film opens with Dubya and his advisers (Condi Rice played by Thandie Newton, accompanied by Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and co.) conjuring up the phrase "axis of evil" and two things very quickly become clear. First of all, Dubya may think he’s in charge but, according to Stone, it’s his advisers who are making the real decisions -- “I’m the President. I’m the decider,” he reiterates to Rumsfeld a few times during the film. Stone's depiction of Dubya's utterly flip attitude to matters of state implies it must have taken more than a twitch of the strings of influence to get him where he is today.

Stone presents Dubya as a charismatic Texan cowboy who possess the confidence and quick wit of a man born to be a "master of the universe" -- admittedly more so around the poker table than in White House press conferences. But critically, he comes across as very human. The kind of "average Joe" that the average Joe would like to sit down with and slug a beer.

While there are a fair number of Bushisms in evidence – “You fool me once, shame on you. You fool me twice and … you can’t fool me again” -- we also see a man strangled by the constrictions of a dynasty that has been built up over a few hundred years, and who has been dealt with very harshly by Bush Sr. “What do you think you are? A Kennedy? You’re a Bush,” he barks when Dubya is arrested after some post-ballgame pranks at Yale.

Visually, the film fails to impress and it’s obvious that it was made very quickly -- Stone says he wanted to get it out before the U.S. election. It also ends very ambiguously, but then the story of Dubya’s presidency and its significance for the current race is still unfolding.

Josh Brolin makes a very convincing George W. Bush. Who would you cast to play Barack Obama, John McCain or, even Sarah Palin?

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Thursday, October 9, 2008
Artfully done

LONDON, England -- Damien Hirst's formaldehyde shark and gilded calf are sold for millions while banks crumble, but art has always delighted in courting paradox and eluding definition.

The same can be said for the documentary "Beautiful Losers." Opening with an artist describing a painting as "so bad that I love it," the story, just as the art it documents, resists conventional categorization.

The story follows a tightly-knit group of like-minded thinkers in the early 1990s who gravitated towards a small NYC storefront gallery called Alleged and combined to create easily accessible art that would reflect their lives.

Following in the traditions of Warhol and Basquiat, this creative think-tank drew on their diverse roots in the DIY subcultures of skateboarding, surf, punk, hip-hop and graffiti to assert their conviction that art could be brought down to street level and out of the sometimes ivory-towered, intellectual elite of international galleries.

Directed by founder of the movement and Alleged gallery owner Aaron Rose, the documentary traces the rags to riches story of the group who, despite little formal artistic training, now tour the world with their Beautiful Losers exhibition, featuring anything from installation art to graffiti.

With a soundtrack scored by Beastie Boy collaborator Money Mark, we are introduced to the variety of artists that comprise the group. They include (among others) Harmony Korine, screenwriter of controversial drama "kids," "Thumbsucker" director Mike Mills and Geoff McFetridge, a graphic artist who counts highly successful adverts for Pepsi and Nike among his commercial achievements.

The collective also boasts the acclaimed graffiti artist Barry McGee and his late wife Margaret Kilgallen. A formidable artist in her own right, Kilgallen's passing provides a touching backdrop to the history of the group, and the feature contains a tribute to her role as a driving force in Beautiful Losers artistic development and integrity.

As the audience watches the Beautiful Losers exhibition snowball to worldwide acclaim, it is treated to an uplifting story of self-belief, creativity and success against the odds.
Oscar Wilde once said a critic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing -- but it is the undeniable value of their art that "Beautiful Losers" impresses.

The ability to harness their wealth of creativity and insist upon its worth long before public recognition is worthy of respect from even the most cynical.

Although this inspirational and uplifting work could be criticized for being overlong, it is nevertheless mandatory viewing for anyone with creative aspirations.

Beautiful Losers will be screened at the London Film Festival on October 18 at 18.30 and October 21 at 16.15.

-- From CNN's Simon Laub

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Music and murder in Paolo Sorrentino's 'Il Divo'

(LONDON, England) -- Murder to music is rarely done as artfully as in the opening sequence of "Il Divo," Sorrentino's biopic of seven-time Italian Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti. The subject matter may be highly political but, this is no stodgy, historical drama.

For a pure emotional hit, the opening sequence may even compete with Scorsese's classic "Jimmy's murder spree" sequence set to "Layla" in 1990 gangster film "Goodfellas."

In "Goodfellas" the piano exit from Clapton's "Layla," performed by Derek and the Dominos is laid over scene after scene of horribly disfigured corpses in a pink car; a garbage truck; a meat locker; and the sequence drips with the melancholy sense of the end of an era.

In complete contrast but packing just as much cinematic punch, the opening sequence of "Il Divo" unfolds to an exhilarating slice of new wave-tinged disco house, "Toop Toop," by French electro duo, Cassius.

The track overlays a sequence of shootings, staged suicides and, finally, an extraordinary slo-mo aerial shot of a crushed car dropping into a pit and exploding.

The first assassin we see walks towards his intended, the track breaks down and all we hear is the boom, boom, boom of the bassline which is perfectly synchronized to his footsteps as if it's his heartbeat. As he starts to shoot the track kicks back in.

A great example of the power of pop music in the movies -- and it's as compulsive as stamping on bugs.

What are your favorite music moments in the movies?

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008
'Frost/Nixon' to open London Film Festival
LONDON, England -- "All the best things happen in the dark, and that's all that matters," London Film Festival Artistic Director Sandra Hebron quipped to an audience of more than 300 reporters in a nice twist on some of the Hadron Collider stories that have been dominating the headlines recently.

She was talking at London Film Festival's own bid to grab some headlines with its announcement of the line-up for this year's event.

The opening reel unwinds on October 15th with the world premiere of "Frost/Nixon," director Ron Howard's adaptation of Peter Morgan's stage play about the historic encounter between British TV showman David Frost and the disgraced ex-U.S. President three years after Watergate. Watch a clip from the film below.

Another American President comes under the spotlight at LFF in the shape of George W. Bush. Oliver Stone has aldready tackled Nixon and JFK on-screen and now turns his attention to Bush in "W." It is already causing controversy in the U.S. as it is a rare feature about an incumbent President.

A recent feature of the London Film Festival is to make use of the city's landmark venues. Hence the world premiere of the latest Bond movie "Quantum of Solace," which will be shown free in an open-air screening in Trafalgar Square moments after it's world premiere in nearby Leicester Square. It's hoped the stars might wander the short distance from one venue to the other to delight their fans.

Former Bond girl Eva Green is among the stars expected to shine in London this year. Hollywood-hunters can look forward to the likes of Peter O'Toole, Penelope Cruz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro and Rachel Weisz as well as directorial delights from Steven Soderbergh, Michael Winterbottom and Danny Boyle

Boyle is currently the focus of critical acclaim at Toronto Film Festival with his latest film "Slumdog Millionaire." It is the rags-to-riches story of a boy from Mumbai who becomes a star on the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," and it will close LFF on October 30th.

-- From CNN's Neil Curry

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The Screening Room brings you the inside track on all aspects of the movie business around the globe. Find out what presenter Myleene Klass has been up to, and send us your comments and suggestions for our Top 10 movie list of the month.
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