Monday, 20 December 2010

The Golden Sprockets 2010

Welcome to the first ever "Golden Sprockets" award ceremony.

Below, I will be announcing the winners of the coveted "Sprockies", a celebration of all the cinematic things that passed my eyes in the last twelve months or so.

Bear in mind I haven't seen all the year's films, so this will be purely subjective and largely unfounded. And may (will) contain swearing and crude wordings.

Without further ado:

The "most near-the-knuckle, potentially offensive but ultimately fucking hilarious and surprisingly powerful comedy" award goes to:

Four Lions

The "labyrinthine but ultimately predictable plot strangely doesn't detract from visually, sonically and actor-ily brilliant film" award goes to:

Shutter Island

The "looked like a shitty kid-flick but was actually a rousing and engaging adventure for all the family (I said 'a rousing', not 'arousing')" award goes to:

How to Train Your Dragon

The "pure, visceral cinematic joy in spite of slightly contradictory message and tonal discrepancy with source material" award goes to:


The "predictably awesome" award goes to:

Toy Story 3

The "see? blockbuster thrillers don't have to be brainless" award goes to:


The "nerd-gasmic sugar-rush" award goes to:

Scott Pilgrim vs the world

The obligatory, yet deserved award for "probably the best film of the year" goes to:

The Social Network

The "better actress than most twice her age" award goes to:

Chloe Moretz.

The Sprocket for "Best Crazy Acting-Face Man" goes to:

Frowny Leo DiCaprio

The "nerd fantasy" award is shared between:

Scarlett Johansson

Olivia Wilde

Mary Elizabeth Winstead

The "uncomfortable man-crush" award is shared by:

Robert Downey Jr.

Joseph Gordon Levitt

The "waste of screen-space" award is shared by:

Sam Worthington and Gemma Arterton

The "most hilariously clunky exposition" award goes to the bit in the tent in:

Prince of Persia.

The "worst film I actually sat through" award goes to:

Street Dance 3D

The "film I quite liked, but everyone else thought was bum-chunder" award goes to:


These awards were voted for by members of the exclusive Intermittent Sprocket Academy of Motion Picture Arse. If you disagree, get your own movie blog, you fairy!


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Fragments Viewed through a Porthole

There have been a number of films released recently which I haven't been able to sit and watch, so I have only seen random fragments of them through the portholes (that's the observation window-things by the projectors that look out into the auditoria. I'm not on a pirate ship or owt). This is how projectionists see most films, should they not have a chance to run a print-check or staff show. Here are my observations on these movies as they occurred to me, based on the minimal information at my disposal:


Tron: Legacy

First impressions:

Some of the scenes are in 2D? Is it gonna be like "The Wizard of Oz", but the real world is 2D and the "fantasy" is 3D?

Fucking hell, the Digital Dude is terrifying. He's supposed to be giving a loving, fatherly smile to his little son, but it looks like he's a fucking robo-zombie who wants to crack the kid's head open and sup his brain-blood!

Why's the kid got posters and memorabilia from the first film all over his room?

The 3D's not up to much.

Olivia Wilde is as pretty as a picture. Of Olivia Wilde.

Oh, this is the bit where he tries to describe the sun.

Garrett Hedlund reminds me of a cross between Christian Slater and the Honey Monster.

His description of the sun as "warm, radiant, beautiful" puts me in mind of Baldrick describing the sea as a "big, blue wobbly thing" in "Blackadder".

Looks like:

a $200 million fan-wank.

Animals United

First Impressions:

Is this "Madagascar 3"? Actually looks more like that other one that flopped. "The Wild" I believe it was.

Is that kangaroo drinking a can of beer?

I don't know what that's supposed to be, but it looks a potential lawsuit lot like the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes.

Now he's drinking beer too.

The CGI is fucking rubbish. It's like watching "Reboot".

The animals seem to be talking about wiping out mankind before we kill them. Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick, that seems a bit dark for a talkie-animal kid-flick.

Nope, they've done it. There's an army of animals marching triumphantly through a deserted Manhattan. Looks a bit "12 Monkeys" to me. Roll credits.

Looks like:

should be called "Animal Uprising" or "Animal Apocalypse" or summat.


