Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Film vs. Book meets film critic James King

Formerly the movie man for Radio 1 and now host of ITV2's The Movie Show, James King tells me how he came to be a film critic, what his guilty pleasures are, the secrets to his ever improving interview technique and just how he managed to anger a legion of Twilight fans with one word.

But watch out readers – because I think I may have found the more successful, male version of me... and isn't that the part in Timecop when the world implodes? ;-)
Enjoy, LE xxx


A couple of years ago I was on Radio 1 to answer competition questions and win cinema tickets. When I called back the following Monday to discuss the films I'd seen, one listener wrote in that I could give James King a run for his money. High praise indeed. So when the man himself agreed to chat with me, I was just a little bit starstruck.

Within minutes of sitting down, James feels the need to explain why he is wearing make-up (he has just been filming for this weeks Movie Show) and brushes over the fact that I have inadvertently made him traipse across Kings Cross to come and meet me - what a gent!
After a chat about the intricacies of Twitter and keeping things under wraps that you just want to tweet about (James obviously knows some very cool film info but sadly couldn't share it!) I get down to the nitty gritty... all the way back to the beginning.

Where did the love of film all start for you?
I think I was probably looking for direction. I was 14/15 and was into so many things I wasn't sure where I wanted to go. It was very natural and enjoyable for me but it was a conscious decision to really focus on films. It all started with Sci-Fi which I loved, having been to conventions and spent lots of time in comic book stores. I still get that tingle when I go to conventions, even if I'm there to work. I admire the dedication of the Horror and Sci-Fi fans.

When did you start critiquing films?
I guess I was always doing it. You almost don't realise you're doing it. You start to write notes and it just goes from there. When I started out my bible was Halliwells Film Guide which just had a few lines about each film. Then I jumped to university where suddenly I was expected to write 10,000 words on a film!
My love for film was always a very personal thing, very introverted. There was no real support system, it was just me on my own – which I liked! It was me against the world. The idea of me becoming a broadcaster at that age just wasn't thought of. I was probably as into the films then as I am now, I just didn't know what to do with it.

What was your first job?
Well I started at Radio 1 doing work experience and working on local radio. Though the film part of the job didn't start straight away, I left college and joined Radio 1 as a Showbiz journalist.
And now you're on TV!
Yeah! Which is really different. I've done radio for so long that I don't really think about it. Ultimately people just want to know what films to go and see. I love reading really knowledgeable film reviewers but often they don't actually say whether the reviewer enjoyed the film or not. They're really interesting thoughts but are interesting to people who have no interest in going to see the film, they just like good journalism – which is fine!

How have you found the transition from radio to TV?
It's weird because you're starting all over again – it's weird to feel like a novice. But it's good - it's good to shake things up every now and then. I'd say my one regret is that I learned on air – so when I made a mistake people knew about it.

Did you make any really bad on air mistakes?
I made a lot! They were normally factual errors but when 5 million people are listening – they will text in and make sure you know you've made a mistake. Last year, I was talking about Eclipse and had been mentioning Jacob Black a lot. I said that Billy Burke (who plays Charlie) was called Billy Black. I got lots of angry Twilight fans telling me I didn't know what I was talking about.

The annoying thing about it though is that I love Twilight and have always championed the films! There's not a lot of blokes out there my age who like the films and I've always been happy to say I was one.
It's live, you're on the spot. It happens! Now what I do is recorded and it might not be as daring but at least I can edit out silly mistakes!

So are you looking forward to Breaking Dawn?
I am actually. I've just seen Peter Facinelli say on Twitter that they've just finished filming. Eclipse was good because it got dark like the Harry Potter films. You can get away with a lot nowadays on a 12A.

So what is your favourite film of all time?
Normally I answer with Grease, it's the first film I really remember watching and it's the ultimate American Teen Movie which I love. I also loved Ferris Bueller's Day Off and more recently Lost in Translation.
When I left Radio 1, I got lots of good luck messages which was really sweet, but I got one that said they would never forgive me for recommending Lost in Translation! You're either with Sophia Coppolla or you're not. I am.

You clearly have quite different tastes...
I do waver. I love the cheese of Step-Up or Fast and Furious for the spectacle but I also love to wallow in artsy fartsy films. That's as valid as cars blowing up for me. My love of the artsy stuff is definitely a hangover from my university days and I don't often have the chance to talk about it.

Are you a fan of films made from books?
People often ask if a film is as good as the book and I have to say I'm judging the film on its own merits. A lot of my favourite books have been made into films, just not necessarily good ones. Someone like John Irving for example - I thought Cider House Rules was a great film but I just don't think they really captured the spirit of the book. Especially when the book is like 300 pages long, you have to cut stuff out – unless you're Peter Jackson! I try to keep them separate.

What books do you normally read and are there any you'd like to see made into a film?
I try to read classics because I don't feel I've read enough of them and I should. I can go and enjoy Fast and the Furious and then go and read a classic. My favourite author who I read at university was Wilbur Carver – amazing amazing books about the American West! - but the writing is quite bleak so I'm not sure it would work on the big screen. It would have to be quite an art-house film. They managed it with No Country for Old Men though so maybe, you never know.

What's your favourite classic then?
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The older film adaptations have a sort of nostalgic appeal to them but the films just haven't managed to convey the language that makes the book brilliant.

Do you read modern books too?
I like to read what's big so I look at the book that's won the Booker Prize normally and think I really should read it and see what it's like.

