Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Hole: The Return of the Family Film

I am a child of the 80s: a glorious, forgotten age when hair was big, shoulder-pads were bigger and PG-rated family films were full of swearing, innuendo, violence and horror.

Perhaps that's over-stating it a bit, but look back at some of the classic PG movies of the period and marvel at the content that would now have parents dragging their kids from the cinema screaming "MILD PERIL! IMAGES OF SMOKING! SEX REFERENCES! OH MY!".

"Ghostbusters" features plenty of ghastly ghouls, a fair amount of swears ("This man has no dick" etc), Sigourney Weaver writhing on a bed saying she wants Bill Murray inside her, and Dan Aykroyd getting blown by a ghost. PG rating.

"The Goonies" features more swears, some of them spelled out ("Holy S-H-I-T!"), a statue with a severed penis, a fat kid trapped in a fridge with a recently head-ventilated corpse, loads of skellingtons, and scenes of children in intense prolonged peril featuring danger of crushing, death by spikey pit and threat of hand-in-blender. PG rating.

Hell, even "E.T." contains the immortal moment when Elliot calls his brother "Penis-Breath"!

Compare this with PG family films in recent years, and you'll see, first of all, that there is a dearth of PG movies in general, with kids' films skewed towards the U certificate and family fare edging into the 12A bracket via fantasy violence and mild language, and that the vast majority of family films these days are CG comedies about talking animals getting into wacky scrapes and earning their PG through occasional crude humour or slapstick violence.

And so, it falls to Joe Dante to attempt to redress the balance. Dante, himself a stalwart exponent of true family films in his early career (although "Gremlins" pushed it a little too far, earning a 15 cert in the UK), claims his new film "The Hole" to be a return to the spirit of the lost time when "family film" didn't necessarily mean "film you can stick the kids in front of to get peace and quiet for an hour and a half" and, to be honest, if you tried that with "The Hole", you'd probably be putting a "Shrek" film on within quarter of an hour to try and wash away the horrific images your young uns had just been subjected to. These images have, of course, garnered the film a 12A cert on these shores, but its heart is certainly that of one of the vintage PG family adventures Dante is harking back to.

"The Hole" previewed last week and, almost straight away, customers where pulling their children out of the screen and asking to be let in to "The Other Guys" for some light relief for their terrified offspring, unable to adjust after being raised on a cinematic diet of Ben Stiller-voiced cartoon buffoonery.

"The Hole" is shit-scary.

The movie regales us with the tale of two brothers moving into a sleepy neighbourhood with their single mother. They find themselves bored and restless in their quiet new home, strike up a tentative friendship with the jailbait girl next door, and find a massive, heavily padlocked trapdoor in their basement.

Before you can say "Don't you open that Trap Door", they've opened the trapdoor. Then weird shit starts going off.

This is a horror film for kids. Apparently designed to remind us that children can deal with other emotions than just laughing when a CG animal falls over, "The Hole" goes out of its way to be genuinely creepy and rarely pulls a punch for the benefit of the fragile little minds it is aimed squarely at. There's a clown puppet which is probably the scariest thing I've seen on film in at least the past couple of years, and there's a scene involving a darkened public toilet that'll make you hold it in 'til you get home for days after the film.

The first couple of acts are masterfully constructed exercises in atmosphere and suspense, but the film loses its way a little as the story begins to reveal itself in the final act. The voyage into the unknown of the mysterious hole becomes little more than a journey into the wonky dream-house from the end of "Drop Dead Fred", bolstered with unnecessary 3D CGI.

The 3D generally works fine, with only a few "IT'S COMING RIGHT FOR US!" moments or gimmickery, and most of the effects are subtle and... ahem... effective until the over-cooked climax.

I think this film could be an important formative experience for young kids, it's scary, but carries the ultimate message that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, it features kids swearing (me and my associate nearly cheered the first time one of the brothers called the other a dickhead) as we all know they do, and there's attractive teen leads to develop confusing feelings for! It'll either kill your kids or make them stronger. Or stranger.

So, if you're a nostalgic child of the 80s longing for some retro-styled family adventure with an edge, you could do much worse than this, and if your kids were pushed to the brink of insanity by the climax of "Toy Story 3", this will boot them bawling into the abyss!