First Impressions:

Christina's chebs are hanging out of her dress. I think this is a clever ruse to draw the eye away from the subtly witch-like qualities of her facial features. It's mostly working.

Christina and that dude from "Twilight" are drunk and giggling. Are they gonna get it on? Wait, what certificate is this? Am I gonna see some action?

The "Twilight" geezer's nekkid. I'm sure there was wang on display.

Christina's getting that dress off now!

Oh, no. They're just sharing a chaste kiss and we're fading to something else. Never mind.

I think it's a 12A, and mostly aimed at females, so the core audience is satisfied with "Twilight" bloke's man-chebs. I imagine Christina spends the film in various stages of undress, but frankly, I haven't the time to stand here leering through the porthole all day.

Maybe just a minute or two longer.

There's Cher's alabaster mug. That's put me right off.

Back to work.

Looks like:

I'm perving on Christina Aguilera. I'm not. I'm checking out the focus, rack and volume of the movie. Definitely not checking her out, or focusing on her voluminous rack IN the movie. At all.

Fred: The Movie

First impressions:

This is that thing about some goober from YouTube, innit? Yeah, there he is.

Oh, he's pitch-shifted his voice so that it's all squeaky. And he's gurning and shrieking directly to camera.

God, I bet this gets annoying over an hour and a half.

I'll give it another minute or two.

Twenty-eight seconds later:


Looks like:

"Freddy Got Fingered" for tweens.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Tourist: Lost in Venice

I've got an idea for a film. It's about a fella who gets picked up by a hot chick on a train. She is being followed by international police types and is trying to make them believe that this ordinary chap is a master criminal she used to go out with who has had facial reconstructive surgery to disguise himself.

What's that? Sounds like utter toss? Well, what if Angelina Jolie is the woman and Johnny Depp is the bloke? Now you're interested! Now the scene is set for an incandescent screen-pairing of such incomparable beauty and naked sexual charisma that the very screen the film is projected on threatens to burst into flame! Right?

"The Tourist" is, unfortunately, a disappointment on all counts. It's an unfunny comedy, a plodding thriller, a romance with no spark, and a leaden farce.

Directed by Florien Heinckel von Sink the Bismarck or whatever his name is (you know, he did "The Lives of Others") with all the zest of a holiday video about an attractive but slightly dull couple, the whole thing feels like an excuse for the cast and crew to hang around in Venice for a few weeks.

Depp is unusually soulless and flat in what could've been a capering charmer of a role, and Jolie delivers a fine English accent, but little else. They are not helped by the fact that their characters are never allowed to develop beyond ciphers, simply place-holders for upcoming plot twists to be wrapped around. More on that later.

Paul Bettany pops up in a role that mainly requires him to talk on phones and hang around in offices, Steven Berkoff does a pseudo-sinister turn as a gangster who comes across more like a slightly predatory old showbiz-queen, Man-God Timothy Dalton does a two-scener, and Rufus Sewell is in it a little bit too.

The tone of the film is continually unbalanced: a scene where Depp flees some baddies over the rooftops of Venice in his pajamas comes off like a "Bourne" spoof minus any wit or panache, while the soundtrack - all punchy electro-percussion and stabbing strings - is trying to tell us we are witnessing something genuinely thrilling. The scene ends up being a turgid lope, also featuring some terrible CG matte-work, rather than a sprightly romp, reflecting the effect of the film as a whole.

So it trundles along without anything of much interest occurring, and then they start busting out the twists. When a character you thought you knew reveals a new and hitherto unseen dimension, it can be a thrilling and shocking moment. When a character who is basically a stranger to the audience does it, expect a resounding chorus of "Huh? Oh. So what?" And, without giving too much away, you can see the ridiculous final twist coming all the way from the trailer.

But we can still console ourselves with the pretty images on screen, right? Well, Venice looks pleasant enough, but Depp does an alarmingly good job of looking like a middle-aged sadsack and Jolie is so skinny that her angular head seems too big for her body and her exaggerated features appear even more cartoonish than usual. So not really much in it for the superficial crowd either.

All in all, not even as good as "Knight and Day".

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

When Projectionists Get Bored...

