Wednesday, 23 December 2009

My Cinema Pet-Hates #1

This will be the first in a no-doubt endless list of things that piss me off about cinema-goers, the cinema and films in general.

#1: People who chair-jive to the Pearl & Dean music.

You know who you are.

The lights go down, the Pearl & Dean logo appears and you start shimmying about in your seat in time to the music, amusing your friends/dates with a variety of jazz-hands and facial gurns. It's not impressive or funny that you can mime along to a song that simply contains the word "BAH" repeated over and over again and if I had my way, a trap-door would open beneath your seat and dump you into a lake of excrement and barbed-wire.

My disdain for this practice has nothing at all to do with the fact that I am shut in a room with no natural light for long periods of time, am unable to watch the film and am forced to observe your wacky-fun-times through a tiny window whilst I suffer my boring-shit-times.

Far from it. Although sometimes projectionism does feel like organising a party and then locking yourself in a cupboard for its duration, occasionally peeking through the key-hole to see who's enjoying themselves.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

It's Christmas Time...

At this festive season, many people will be buying films as gifts, going to the pictures after gruelling shopping trips or sitting down to watch a DVD with the extended family. The difficult question remains: what to watch in order to generate the ideal sensation of seasonal wellbeing, keep out the biting winter winds and warmly bring the family that much closer together?

Here are some suggestions:

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Stick the turkey in the oven, pour some Bucks Fizz and sit th'self down to an hour and a half of festive fun in the company of Robert Downey Jnr, Michelle Monaghan and a never-been-better Val Kilmer as they attempt to unravel a labyrinthine murder mystery on the christmassy streets of wintery Los Angeles.

Okay, so the fact that it's christmas is largely irrelevant, but the commentary on the superficial fakery of LA is summed up perfectly by the theatrical, "pretend" christmas that appears to be happening in the background of pretty much every scene, plus you get Monaghan dressed in (and out of) THAT Santa outfit, ranting about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being the victim of racism.

Murder, torture, russian roulette, gay private detectives, giant robots (sort of) and pithy, profane dialogue that you'll be quoting long after the last of the turkey sandwiches have been polished off make this the ideal choice of christmas movie for all the family.

Christmas Quote:

Harry: Hey, hey, hey! It's Christmas, where's my present, Slick?
Perry: Your fucking present is you're not in jail, fag-hag.

Die Hard

Everyone knows it's not christmas until you've seen Bruce Willis get his vest out and say "Yippe-kye-ay, motherfucker". This is the original and best of the "Bruce's Bloody Vest" series - featuring one of cinema's finest villains in the shape of Alan Rickman's oily, formidable Hans Gruber - and features a perfect balance of action, thrills, comedy and character.

The movie starts off with Willis heading to his wife's christmas party, so there is plenty of dialogue about "mulled wine" and "roaring fireplaces", "Santa, Rudolph and Frosty" and other such seasonal gubbins to get you feeling festive before the actual shit-kicking commences.

Bruce puts a Santa hat on a dead bloke, Hans attributes the inevitable success of his plan to christmas being "the time of miracles" and Willis' final triumph is achieved with the help of two strips of parcel-tape emblazoned with the legend "Merry Christmas"! Uber-festive!

Christmas Quote:

Theo: 'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except... the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.

Lethal Weapon

The christmas spirit of togetherness and mutual understanding has rarely been conveyed onscreen with the poignant power of the first Lethal Weapon film. Packed with positive christmas messages, this is possibly the most upbeat entry on this list: Riggs and Murtaugh (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover) are from different worlds, but unite in trusting friendship against evil, Riggs is convinced not to shoot himself by a Bugs Bunny christmas special, and Murtaugh even invites Riggs to christmas dinner after they've dispensed with all the baddies.

Gunfights in christmas-tree yards, cars driving through heavily chrimbo-decked living-rooms, "Jingle-Bell Rock" playing over the opening credits (interrupted by a semi-naked woman leaping to her death out of a high-rise window) and, of course, Jesus' PR man himself: Mel, stripped to the waist and bashing Crazy Gary Busey's brains in on a slutchy lawn. Lethal Weapon is as christmas as Eggnog, post-dinner bloat and present-related disappointment!