In a good way, of course.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Buried: Trapped in a Box by an Iraqi Nutjob

I've said for a long time that Ryan Reynolds can't be put in a box. Is he an action hero like in "Blade: Trinity"? A wise-cracking comedian showing up shoddy material as in "Van Wilder"? An indie-flick thespian such as in "The Nines"? Or the romantic lead of fluff such as "The Proposal"?

How excited I was, then, to hear that somebody had decided to put my theory to the test in the most literal way. "Buried" brings us Ryan Reynolds as: A Man in a Box.

Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, an American truck-driver working in Iraq, who wakes up buried in a coffin. Having never been trained by Pai Mei, he is pretty shafted. His only hope is a mobile phone that has been left in the box by his kidnappers. That's the set up, and to reveal any more would be to ruin the fun of this gripping little tale.

The film plays out like an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone" or summat, a high-concept, low-budget, in-depth assessment of an awful situation, the man stuck in it and the choices that led him there.

The simple conceit is explored brilliantly, and sustains interest through editing, some interesting directorial choices and Reynolds' raw, honest and tangible performance.

The claustrophobia of the coffin is ingeniously cranked up by Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes, with the camera ignoring the confines of the box, tracking in and out to illustrate Conroy's isolation at his lowest points. The film is structured with set-pieces built out of the simplest things: trying to turn around from one end of the coffin to another becomes a thrilling Herculean task, trying to find a point for a phone signal is a break-neck race, and when sand starts leaking into the box...

This tight and involving picture marks its director out as one to watch, displaying what is bound to be referred to as "Hitchcockian" verve with the slight premise.

Reynolds is nothing short of brilliant, going through stages of pretty much every emotion imaginable and remaining relatable, charismatic and thoroughly convincing. The same cannot be said of a couple of the voices on the phone, particularly the English chap charged with keeping Conroy calm while his people search for him. This guy almost derails Reynolds' one-man actorama by intoning his lines like a fucking newsreader.

So there are flaws. As well as the occasional voice-problems, many will claim a few of the developments too contrived to suspend disbelief (Conroy REALLY can't catch a break!), people will marvel at the subterranean phone-signal and network that allows effortless international calls, the escapologists out there will have formulated a workable escape plan within the first twenty minutes of the film and the ending will divide audiences in half, leaving some dissatisfied.

Another sticking point for some will be the potential political readings of the film. It can be seen as an attack on the American occupation of Iraq, or the callous, exploitative nature of international business in areas weakened by conflict, or the plight of the forgotten worker or yadda yadda, but I prefer to see it as a short, sharp, simple yet effective shocker with a resonant, human heart in the form of Reynolds' tortured everyman.

Remember the bit in "Die Hard" when McClane calls the police and tries to explain the situation? ("NO FUCKING SHIT, LADY, DO I SOUND LIKE I'M ORDERING A PIZZA?!?") If that scene took place in a cupboard and was eighty minutes long, it would be kind of like this film. There's a bit where someone on the phone asks what Conroy's captors are going to do if the ransom isn't paid. He says that they're going to take him to Sea World. John McClane would've been proud.

Grown Ups: Shit Selection Box

HEY KIDS! You like Adam Sandler, right? You know, that one guy who makes those movies where he plays a retard man-child who yells all the time? No, not Will Ferrell, the other one. You know?

What, you don't like him? Well, never mind, what about Kevin James? You know, that fat guy from that sitcom where he had the unfeasibly hot wife? He got slapped in the face by Will Smith in that film? Y'know?

Okay, so you don't like him either... What about Rob Schneider? You remember him from those films where he's a prostitute or something? And those other ones where he turns into stuff, like a hot chick or an animal? I think those were called "Ladyman" and "Dogboy" or something. Yeah.

Him neither? Erm... well how about Chris Rock? He's funny, right? World renowned stand-up, and well-respected comedic actor due to his turns in... erm... that one "Lethal Weapon" film... and other stuff.

What, he's funny on stage, but not on screen? Oh. Well. Well, we also have David Spade. He's the thin one who was in all those Chris Farley movies. Yeah, the less funny one. He had John Ritter killed so he could steal a sitcom off him or something. Well that's what I heard.

What, you don't like any of those people? Well shit. That's all we've got.