Who was your favourite person to interview?
Some people are really interesting and they're not the people you think will be your favourites. When I interviewed Kenneth Branagh for Thor, he was really charismatic. My favourite is probably Tom Hanks. He was just brilliant, genuinely such a funny, lovely and easy-going person. It's just so nice sometimes to know that really, you can't screw it up because they will be on it! They'll give you long answers and you just sit and listen.

I also interviewed Quentin Tarantino who was one of the reasons I originally got into films. And I was so lucky that I got to chat to him for a while so we basically sat and went through all his films in depth. And he was more than happy doing that - he's not exactly a shrinking violet!

Have you had really awkward interviews?
When I started out there were a lot like that – but I think that's because I was rubbish! At first, I thought people were horrible and then suddenly everyone seemed really nice and I realised it was because I had improved.
Someone like Harrison Ford though, who I interviewed more recently, was difficult. There is a man who doesn't want to be there. He wasn't interested in talking about himself and wasn't comfortable. As the journalist, you feel uncomfortable. He got angry at one of my questions and I had to convince him to answer it. But then as soon as the microphone was off he was brilliant and started telling me a really rude story! He also stuck up for me when a camera crew messed up an interview so he does seem to be a really decent guy!

Who would you love to interview?
I would love to interview Steven Spielberg. I hosted a satellite link Q&A with him but I would love to sit down and have a 1 on 1 chat. You might as well go big! But then your heroes might let you down so perhaps it's better not to meet them!

Have you ever walked out of a film?
The first Tomb Raider. I just never got them. The second one was OK but the first was just awful.

What's the worst film you've ever seen?
All those spoof movies – Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie. They appear to keep getting made. Scary Movie had a point at least and was spoofing Scream but then they just started getting really random and spoofed anything. I hate them – truly!
It must be difficult to sit through them if you hate them so much.
Luckily they're very short! The last one, Vampires Suck, wasn't quite as bad – a 1 out of 5 instead of a 0 out of 5. There is a lot to spoof in Twilight and much as I love it, it does take itself very seriously so it lends itself to a good spoof.

What makes a great movie?
Surprises. There is a comfort in familiarity and the pattern in chick-flicks works a lot of the time. But when there is a surprise it just adds something great to it. Occasionally you get something where you think “Wow, that is different!”
A film I saw recently called Attack the Block manages it because it's a familiar plot but set in a housing estate in Brixton so it's a great mix.

"We spit in your food" - the place where Ron & Co eat :)

What is the funniest film ever made?
Anchorman. It's not a hugely original answer but it gets me every time. That had surprises. I was laughing so much and did not see that coming.

What film can you quote from?
Not to sound like a broken record but Anchorman! You find yourself doing it without realising it!

What is your favourite line from a film?
Well I love “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” from Ferris Bueller. But I also love “I carried a watermelon”.

What film makes a grown man cry?
Stuff like holiday romances. I love storylines that are about the intensity of a short period of time like The Breakfast Club or even Superbad. I love stuff like that. It's that idea of moving on - when we've had our adventure or romance and move on to the next bit and say goodbye – always gets me.

What are your guilty pleasures?
I do love the cheekier dance movies/musicals. For example, Burlesque (which I'll be talking about this week because it's out on DVD), I said it's like Flashdance and Showgirls and I love stuff like that. I'm not in any way claiming them to be brilliant but it's the glitz of them all – they're not intending to be realistic.

So are you a Glee fan then?
I love Glee. Glee gets that idea and doesn't take itself too seriously.

What are the best musicals?
Well obviously Grease is my favourite but Singing in the Rain, Hairspray and Moulin Rouge are also great. Moulin Rouge re-invigorated musicals in Hollywood so it's a really important film.

Have you seen them on stage?
Yes and some were better than others. Now I'd love to see Legally Blonde the musical made into a film like Hairspray was.

They're not really guilty pleasures are they?
No I guess not – but why hide it?! I enjoyed Step-Up - the acting may be terrible but the choreography is amazing.

What question would you love to be asked but never have been?
What I've always wanted to be asked by an interviewee is for them to want to be my mate - for them to say they want to go down the pub with me. The closest I ever got was at a function and there was going to be a sort of after-party. Penélope Cruz asked me “Are you coming for a drink now?” but she obviously was just being nice! I had visions of us propping up the bar and necking Jägermeisters!
If you're a movie fan you don't want to be a stalker about it but it'd be nice if that barrier was broken down and you could just hang out.

Who would you want to go down to the pub with?
Either Tom Hanks or Eva Mendez.
That would be interesting if they were both there at the same time.
That would be a great night out!

Now for the quick fire questions...
Pacino/De Niro – Pacino
Kubrick/Scorcese – Kubrick
Top Secret/Top Gun – I'll only say Top Gun because I've seen it more than Top Secret.
Comedy/Action – Comedy
Disney/Dreamworks – Disney

What film are you most looking forward to seeing in 2011?
X-Men: First Class. I like the franchise and it looks like it'll be really good.

What would you tell people they had to see when it came out?
Attack the Block. It's a little gory if you don't like it but it's worth it! It's got real heart to it. If you like Shaun of the Dead then you'll like it. It's got Nick Frost in it and he always makes me laugh.

Who would you recommend following on Twitter?
jacques_aih. All he does is puns and they're absolutely amazing. He never seems to run out of them! Some are filmic but not all of them.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. Always listen to James King. FACT. So lucky to have interviewed QT. can't wait for Super 8.
    Twitter @maxwellhubbard