Projection is a job which involves a certain amount of "downtime". There is a skill to finding ways to keep oneself occupied and stave off the onset of cabin fever. Some projectionists like to carry out general maintenance or catch up on paperwork. Personally I prefer to deface the posters that adorn the walls of the booth.

Click to supersize them.

I won't take credit for this one:

Friday, 3 December 2010

How to Become a Projectionist: Episode II

I am on time for my second interview.

I am also sober.

If they liked me when I was pissed, wait'll they get a load of me with a straight head.

But what if they only liked me because I was pissed?

The interview is in a pub next to the site where the cinema will be. I wonder if this will afford me the opportunity to get drunk during the interview, but I doubt it.

The cinema itself is currently little more than a concrete shell, built and then discarded by the company responsible due to its undesirable location. They wanted to build another site out of town, where people could actually park their cars instead of having to trudge through the city centre. Council said no.

I am directed upstairs to where the interview will take place. There are tables dotted around, and a few of my fellow interviewees are already seated. They all seem to be young, attractive, student-type girls, and are deep in conversation. Presumably about hip new music and sweatbands and hair-straighteners or summat.

I sit at a table on my own.

Eventually, the cinema people come and take us to individual tables for some one-on-one hot interview action.

The little dark-haired woman from my first interview talks to me. Usual interview stuff, developing on things mentioned in part one. The only question I remember is "where do you see yourself in five years time?". I talk about wanting to make films and write and all that aspirational bollocks but, knowing that they are unlikely to employ someone who is going to just float away to dreamland like a balloon full of buoyant hope-gas, I dismiss those ambitions as hobbies and tell her I really want to be a projectionist.

She seems interested.

She tells me that they are looking for an extra hand in projection. I worry that, having two, I may be over-qualified.

She says she will mention my interest to the prospective cinema manager. I like the sound of that.

The interview goes pretty well and I eventually trundle off about my business.

I get the call. I get the job. There is some popcorn-jockeying scheduled in my immediate future. We have a couple of days induction at the hotel where the first interview took place, then I think a couple of weeks experience at another site and then we're off and running.

At the induction, I have to raise my game. I have to shift gear into Sociable-Performance Mode and act like I'm not a misanthropic junior Victor Meldrew for a while.

We are all seated around a big table (or some small tables pushed together, like a furniture megazord) and we have to do the typical, inane, getting to know you exercises, like asking some prepared questions of the person to your right and then announcing their personal information to the rest of the group in as entertaining a manner as possible.

The person to my right is a young gentleman who tells me its his birthday today. I think he's eighteen. Naturally, I therefore lead a room of strangers in a chorus of Happy Birthday. I think he wants to kill me. It gets worse when, later in the day, one of the managers who arrived late has the same idea and unknowingly humiliates him for the second time.

We are united in our fumbling attempts to familiarise ourselves with each other, forgetting names, cracking obvious jokes just to remove the tension, pretending to be interested in people's opinions. We sow the seeds of relationships yet-to-come in these induction days, relationships that, though often short-lived, would impact on us all in some way.

Future lovers meet, crushes develop, friendships are forged and prospective enemies size each other up; all of us wondering how we are going to get along, day in, day out, with this disparate band of people.

I think it's during the second day when the manager asks me to step out of the room for a moment. I have memories of being asked to leave the classroom at school, and start to wonder if some off-colour joke I made went too far. Am I to be fired before I even start the job?

Turns out he just wants to check if I'm still interested in being a projectionist. I say I am.


We are scheduled for a popcorn training day the following morning. I am to go along and learn what I can, and then the next day I am to join the two-man projection team at another site and see how I get on.

I'm pretty sure the idea is to train me in both disciplines, alternating projection and popcorn days, just in case they can't find another experienced projectionist in time for the opening of the cinema. I will take that and run with it.

We set off in a mini-bus the next morning, heading for a cinema a few towns away and feeling like kids on a school trip. I spend the day cleaning screens, sweeping popcorn up, pouring half-finished drinks into a bucket and listening to the end credits songs of "Cars" and "Nacho Libre" over and over again.

Putting some rubbish in the massive bins out the back of the building, one of the girls I'm working with tells me that her and her boyfriend were transferred from the cinema in Sheffield to work at the new cinema. Her man is the projection manager. I am to meet him the next morning.