If you think I'm being unfair to any or all of the people mentioned above, then there's a good chance you'll be able to glean some amusement from "Grown Ups". If all that stuff seemed to speak directly to you, you'll probably hate it. It's like someone trying to sell you a selection box containing all the most mediocre chocolate bars in the world. There are one or two morsels of quality in amongst the shite, however:

The banter between the five leads is entertaining up to a point. There are moments when it seems genuine and improvisational as they all rip into each other with running jokes and routines that feel truly as if they've been going on for years. I mean through the familiarity of old friends, not because they take too long or anything.

I found the group to be surprisingly agreeable company, in spite of mostly being one-note characters lugging around a single joke: Sandler is a rich hollywood agent trying to play down his success, Spade is a drunk and womaniser, Schnieder is a sentimental new-ager with a geriatric wife etc etc.

One of the other positives is Salma Hayek. Just Salma Hayek.

The set-pieces and big jokes are mostly perfunctory and obvious, but not necessarily offensively so, and the whole thing wanders around aimlessly but remains light enough to avoid the sentimental wallowing of the worst Sandler flicks.

The "Grown Ups" all have a brood of aggravatingly precocious children, there's some kind of message about family values hidden in amongst the scenes of Kevin James falling over, and there's an incredibly patronising scene where rich, successful Adam Sandler takes pity on the losers still stuck in his home town and throws a basketball game to give them a taste of success. What a fucking hero.

Worst of all, Steve Buscemi shows up for an ill-advised and unfunny cameo, looking like he just escaped from smack-rehab. Seriously, no human being has ever looked more completely like Gollum.

So, if you're a Sandler fan, it's not his best film, but you'll probably enjoy it enough. Everyone else, it's not really worth bothering with.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Other Guys: Warm Fuzz

I was going to write a review of "The Other Guys", but can't actually bring myself to put any effort into it. It's not because the film's bad or anything, it's just the worst kind of film to review. It's fine. It's alright. It's quite good even.

And quite good just isn't any fun to write about. Awesome is fun. Shit is fun. Majestic failure is fun. Quite good is shit.

So, "The Other Guys" is pretty good. If you like Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's other films, you'll probably quite enjoy it, but it's probably not even as funny as "Step Brothers", let alone "Anchorman". Here's a quick rundown of stuff that comes to mind about the film:

Marky Mark is very amusing in a rare purely comedic performance.

Ferrell is playing the straight man for a change.

Michael Keaton has been off our screens for so long he's aged about a million years since I last saw him. He does good work here and in "Toy Story 3", so I can't see why he's been gone so long. Come back sooner rather than later, Michael!

Steve Coogan isn't in it enough and isn't funny enough.

The plot is not very involving and drags on for a bit too long.

Will Ferrell pimping isn't as funny as it should be.

This film should've been made for a "15" certificate ("R" rated), as it feels like everyone should've been swearing more. Particularly Marky Mark.

The Rock and Big Sam Jackson rock the shit, and I may be missing the point a bit, but I would rather have seen a whole over-the-top action-spoof movie about their characters than the story on display here.

It is a bit like an American "Hot Fuzz", but it's not as funny as that. Maybe because of the cultural divide. I can laugh at Simon Pegg chasing down a shop-lifting shell-suit more than I can laugh at Marky Mark shooting Derek Jeter by accident. If you don't know who that is, that's my point.

Eva Mendes is sweet and spicy at the same time.

That's about it. I smiled for most of the duration, but rarely laughed out loud. It's rib-tickling, but not gut-busting. It'll do I suppose.

Monday, 13 September 2010

31 Day Movie Thing: One Day Version

There's this thing floating around movie blogs at the moment where people write about a set 31 movie-related topics over a single month. Due to the fact I'm a lazy twat, and I've seen other folks doing it, I thought it would be easier to do them all at once. So here you go:

Sequel That Shouldn't Have Been Made:

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". It's wrong on so many levels. Nobody was desperate to see another Indy film, were they? The original trilogy is perfectly well contained, Indy rides off into the sunset at the end of "Last Crusade", and everyone is satisfied. Fast forward 20 years and Harry Ford hasn't had a hit movie in recent memory while Lucas and, to a lesser extent, Spielberg have set about defacing their former glories with "special" editions and prequels, so of course they were gonna go back and touch up Indy. It can't really be said better than this:

Movie You Think More People Should See:

"Four Lions". I watched this on DVD the other day and it is easily the funniest film I have seen in years. It's like "Spinal Tap" for terrorists. Relentlessly hilarious and surprisingly profound and touching.