Christmas Quote:

McAllister: The bulk of the heroin will be here Friday night, we'll make delivery at that time. Have the money ready, and no tricks. If you try anything... you'll have to talk to Mr. Joshua. Merry Christmas.

Batman Returns

Arguably superior sequel to the Jack Nicholson show that was 1989's Batman, and also incredibly seasonal. Danny Elfman's soundtrack is all jingly bells and ethereal choirs and the set-design is knee-deep in theatrical snow-drifts, while motifs of gifts and parties recur throughout. Bruce Wayne and Selina kyle share a singularly unusual brand of "Holiday Blues" as they struggle with a burgeoning relationship and their respective secret identities, and a major plot point takes place beneath the mistletoe, just before a giant duck explodes through the floor!

From the snowbound opening to the ruefuel final line, Batman Returns is a christmas fantasy to rival "Santa Claus the Movie". Plus, there's Michelle Pfeiffer in a catsuit for the Dads, and... erm... Christopher Walken... with big hair... for the mums. Michael Keaton? Erm... Danny DeVito..?

Christmas Quote:

Alfred: Come what may; Merry Christmas, Mister Wayne.
Bruce Wayne: Merry Christmas, Alfred. And good will toward men. And women.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Scary Movies.

In the past week or two, I have seen two contemporary horror films of very differing styles and, in my opinion, quality: "Paranormal Activity" and "The Descent part 2".

"Paranormal Activity" is, of course, the "Blair Witch"-style, found-footage flick about a young couple who suspect supernatural wackiness to ensue in their house, so they set up a video camera to record what goes down while they've got their heads down. What ensues is a catalogue of tried and tested Haunted House gags which slowly escalates into something genuinely surprising and creepy.

"The Descent pt. 2" is a sequel/rehash of a movie called "The Descent", surprisingly, in which a bunch of thrill-seeking ladies went caving and got mostly eaten by what appeared to be Gollum's extended family. Pretty much the same thing happens in the sequel, except it's the rescue team that goes after the women that's getting munched on.

Both films set out to unsettle, shock and scare the viewer, both use the fear of the dark, the unseen, the unknown to create atmosphere, but it's how they pay off the apprehensive tension that separates them.

"The Descent" falls into the typical sloppy horror film trap of thinking LOUD NOISES are scary. It's the kind of film that makes you jump without even realising why you're jumping. You are startled by the soundtrack going "BBAAAAHHH!" before you've even realised a monster has popped out or summat: "SHIT, that was loud! Oh, and there's a monster."

Of course, "Paranormal Activity" also relies heavily on sound design to scare, the difference being that the scary noises are actually diegetic to the action on screen. The audience and the characters are hearing the same thing and are therefore unified in their "SOMEBODY'S COMING UP THE STAIRS!" terror.

"Paranormal Activity" is a resolutely old-fashioned horror film, slowly building to a fever pitch and unleashing its secret weapons only when the time is right. This is not going to win over many contemporary horror fans looking for the next slapstick death-scene or "BOO!" jump-scare, but it creeps quietly into the open mind and sits there, festering in the imagination for a long time after the lights go up.

"The Descent" is less old fashioned, coming across as one of those "more-but-less-of-the-same" horror film sequels from the 80s. Nonsensical twists and contrived characters and plotting derail any empathy for the victims as they careen from one bloody set-piece to the next like chunks of meat for the grinder.

Both films go for the old jump-cut-to-black final shock punchline ending, but one leaves you going "Erm... hang on, that didn't make any sense..." and the other leaves you going going "I don't think I should sleep alone tonight. Or ever again." Guess which is which?

So, what is it that makes a film scary? Perhaps more than any other genre, Horror is entirely subjective to the eyes and minds of its audience. What fills the pants of one viewer, might simply tickle another. Freud reckoned that what scared people the deepest was the uncanny: the familiar made unfamiliar. Ordinary made extra. By that rationale, only cavers should find "Descent 2" scary. But then Freud also said we all fancy our parents, so I'm not gonna take his word for much.

In conclusion, if you like creeping dread, suggestive scares and unsettling atmosphere, have a look at "Paranormal Activity", and if you like "YAH BOO!" jumps, creepy creatures and bathing in blood, then peep "The Descent". The first one. Part 2 is just a ropey retread with none of the skill of the original.