Over four years later, the cinema we are training at will be the site of the meetings which sound the death knell on projectionism as I will come to know it.

I would never work another day as a "Guest Assistant". My career as a popcorn-jockey would last for that one single shift, but my career as a projectionist was about to begin...


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

London Boulevard: Cockney Carlito's Way

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

Career criminal gets out of prison and attempts to go straight whilst struggling against the influence of a drug/alcohol addled friend, a deranged family member and an underworld overlord. He finds solace in the arms of an unlikely lover and begins to hope for a brighter future riding into the sunset with her. Can he untangle himself from the web of violence and corruption he is entwined in, or will he be dragged down forever?

"London Boulevard" is a little bit "Carlito's Way", it's a little bit "Layer Cake", there are a lot of echoes of Guy Ritchie's oeuvre, particularly "Rocknrolla", there's a sprinkling of "Scarface" in there, a dash of "The Long Good Friday"... basically it is a pretty generic gangster flick.

The only thing to distinguish it from the teeming masses of thug-life films is the introduction of Keira Knightley as the reclusive movie-star unlikely-love interest. There is an attempt to comment on or at least address the constant oppression of celebrity, as Knightley's Charlotte hires Colin Farrell's Mitchell, a newly paroled heavy, to protect her from paparazzi and stalkers and whatnot. So it's a little bit "The Bodyguard" too. Originality is not its strongest suit.

Where the film does excel, however, is in the eclectic and electric casting and in the streaks of dry, black humour that permeate first-time director William (author of "The Departed") Monahan's script. Farrell exudes quiet menace and shadowy morality, punctuated with Monahan's patented propensity for explosions of pugilistic pub-based punchery, and has a quiet, awkward tenderness in scenes with Knightley and Anna Friel as his alky sister. His cockney accent is okay n'all. Knightley herself is fine in what is basically a supporting role, alternating between twitchy and nervous and free-spirited and alluring, but it is the backline who get the best riffs here.

David Thewlis does his usual "best thing in the movie" routine, playing a louche and lethargic associate of Knightley's who basically lounges around her house smoking dope and waxing lyrical as only Thewlis can, until his services are required in some unsavoury matters and he reveals a surprising aptitude for violence. He is almost matched in the scene-stealing stakes by his other half, Anna Friel, playing Mitchell's sot of a sister as childlike seductress: apparently airbrained and innocent, but always with one eye on some poor sap's wallet. Her uneasy relationship with Farrell, and their peculiar chemistry lend an eerily incestuous subtext to their scenes (hello, "Scarface"). Ben Chaplin makes a fine showing as another reprobate trying to keep Mitchell on the wide and winding road of crime, all twitching and sweating and cowardice; Eddie Marsan is a creepily amiable bent copper, Stephen Graham has a couple of scenes and manages to get a true Scouse "Calm down" in, Super Hans from "Peep Show" pops up on and off, Jamie Campbell Bower is unrecognisable (well, I didn't know it was him) as a cocky wannabe-rasta, Sanjeev Bhaskar is a selfless Doctor, and then there's Ray Winstone.

Winstone plays a crime-boss named Gant, who is as disturbingly unhinged as Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello in "The Departed". Winstone can do this type of role in his sleep, but Monahan gives the character a number of party quirks, allowing Winstone to grab the part with both hands and create something that feels unfamiliar even on well-trodden ground.

It is apparent that Monahan is an actor's director, gifting his performers with choice dialogue and unusual actions and giving them the reign to build something unique, but his visual style and editing choices leave something to be desired. The look of the film is indistinct but not entirely disagreeable, but there are occasional jarring edits and unusual cutaways that will jerk you out of the film for a second or two.

So a promising, if not earth-shattering directorial debut for a great screenwriter. Certainly worth a gander if you like your gangster flicks with meaty dialogue, bizarre characters and frequent violent outbursts, and worth the price of admission for Thewlis, Friel and Winstone alone. Just be prepared to be told a story that you may feel you've heard before.

Irvin Kershner: Nerd Champion!

Dear awesome movie people:

Stop Dying.

Irvin Kershner is dead now. As with Leslie Nielsen, I won't pretend to be an authority on the man or his life, so much of this will be based on hearsay and conjecture. It's just my personal reaction to the news of his death.

This is the man responsible for the best of "Star Wars" and a lot of aspects of the series that we take for granted, which were not present in the first film. Darth Vader, for instance, was a very different character under the direction of George Lucas. It wasn't until Kershner directed "The Empire Strikes Back" that Vader became the inscrutable, emotionless killer that we know him as today. Lucas directed Vader as a much angrier, more typical villain, whereas Kershner's film benefits greatly from the emotionally muted physical and vocal performance of its much more sinister and insidious antagonist. The look of Vader was iconic from the start, but Kershner made him an indelible character.

Of course, much of the production of TESB has passed into movie legend and should be treated as such, but it's hard to believe that it would be half the film it is with someone else at the helm. The legend dictates that Kersh would actually stand up to Lucas, fighting for what was best for the film over what George wanted.

This included, again legend has it, allowing Harrison Ford the freedom to improvise the single greatest line in Star Wars history after a dispute over the fact that "I love you too" would be a very un-Han Solo thing to say.

The story goes that Kersh was essentially hired by Lucas to deal with the actors whilst he dealt with the special effects. This is the way it should've stayed. If Lucas had had the sense to take a back seat on both the directing and writing as he did with this film, allowing Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to fashion a script ripe with witty, occasionally profound and always quotable dialogue, thrills, spills, drama and tragedy, then who knows how the prequels would've turned out?

Kershner's success, apparently, was the franchise's downfall, however, as Lucas was allegedly unhappy with the film. He famously claimed that it was the marketing that allowed TESB to be thought of as the best of the series when it was in fact the worst, and the myth continues that he hired a rookie named Richard Marquand to steer "Return of the Jedi", simply so he could boss him around with no back-chat.

Kershner deserves infinite props for being a consummate film-maker, even in the face of George Lucas' demands for his brain-child. Lucas was ploughing his own money into the film and still Kersh would dig in his heels. I genuinely don't believe anybody has called bullshit on Lucas on a "Star Wars" set since. More's the pity.

So here's to a nerd champion. The man who beat George Lucas at his own game. The man who directed the best episode of the Star Wars saga. Irvin Kershner.

He also made Robocop 2, but nobody's perfect.

You can read George Lucas' response to Kersh's death here.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Leslie Nielsen: Ride Forever!

So Leslie Nielsen died from complications relating to pneumonia. This is bad news.

I'm not going to pretend to be some sort of authority on him; there's plenty of other, better researched obituaries out there if you care to look. I'm just gonna mention a couple of pieces of his work that mean something to me.

Forbidden Planet

I haven't seen this for years, but I have this over-riding memory of seeing it as a kid and, due to my familiarity with Nielsen's later, silly films, being very confused as to why it wasn't a comedy. And why Nielsen didn't have silver hair. This impostor was too young and handsome to be Leslie Nielsen. He was a Captain Kirk, chiseled jaw-type, always protecting the damsel in distress and never once falling down a staircase or something. My infant disappointment is only testament to the range Nielsen has exhibited in his career. He wasn't always a goof.

Airplane!/Naked Gun

Nielsen's ascent to comedy royalty began with "Airplane!", a shrewdly cast effort from the Zucker brothers utilising mostly straight actors to deliver the deadpan ridiculousness. Along with Lloyd Bridges, Nielsen stole the show as the stoic Dr. Rumack, intoning bizarre words of wisdom and getting to answer the immortal question "Surely you can't be serious?". I have always loved this film, and Nielsen is in the top three best things in it.

The success of "Airplane!" led to Nielsen working with the Zuckers on a TV show called "Police Squad", which is probably the first time I saw Nielsen on screen. I vividly remember seeing a TV show I hadn't seen before, the scene involved a silver-haired gentleman bouncing around a giant pin-ball machine or something and flying out of a window. I was hooked.

"Police Squad" was unfortunately short-lived, but led to the creation of "The Naked Gun" series. Essentially a big-screen revamp of the show, the films are relentlessly silly fun from the barn-storming kick-off of the first (below) to the Oscar-bound, hermaphrodite revealing climax of "33 1/3".

These films do have a lot to answer for, however, as the current spate of shallow, low-brow spoof films, though influenced by "Airplane!", can be more readily blamed on "The Naked Gun" and "Hotshots!". Nielsen went a long way to elevating the silliness in these films into an art form, which is why a lot of shitty contemporary spoofs wanted him on board, too. It was almost like he legitimised stupidity.

Due South

My favourite piece of work from Nielsen is the recurring role of Buck Frobisher in the TV series "Due South". If you are unaware, "Due South" a comedy/drama/cop show about a Mountie who goes to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father and, for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, remains attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate. Nielsen plays a veteran Mountie who shows up a few times throughout the series and is very funny indeed. I remember chortling myself silly in my youth every time he shouted "Taxi!" after falling off his horse.

Watch this to the end for some strangely poignant Nielsen business:

So let's all say thanks to Leslie for the good times, and politely disregard some of the shit he's been in. After the performances mentioned above, the man has nothing to apologise for.

This is how I will remember him:

But I think he'd probably be just as happy to be remembered like this:

Friday, 26 November 2010

How to Become a Projectionist: Episode I

I'm drunk.

Not falling-down drunk. More like morning-after-5am-nightclub-departure drunk.

It's about five hours since I left the club. I'm driving. I'm late.

I've got a job interview at ten o'clock in a hotel up near the castle and the train station, and I'm not going to make it.

Driving under the influence is not cool. Even the morning after. You will be a hazard to yourself and others. Don't do it.

I really want this job, though.

I recently returned from living in Manchester for a year, working a shitty call-centre job at Ticketmaster, and am wanting for gainful employment. I had opened a local paper to discover that a new cinema was opening in town. I had applied online, first attempting the position of "projectionist", only to be told by the automatic reply that I didn't have the qualifications. I had changed tack and gone for a position as a "Guest Assistant", a front-of-house popcorn-jockey, something which the computer thought I would be much more suited to.

Hurrying into the hotel, I think I've made good time. I must only be two minutes late. They can't complain about that, can they? I still feel drunk. Not hungover, yet. Still drunk.

I approach the receptionist, trying to maintain my balance and, concentrating on my enunciation, announce that I am there for an interview for the cinema. She tells me to take a seat and they will come and get me.

I sit down. I wait. I keep waiting. I wait for a long time. For three quarters of an hour, I wait.

I don't think I would've waited this long had I not been a bit pissed.

I'm sure I must have returned to the receptionist and enquired how long I'd be waiting, but I don't remember fully.

After almost an hour, a door opens into the reception area and a group of young, attractive people are escorted out by a little dark-haired woman in glasses. I smile at her. She asks me if I'm there for the interview.

I say yes, and tell her my name.

She asks me if I was late. I say only couple of minutes.

Turns out this was a group interview and the young attractive people who were just leaving were my co-interviewees. They must have been escorted into the interview room two minutes before I arrived. My interview had been taking place without me, less than ten feet from where I was seated in the waiting area.

The woman talks to two other people in the interview room and then asks me if I want to do the interview on my own. Dutch courage says yes.

So there I go: late, keen (or weird) enough to sit and wait nearly an hour on my own, and trying for all I'm worth not to act (or smell) like an alcoholic reprobate.

The interview consists of three people asking me typical interview questions ("name an instance where you've had to solve a problem", "can you tie your shoelaces?", "what's the safest way to open a door: with your hands, or with your face?") and me desperately trying to hold my thoughts together like water in a holey bucket.

The one question that sticks in my head is "How would you make the cinema better?" or something. I tell them that I would have headphone jack-sockets installed in all the seats so that you can plug your iphone (or other non-denominational music player) headphones in and have the movie's soundtrack piped directly into your earholes, thus eradicating the problem of noisy, irritating punters in the cinema. I still think this is a good idea, even though I'm sober.

I think my drunken inability to understand the gravity of the situation is mistaken for confidence. The interview goes well.

I leave with a small amount of hope that I may soon become a popcorn-shoveller in a state-of-the-art cinema complex. I vow that I will turn up sober if I get a second interview.

I do, and I do. But it turns out that the distribution of popcorn and hotdogs and the ripping of ticket stubs was not what fate had in store for me...