Favorite Oscar-Nominated Film from a Recent Ballot:

Has to be "Up". Deserving winner of best animated film and original score at this year's oscars. It's a film about an old fella who attaches balloons to his house and flies away on an adventure involving talking dogs, giant birds, airships and bi-planes. What more do you want?

A Movie That Makes Me Laugh Everytime:

That one "Pink Panther" film where Herbert Lom becomes like a Bond villain and has a giant death-ray and that. I think it's "...Strikes Again". It features some of the greatest slapstick sequences in cinema history: The bit by the pond at the beginning (KIILL YOOU!), Clouseau and Cato fighting in slo-mo, Clouseau's Wile e Coyote-esque attempts to break into a castle, the scene in the English stately home with the treadmill and the parallel bars and the gauntlet and the hand on fire and the vase, and the scene where Clouseau pretends to be a Dentist before getting him and Herbert Lom high on giggle-gas and falling down some stairs. It's funnier than it sounds.

Movie I Loathe:

"A Beautiful Mind". Mainly because it beat "Fellowship of the Ring" to best picture, but also because it is typical Oscar-bait, movie of the week bollocks which dilutes a complex man and his disorder into shitty visual tics and cod-thriller tropes. Russell Crowe is fine, but the film is sappy nonsense designed to make a difficult subject easily palatable for dim-bop audiences.

Special mentions: "Avatar", "Twilight", "Titanic", "Braveheart" and anything combining CG talking animals with live action.

Movie That Makes Me Cry Everytime:

"The Deer Hunter" SPOILERS: This film has a strange effect on me. It's one of the few films I have ever actually cried at. Many films have wet my eyes or coaxed a single tear down my cheek, but this is among the only ones to make me openly weep (Funnily enough, another one was "Bullet in the Head", which is basically the Hong Kong version of "Deer Hunter").

The ending of "The Deer Hunter" is profoundly sad on several levels, the simple loss of a friend, the futility of war, the irony of the final "God Bless America", but I think what really gets me is when DeNiro is trying to get through to Walken during the last Russian roulette game and starts talking about their shared memory of the trees on their hunting trips back home. The moment when Walken seems to remember and cracks a little smile before pulling the trigger anyway, and DeNiro's subsequent emotional implosion, breaks my heart everytime. "One shot..."

Least Favorite Movie by a Favorite Actor:

"Gothika", featuring Robert Downey Jr. RDJ shows up in this rank pseudo-psychological horror as little more than a red herring. I say that because when I was watching it, as soon as RDJ showed up, I was all like "he must he the bad guy, why else would you cast someone so awesome in a minor supporting role?" Turns out it was when RDJ was still in the wilderness, and it is just a minor supporting role. In a shit Halle Berry vehicle. Suppose he had to go there to get back.

Movie That Should Be Required High School Viewing:

"Heathers". Everyone hates high school, but it could be worse. What better way to illustrate that than with Michael Lehmann's junior "Fight Club", which teaches us that the cool guys are usually not as cool as they seem, popular people are just as screwed up as the rest of us, and even fat-girls need friends. Plus it features the repeated phrase "Teenage Suicide: DON'T DO IT!" It's like an educational video for troubled youth!

Best Scene Ever:

Comparing scars, talking about sharks and singing in "Jaws", with this as the centre-piece:

"Jaws" is an almost perfect film, and this is its best scene. Three characters representative of different aspects of masculinity: a man of action, a man of science and the hardworking family man, stuck on a boat together. What's gonna happen? They're gonna get pissed up, act daft, open up to one another and then sing a song!

The scene plays out like a three act short film and packs more character, drama, humour, emotion, intrigue and pure cinematic craft into about ten minutes than most films manage in a full runtime. This is what Spielberg used to do.

Movie I Thought I Wouldn't Like but Ended Up Loving:

"How to Train Your Dragon". I was completely blindsided by this film, as the trailers made it look like a self-conscious, wise-cracking kids' comedy, filled with celebrity guest appearances and cutesy creatures. How surprised I was to find it a heartfelt, thrilling and amusing film. Most of the anachronistic wise-cracks that so niggled in the promos were notable by their absence, the celebrity voices were used sparingly and to great effect, and the film held some moments of true cinematic beauty in the flying scenes and the bond between a boy and his dragon.

A Movie That Disappointed:

"The Phantom Menace". The bizarre thing is that when I first saw the long-awaited "Star Wars" prequel, I actually quite enjoyed it. I remember saying at the time: "It wasn't perfect but, come on, it's "STAR WARS"! It was only later that the creeping rot of realisation seeped in and the novelty of having seen a new installment of the sci-fi fairytale wore off, leaving the cold reality of a film that is flat, dull, pompous, fun-free, terribly written, awfully acted and about as emotionally involving as watching a stranger play "Pokemon" on a DS. The subsequent two films were better, but they're still stinky arse-quack.

Best Music in a Scene:

From about 0.59 to about 1.28 in this clip:

Perfect marriage of image and sound. Special mention for the climaxes of "Last of the Mohicans" and "28 Days Later".

Favorite Animated Movie:

This is a tough one. It's almost like asking "What's your favourite live-action movie?". It just leaves too much choice. I'm a big fan of "Wall*E" and "Up", pretty much anything by Hayao Miyazaki and most Studio Ghibli in general, "Plague Dogs" and "Watership Down", "Akira", some of the Disneys like "Lion King" or "Beauty and the Beast" (although "The Emperor's New Groove" is arguably the greatest Disney film), the list goes on. For the sake of this questionaire, however, I will make a choice.

I watched a film recently called "Millennium Actress", which was directed by a fella name Satoshi Kon. Read more about him here. In honour of Satoshi Kon, my favourite animated film right now is "Millennium Actress", which blew my mind, broke my heart and lifted my spirits all at once when I watched it for the first time the other week. If you haven't seen it, do. If you have, see it again and pour a 40 on the concrete for our absent homey.

Favorite Black & White Film:

"Duck Soup". This is the best Marx Bros film, as far as I'm concerned. There's no harp solos or any other cabaret stuff that sometimes bogs the Bros down, just grade-A clowning. They are all at the top of their game - riffing, pratfalling and pissing off all sorts of well-to-do types - and there are several indelible comedic images: All the brothers dressed as Groucho and the subsequent mirror-gag, the peanut cart routine, the bunker scene at the end, and one of my favourite visual gags in history: Groucho gets a massive vase stuck on his head and Harpo draws his face on the front. Simple genius. It helps that I was a fan of "Animaniacs" as a kid, too, I think.

Best Musical:

"South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut". It could be argued that this is a spoof, but I think that the affection and understanding that Parker and Stone have for musicals is evident in the various numbers on display here. The perfect translation of TV show to cinema, the "South Park" movie goes bigger, more dramatic, more action-packed and more theatrical, and with song titles like "Uncle Fucka" you know it's got to be good.

Favorite Guilty Pleasure Movie:

I don't really get this as, if I like a movie, I don't feel guilty about it. Having said that, I watched "Barb Wire" the other night and felt a little guilty about the pleasure it gave me.

Nothing funny, I just admired the audacity with which the film targeted its audience. There's a "Star Wars"-style opening crawl, attempting to orient us in the world of the movie (a post-apocalyptic America in the grip of a civil war), and then we cut straight to Pamela Anderson dancing with her tits hanging out of a fetish outfit. Then people start throwing water on her. Then she has a go on a swing. While people throw water on her. They might as well have replaced the opening crawl with a title-card reading "This is a film about Pamela Anderson's tits."

Needless to say, I kept watching.

Favorite Series of Related Movies:

I suppose this has to be "Lord of the Rings", simply because there's no other series that covers as much ground, both literally and figuratively. By the end of "Return of the King", you feel like you've actually been on the journey with these characters (for better or worse), and each film is an emotional quest of its own, pursuing the ongoing arc of the story. It's just the most complete story ever told in three movies.

Special mentions: "Back to the Future", "Star Wars", "Indiana Jones(apart from the last one), "Toy Story".

Favorite Title Sequence:

Fight club opening sequence from yamz66 on Vimeo.

Best Movie Cast:

"The Departed". Rarely does an ensemble reach such a uniformly high-octane and constant pitch. All of the mostly male cast essay their characters as a study in flawed ideals of masculinity. Nicholson is just Nicholson turned up to eleven, and Ray Winstone sounds like a cockney, but the strength of character cannot be denied. DiCaprio and Damon deliver arguably career-best turns, Baldwin steals scenes like a pro, Sheen radiates fatherly wisdom, Marky Mark owns the entire film, and Vera Farmiga turns the token trophy-woman role from potential cipher into a plausibly conflicted character.

Even the supporters have their moments to shine. Fat, shouty Anthony Anderson delivers a rare understated performance, the Scottish geezer gets some memorable scenes and lines, including the "You're a cop" game with Drake from Aliens, the dude who DiCaprio shoots in the leg is hilarious ("it fuckin hurts!"), and the sleazily hot red-head playing Nicholson's moll is a perfect foil for his raging machismo.

A rare cinematic occasion when everyone seems to he on the same page and not one performance is out of sync with the piece as a whole.

Favourite Kiss:

"Talladega Nights". Simply because I caught the end of this film the other night whilst at my parents' house, and my Dad's old-fashioned, disgusted reaction to this kiss was almost as funny as the film itself. Gonna try and get him to watch "Brokeback Mountain" next.

Favorite Romantic Couple:

Filme "Apenas uma vez" - cena da loja musical ("Once" movie - Music Store Scene) from Eduardo Loureiro Jr. on Vimeo.

Guy and Girl from "Once". Two lost souls meet over a shared love of music and a broken vacuum cleaner. Their tentative relationship blossoms through performance, and there has never been such a subtly perfect cinematic depiction of the profound connection that can take place between people playing music together.

The gentle chemistry is probably boosted by the fact that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were actually realising their feelings for each other behind the scenes. "Once" really is a sweet little film, filled with great music, lots of heart and good humour.

Favorite Final Line:

"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads..."

Best Action Scene:

The one-taker in "Hard Boiled". Apparently somebody agrees with me, but he does insist on putting little captions on the screen, so just try and ignore them:

The Quote I Use Most Often...

"You're the doc, Doc." from "Back to the Future". To be used when deferring responsibility or authority to another, in the same manner as "Whatever you say."

A Movie I Plan on Watching...

I'm ashamed to say I've never seen "Casablanca". I could tell you what happens and quote dialogue from it thanks to a million references elsewhere in popular culture,but I've never actually watched the film. I should probably get round to it, as I hear it's quite good.

Freakishly Weird Ending:

"Society" SPOILERS: This is a creepily paranoid horror that goes absolutely nuts in the climax. It turns out that some dude from "Baywatch" was right to be paranoid as his family and neighbours are revealed to be some sort of weird amorphous monsters intent on raping/ingesting/absorbing him. Then it gets really strange.

Best Villain:

Hans Gruber. Every hero is only as good as his villain, and John McClane has never been better than when up against the sharp-suited, businesslike calculations of Hans Gruber. Rickman kicks the arse out of this part, every bit the opposite of Willis' down and dirty fighter, and sets his stall out as the go-to guy for evil, yet believably human and strangely humourous characters that he will be playing for the next three decades.

"I am an EXCEPTIONAL thief, Mrs McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite."

Most Overhyped Movie:

"Avatar". I've written enough about it here and here, though.

Movie Seen More Than Ten Times:

There's a lot of these. Many of the films mentioned in a positive light on this questionnaire I will have seen at least ten times.

Saddest Character Death:


Or "Grave of the Fireflies". If you've seen it, you know which two deaths I mean. I have only seen this film once and, fantastic though it is, it's just too damn sad for me to get further than about fifteen minutes into it knowing how it turns out.

Special mentions: (SPOILERS) Spock in "Star Trek II", Hazel in "Watership Down" (both his death scenes kill me), Boromir in "Fellowship of the Ring", McMurphy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", Nicky in "The Deer Hunter".

Scene That Made Me Stand Up and Cheer:

You know the bit in "Reservoir Dogs" when Michael Madsen is dancing around and carving up the cop? Of course you do. When I first saw that scene, I found it excruciatingly uncomfortable. I could barely watch. I was begging along with the copper as Mr Blonde tipped petrol all over him and prepared to light him up. Judging from what I had just witnessed, and the fact that the film was banned in the UK for a while, I fully expected the worst to happen. I'd forgotten all about Tim Roth. I was out of my seat with my fist in the air when Orange emptied a clip into Blonde.

So there you go. A month's worth of my unconsidered opinions. If you managed to read all that. Well done. Have a sweet. You'll have to get it yourself, though.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Satoshi Kon: Belated Farewell

Not too long ago, I saw a film called "Inception". I liked it. Then I heard a lot of talk about how it had ripped off a little-known anime movie called "Paprika". I thought, "I should check out this movie".

I watched "Paprika" and loved it. It does share themes with "Inception", but nothing that negates either film. I was so impressed with "Paprika" that I thought I should look up the previous works of the man who created it.

Turns out, I had already seen one of his films. "Perfect Blue" was made in 1997 and I remember watching it when I worked in a local branch of Blockbuster, many years ago. I have never seen it since, but there are images from it burned into my brain.

I thought "Wow. This geezer is making brilliant, mind-bending films that I and other people should be watching!", and decided to pursue his oeuvre.

A couple of weeks later, my brother told me "Satoshi Kon just died." I was like "Who he?", he was like "He directed "Paprika" and "Perfect Blue" and stuff". I was like "Shit."

Satoshi Kon died of cancer on the 24th of August this year. He was 46 years old. He began his career as a director of animated features with "Perfect Blue" in 1997 and, over a 13 year period, created four films of incomparable quality within animation and beyond.

"Perfect Blue" is a film I have only seen once, years ago, but I remember it as a Lynchian brain-bender with future-echoes of "Fight Club" and other such reality-blending identity-crisis pictures. It tells the story of a pop-singer attempting to leave her past behind and become an actress, all the while plagued by a seemingly evil doppelganger and a violent stalker. It is most remembered for a brutal quasi-rape scene that seemed to align it with anime-smut shockers such as "Urotsukidoji", but to dwell on that sequence is to trivialise and negate the various other qualities of the picture and to misunderstand the tone of the scene in question. What I recall is a troubling and indelible psychological thriller.

Satoshi Kon followed this film with an animated picture called "Millennium Actress" in 2002. Another mind-bending study of the difference between reality and fantasy in cinematic form, this time with a heartfelt emotional anchor. The life-story of an aging Japanese actress told through the fantastical plots of her movies, this is a beautiful film to behold, and the human drama is built to such a level that the endlessly inventive narrative tics end up merely servicing the emotional throughline of the plot. This is a phenomenal film, unparalleled in animation and live action. It makes me weep like a bitch.

Next up was "Tokyo Godfathers" a frankly hilarious movie about three homeless types finding an abandoned baby on the streets of Tokyo at Christmas. Kon's most linear film, this is a semi-Capra vision of yuletide hope, mixing healthy portions of cynicism and optimism as the characters bungle their way through outlandish situations on their way to try and deliver the child to its rightful parents. It's fucking brilliant.

After doing a TV show called "Paranoia Agent" (well worth a look), Kon put out another picture dealing with the blur between reality and fantasy: the aforementioned "Paprika". This was a tale of the manipulation of dreams, the ability to insert yourself into another's subconscious, and the outlandish things one can achieve in the fantasies of sleep. My only complaint with the dreamworlds in "Inception" was that, as a lucid dreamer, I didn't see any of the bizarre abilities that a dreamer can effect upon the realisation he is dreaming in the film. "Paprika" suffers no such problem. It shares the technological device that allows the intrusion on another's dream with "Inception", but the flights of fancy witnessed here are all indigenous to this film. Absurd, weird, irrational, scary, intrusive occurrences take place all the time. Dreams and reality are blended as part of the ever-developing plot.

Then Satoshi Kon started making another film. Something about robots called "The Dream Machine" apparently. Then he fucking died.

Pardon the extreme reaction, but where's the justice when a dude like this, who has had a 13 year career to make 4 fantastic films gets dead while cunts like McG and Bret Ratner and Uwe Boll are still alive and allowed to make offensively shit films?

I'm not a religious man, but if I was I would take this as further evidence that God either doesn't exist or is an absolute twat.

You can read an English translation of a Kon's final message to the world on his website here. I don't know why I find it extra upsetting that his final notice was given to him on my birthday, May 18th.

I honestly think that this man could've become the greatest anime director ever and was offering serious competition to live-action film-makers. His death is a fucking tragedy in the movie world. He made four nigh-on perfect films in thirteen years, most film-makers don't do that in fifty years.

I leave you with Kon's sign off in his final missive to us plebs:

With my heart full of gratitude for everything good in the world, I'll put down my pen.

Now excuse me, I have to go.

Satoshi Kon

P.S. I was drunk when I wrote this, so that makes it the unswerving truth and also excuses any illiteracy.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Tron: A Blast from the Past

When I was a kid, we would rent videos from the little shop in the village. There wasn't a wide selection, but my and my brother were happy with watching a "Star Wars" or "Indiana Jones" for the seventeenth time. We would get a chocolate bar or treat of some kind and settle in for an afternoon in front of some adventure film or other.

One such occasion was a viewing of "Tron". My only memory of which is that a giant face blasted a man against a wall, the man then screamed and got dissolved.

It was at this point that I stopped watching. The intensity of the agony on the man's face and his screams had shaken my childish resolve and I decided I would rather go upstairs and eat a Kit-Kat than watch a scary film.

This was most likely in the mid-late eighties. I would never watch "Tron" again.

Until now.

Fast forward twenty-odd years, and there is a new, state-of-the-art "Tron" film coming out, getting rapturous receptions at nerd-fests and lighting up the internet with groovy neon flashiness. I have lived through "Tron" references in movies and tv shows, seen the film go from box-office failure to cult film to massive summer blockbuster sequel fodder, and never once revisited it.

So, I'm in Blockbuster the other night, with my brother and my sister (my sister didn't even exist at the time of my first "Tron" viewing attempt), looking at new releases. As usual there's bugger all out, so after picking up "Kick-Ass", my brother wanders into the rapidly diminishing "Old Film" section. He sees a 2-Disc deluxe DVD edition of "Tron" that was released about eight years ago. He saw a copy of "Super Mario Bros" first, but that's not really relevant to this story.

So we go home for the traditional film night, sitting round the telly like "The Royle Family", and fire up some hot "Tron" action.

The man-dissolvey scene takes place in the first five/ten minutes or so of the film and is, of course, nowhere near as Kit-Kat necessitatingly scary as my childhood-trauma suggested. The tension of waiting for that scene to appear now released, I was entering unknown territory...

And here's the thing. Cult-favourite, well-loved, culturally significant, seminal CG movie "Tron" is a load of shit.

It starts out confusingly jumping between the real world and the computer realm, never actually establishing a world for us to engage in. Characters drift into the narrative, spouting exposition laden with techno-babble computer jargon, performances range from bad to fucking ridiculous, with only The Dude and David Warner injecting anything approaching personality into their characters, there is little logic in the plotting, the dialogue frequently has to announce what just happened or is happening due to the barrage of nonsense on screen, and the whole thing is dull, flat and uninvolving.

The only thing that sets this film apart is the look. The pioneering CGI is amusing to behold, though it renders the action scenes stilted and slow moving, and the green-screen sets and wacky costumes help define the iconic style of the film, although the fact remains that this is merely a sub-"Krull" 80s adventure film with unusual special effects.

A friend of mine said that this is how people will react to "Avatar" in twenty years time.

We put "Super Mario Bros" on after "Tron", and Hoskins and Leguizamo were infinitely better company than Bridges and his digital buddies for an hour and a half.

Let's hope they actually try to make "Tron: Legacy" a film instead of a CG showreel.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Judgement Day

The Rise of the Machines is upon us.

The other day, we got an email at work. It said that, starting early next year, the cinema chain I work for will be initiating the change to digital projection.

Projectionism as we know it will be no more.

They haven't given us a precise date, or even said what this means with regard to our position in the company, but the fact remains that our job will pretty much cease to exist.

Digital projectors are run with computers, and the programming process is easy to learn and definitely not worth paying someone a full-time wage to manage. Programming the digital projectors will become just another duty for the management team, while projectionists will have to either become something else or be terminated.

And so, dear reader, there is an axe hanging over this fair blog. The Intermittent Sprocket's days are numbered. I'm working towards a deadline, I just don't know when it is.

It's probably for the best. I've been a projectionist for four years, so maybe it's time for a change anyway.

Plus, watching films on 35mm is like watching VHS when you could be watching a DVD. The digital revolution is a positive thing. Right?

Here's a song: