Thursday, 21 October 2010

Paranormal Activity 2: Pretty Normal Activity

This is the only still I could find, so the rest of the review will contain an artist's impressions of scenes from the film.

"Paranormal Activity" was the kind of film that divided audiences pretty cleanly. Either it was a creepy exercise in low-budget suggest-o-horror which built up to a couple of big surprise shocks, or it was a boring slog through someone's unusually noisy home-movies which became more and more risible as it went along. It was a surprise hit last year, though, raking in vast wads of cash disproportionate to its miniscule budget, and so it is simple business sense for Paramount to rush out another cheap chapter in the story in time for this year's halloween.

I enjoyed the first film enough to place it in my best films of last year list, but was a little apprehensive when this sequel was announced. A lot of what made the original work was the intimacy, the self-contained situation, the simple, repetitive set-up, and the inexplicable nature of events. Something was haunting Katie and had been all her life, she didn't know why and neither did we. The rules of the sequel state that events must go bigger, the world must be explored further and there must generally be MORE. For a horror film, this usually fucks things up.

This is what happens with "Paranormal Activity 2". Rather than two people in a house, we have a father, a mother, a teenage daughter, a toddler and an alsation to play with. Rather than a single camera carried around during the day or set in the same spot each night, we have a whole series of security cameras set up within and without the house. And instead of the creepy mystery of the first film ("why is it after her? what's that picture doing there? where's it trying to drag her to?") we have a semi-prequel/sequel that attempts to explain where the demonic presence came from and applies a whole set of rules and a get out clause and then shows us what happened after the first film in an anti-climactic denoument.

The multiple cameras only serve to lessen the suspense and break the verisimilitude and atmosphere of the piece. In the first film, we are locked into a POV: whatever the camera sees, we see. This allows for a greater suspension of disbelief, as we feel we are witnessing events first-hand, raw footage with no edits. This time, the authorial presence of a spectral editor is all too apparent, as we cut to different angles to disguise special effects, or we randomly cut away from a spooky person standing in a doorway, only for them to have disappeared before we cut back. When the family is installing the cameras at the start of the film, the technician tells them that they will be recording ALL THE TIME, meaning that every time some piece of information is held back from us by the editing, we cannot help but call bullshit. When a baby is fucking levitating out of his crib, why cut to another room where NOTHING IS HAPPENING, only to cut back to him walking to his bedroom door?

This feeling of artifice is much more prevelant than in the first film, so if you had issues with the plausibility of that one, this one will not convert you. In the original, Micah was obsessive about the camera, going through each night's footage the morning after, so the characters saw everything we had seen, and we weren't left going "JUST LOOK AT THE TAPES, YOU NUMB-NUTS!". When the teen daughter in this film claims she was locked out of the house after waking with a start and hearing someone call her name, she only plays the part where the door slams shut behind her to her disbelieving dad so that he can put his blinkers on and proclaim it the wind's doing like the stupid Mayor from "Jaws" talking about boating accidents. Meanwhile all the sane people in the audience are shouting "IF YOU REWIND IT THIRTY SECONDS TO THE PART WHERE YOU HEARD A VOICE AND WOKE UP, YOU'LL SEE A SPOOKY SHADOW FALL ACROSS YOUR SLEEPING BODY AND HEAR THE TELLY GO ALL DISTORTED AND WIERD! TRY BLAMING THAT ON THE WIND, YOU FUCKING MUPPET!"

Aside from these alienating problems, the film is basically just a retread of the events of the original, but lacking any of the skilful build and the all-important element of surprise. The film falls into the typical horror-movie sequel trap of presuming that because everyone has seen the original, there's no need to attempt to build suspense, suggest things or build a dynamic. We all know what to expect, so let's get to it! Get that baby floating around! WEEE! This is not scary.

Another horror-sequel aspect that this film embraces is the lame attempts to build mythology with excessive retroactive continuity. I won't spoil it, but it's the same kind of thinking that turned Freddy Krueger from nasty child-killer to bastard son of a nun raped by a thousand maniacs, or revealed that Michael Myers was after Laurie because she was his sister. Pointless exposition for a character (or in this case entity) that becomes less frightening and less plausible the more we know about it.

And one final credulity-stretcher: the family has a mystical Mexican housekeeper who is some sort of spiritual demon-exorcist expert thing. Like a latina version of the creepy dwarf woman from "Poltergeist". So they've managed to get round the "Why would you keep filming and not just run the fuck out of there?" question that goes with first-person found-footage films, but they've ingeniously introduced a whole boatload of other problems to jolt you out of the "reality" of the film.

There are good points, however: The performances are naturalistic and convincing enough, there are a few entertaining twists on routines familiar from the first film, and a lot of mileage is got from the dog and the toddler looking at stuff that's not there. It's just the overall effect is that of somehow spoiling the original whilst not really achieving anything new.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

RED: Mirren Brings out the Big Guns

This movie can be sold on the strength of one single image:

If that doesn't do anything for you, you probably won't be impressed with this film.

RED is a comic book adaptation from the work of Warren Ellis; it is apparently not particularly faithful to the source material, choosing to use the book as inspiration for a larger story. Said story concerns the improbably named Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent played by Bruce Willis, coming under fire from the very agency he used to serve. Moses sets out to find out who put him in front of the gun with the help of some old associates and a girl from the pension service call-centre who he has a crush on.

This is a silly slice of action cheesecake with a few decent setpieces, a sprightly pace, and the chance to see some big old stars kicking arse and taking names in their twilight years.

Willis teams up with Morgan Freeman (being a bit less noble than usual), John Malkovich (being even more crazy than usual), Helen Mirren (being as supernaturally sexy as usual, but with more guns) and Brian Cox (being more Russian than usual), and they all seem to be having a whale of a time. Willis is in stoic, pursed-lips mode, rather than the wise-cracky, one-liner setting, but he makes a fine straight-man for the chaotic turns going on all around him.

TV's Mary Louise Parker is a charming innocent abroad as the object of Moses' affections, dazed and confused by every bizarre turn of events before seeming to find her feet, she makes a fine fist of a role that could've very easily amounted to little more than "Girl the lead fancies. Gets captured at the end of act 2".

The plot becomes overly convoluted and some of the narrative turns are inexplicable and contrived, but it doesn't really matter when you are only really there to see Morgan Freeman punch Richard Dreyfuss in the face, Bruce Willis and Karl Urban engaging in an office-based knock-down drag-out, Malkovich running bellowing down a street with a dynamite belt strapped to him, and Helen Mirren rocking an elegant white evening gown and SMG combo. The film delivers these superficially satisfying moments at regular intervals, keeping the drag factor to a minimum.

There are foggy patches, such as Urban's young whippersnapper agent sent after Moses. He is introduced as a cold, calculating killer, before the movie attempts to humanise him by making him a family man and a reasonable guy in a manner that doesn't quite come off. This is through no fault of Urban's - he is convincingly hard and driven, yet personable - more of a sense of uncertainty about the tone of the character which leaves us in no doubt as to the eventual resolution of his story.

The romance between Moses and Parker's Sarah is also under-developed and a little forced, with her going from terrified kidnap victim to Stockholm Syndrome a mite too easily, but the charisma of Willis and Parker individually helps overcome any structural problems or lacking chemistry.

"RED" has been slightly beaten to the punch in the geriatric action-hero and rogue-government-agents-comic-book adaption stakes by "The Expendables" and "The Losers" respectively, but "RED" is more fun than "The Expendables" and Helen Mirren is hotter than Zoe Saldana. So "RED" wins. Just.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Despicable Me: Not Quite...

I am often told that I over-analyse things; that I take movies too seriously. This brief review is going to be pretty hard evidence of that.

"Despicable Me" marks Universal's emergence into the CG family-film arena dominated by Pixar and Dreamworks, and has proved mightily successful across the pond.

The film introduces us to Gru, a beak-nosed weirdo voiced by Steve Carell seemingly channelling Bela Lugosi. He is a super-villain type, with a legion of minions and all sorts of wacky gadgets hidden in a secret HQ beneath his house. For some convoluted reason, he decides to adopt three orphaned girls and the stage is set for his softening up and learning the value of family and all that pish.

My problems with this film began pretty early on. For starters: Gru isn't a villain, he's just a bit of a nob. When the worst thing he does is build a balloon animal for a kid and then pop it (in a gag nicked from "The Mask"), it's not much of an arc for him to become a good-guy.

The trio of children, though obviously supposed to be cute and tenacious and cheeky and lovable, just made me want to punch things. If Gru was such a bad guy, I thought, why didn't he just slit their throats in their sleep? No such luck. I began to check out of the film when one of the kids accidentally vapourises the youngest one's cuddly unicorn, only for the bereft tyke to hold its breath until Gru gets her another one. And he does. He sends his minions out to get another one, instead of smacking the little chimp in the head or simply letting it asphyxiate itself.

So the rest of the film plays out kind of like one of those old, terrible Donald Duck cartoons when he's getting driven mental by a chipmunk or something and then inexplicably makes friends with it at the end. Gru spends the whole film getting pissed off by the kids, who set about ruining his life for him, before becoming unconvincingly attached to them.

Of course, this is a U-cert film aimed squarely at little kids, but still, the characterisation is inconsistent, the plotting formulaic, predictable and occasionally contrived, and the movie too often descends into forced sentimentality.

That said, there are laughs to be had, Jason Segel is amusing as Gru's nemesis, there are a couple of entertaining set-pieces, and Gru's little yellow minions have a certain silly charm, even if they are a bit one-note. All they do is jabber and punch one another.

The film is bright, colourful, and engaging enough for a little light entertainment, and will most likely keep your kids occupied, but it falls short of the high standard set recently by films such as "Up" and "How to Train Your Dragon".

Monday, 18 October 2010

Vampires Suck: Cinematic Afterbirth

It is a well documented fact that I do not like the "Twilight" series. In fact, I detest almost everything about it. So, a scattershot spoof of the movies should be right up my street, right?

Fuck off.

This is the latest cinematic afterbirth from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the fuck-knuckles behind such monumental shit-torrents as "Meet the Spartans" and a whole load of arse-belches bearing the word "Movie" in the title in what can only be an ironic sense. These are not movies. These are something a retard child scrawls on the wall in feces and then proudly points out to you.

This film is less intelligent, engaging, entertaining and, crucially, less funny than the films it attempts to lampoon. The plot follows the first two "Twilight" movies closely, sticking to the now-familiar routine of scene-by-scene rehashing over any actual attempt to make the film stand on its own.

"Airplane" used this technique to great effect, using wit, satire, absurdity, surrealism and uniformly deadpan acting to bolster the relentless gag ratio. These muppets wouldn't know satire if it pissed in their face, the gags are surprisingly slow paced, any absurdity is completely fumbled, feeling forced, self conscious and pop-culture obsessed, and there is simply not one instance of wit to be found. They change Jacob Black's name to Jacob White. Is that a fucking joke?

There is one good thing about this film, and that is Jenn Proske's bang-on Kristen Stewart impersonation. Watching this girl absolutely nail every annoying tic and twitch and gasp and sigh, I was reminded of seeing "Scary Movie" for the first time: I remember thinking "That Anna Faris is ace! What's she doing in this god-awful film?" If there's any justice, this film will soon be an embarrassing stain on an illustrious career. Unless Proske just happens to have the exact same mannerisms as Stewart. Oh, and this film makes "Scary Movie" look like a fucking masterpiece.

Usually I try to maintain a vaguely rational and objective stance in my reviews, I try not to make snap judgements or sweeping generalisations, I try to accommodate other potential points of view, but in this case:


Of course, people will say it is only a bit of harmless fun. Not to be taken seriously. It's a comedy, after all. But this is a comedy that isn't funny. There are no laughs whatsoever. It passes straight through "unfunny" and lands somewhere between "boring" and "fucking insulting". It's a movie made by unfunny wank-shafts for unfunny wank-shafts. Are you an unfunny wank-shaft? Then you're gonna love it!

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Social Network: [insert facebook related pun here]

You know, something about clicking "like" or adding it as a friend or buying the farmville or something equally hateful.

"The Social Network" trundles into town on a tractor built from rapturous reviews and hyperbolic praise, to mutterings of "A movie about facebook? Who cares?" from the general populace. I didn't want to take the hype too seriously, but I found that I did care. I always look forward to a new David Fincher film, and the cinematic superhero team-up that is Fincher directing Aaron Sorkin's script was at least interesting. That they should choose "Facebook Begins" as the topic for this collaboration was equally fascinating. How's that going to work?

The film tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg, an uptight nerd with a yearning to be somebody, who invents a social networking site for the Harvard campus and is soon swept along on a wave of friend-addage as the site spreads to colleges across America and the world.

Playing out like a rock n roll biopic, we see Zuckerberg's frustration at his lot in life, the flash of inspiration which leads him to form a band (read: group of programmers) with his best friend Eduardo in order to score chicks, the rise to fame, the corrupting influence of power and money, distrust, disagreements and ultimate implosion.

It is a masterstroke for Sorkin to have treated the material this way, elevating what could've been a mind-meltingly dull topic into a form of 21st century rock n roll. They get rich, they get groupies, they take drugs, they meet Justin Timberlake... and it is a fun journey to go on. Much has been made of the fact that the film represents a "fictionalised" account of events, but when the legend is this entertaining, print the fricking legend.

The story unfolds in flashback from hearings at various law-suits brought against Zuckerberg, bringing a tragi-comic inevitability to his rise and fall as he swiftly gets out of his depth and his almost autistic social dysfunction threatens to destroy everything. I suppose that's the big joke, that the guy who invented the biggest social-networking site on the planet is an obnoxious social-retard who nobody likes.

Zuckerberg himself has spoken out against the fabricated nature of Sorkin's script and the book it is adapted from, but that's no surprise really, because he is made to look like a proper dick.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg in much the same way you would expect him to, having seen "Zombieland" or "Adventureland" or any of his other films, but with a few hidden surprises. There is a cold, calculated detachment to Zuckerberg that starts small and grows as the film rolls, making him genuinely unsettling at certain points. Eisenberg is a naturally likable presence, however, which renders some of Zuckerberg's more shocking decisions even more surprising. It's as if you can't believe he's actually doing these things. But then, maybe he didn't?

Future-Spidey Andrew Garfield pretty much steals the show as Eduardo, the friend who stumps up the money to kick things off, but soon finds the project and Zuckerberg spiralling away from him. Garfield makes him the heart of the film: funny, likable and entirely convincing in both comedic and dramatic scenes. Web-Head's in good hands.

The other corner of the big triangle is one Reverend Justin Timberlake. Timbers has had a few sneers for his film career thus far, but he's never particularly bothered me. I thought he was good in "Alpha Dog". Here, he's actually excellent as Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster, filling the role of the manipulative manager who muscles in and starts whispering "you don't need the rest of the band" to the lead singer. JT is charismatic, savvy, eccentric, conniving and a little bit camp in a role that should silence all but the most resolute naysayers. The dancing fool done good.

Honourable mention should go to Rooney Mara, playing the girl who sets Zuckerberg on his path by breaking up with him in some smart, quick-fire digressive dialogue in the first scene. She only has a few scenes, but makes an impact in all of them, managing to come across as sensitive and scathing at the same time. She's also one of the few voices of reason in the film, continually calling Zuckerberg out on his delusions and shortcomings. When, in the aforementioned opening scene, she emphatically calls him an asshole, both we and he know that she is right, and that that knowledge will hang over us for the rest of the film.

She must've made an impact on Fincher as well, as he cast her as the female lead in his upcoming "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" remake. Good for her.

And what of the man putting the words in these people's mouths? Much has been made of Sorkin's ear for machine-gun repartee, and that is very apparent here. He has a way of writing dialogue that seems natural in its cadence and erratic structure, yet at the same time is too clever and witty to be quite real. The flashback narrative design works a treat as well, allowing for multiple narrators and a lot of interaction between the narration and the onscreen image. Judging from the topicality, the verve for dialogue and the dis-jointed structuring, I would be surprised if he's not at least nominated for best adapted screenplay at the Oscars next year.

Seated behind the wheel of the "Social Network" movie fun-bus is my main man David Fincher. Finch's usual knack for gloomily beautiful visuals, sharp edits, black comedy and intense drama are all present and correct, but this is possibly his least visually flashy film yet, choosing to let the dialogue and the performances do the work rather than zooming the camera through a tea pot or something. More power to him.

It's worth noting, however, that there is a special effect in this film of such subtle brilliance that I'm almost loathe to point it out. I'm going to, though: A geezer called Armie Hammer (hilarious name made all the more hilarious by the fact that Armie is short for Armand. His parents must've loved toothpaste) plays the Winklevoss twins, siblings who sued Zuckerberg for stealing their idea and repackaging it as facebook. It is the most seamless dual-performance I have ever seen, with both twins having subtle differences in persona and appearance, and you CANNOT SEE THE JOIN. Apparently they had a body double, so it was only a digital head-replacement job, but the result is probably the greatest special effect in cinema history, and no one's gonna notice. Except the people we tell about it. Or those who read the credits at the end. Or on the IMDb.

If I had to pick a flaw in the movie, I would say that the ending felt a little abrupt, but on reflection, I see that it couldn't've been more perfect.

So give it a shot, whether you are a facebook-phobe or have like 50 million points on Mafia Wars or something, the characters and the zest of the film should be enough to keep you watching.

That's how a film about the invention of facebook works. Really well.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Wall Street: Not Worth it

I have only seen the first "Wall Street" film once, about ten years ago. I remember quite enjoying it, and a few things have stuck in my head ever since: the scene where Michael Douglas' hilariously comic-book monikered Gordon Gekko gives his "Greed is Good" speech, the scene where Charlie Sheen gets arrested and breaks down as he is led through his offices with his co-workers looking on, and the bit where Sheen and Douglas meet in a park or something and all Gekko's seedy menace explodes in a couple of punches to Charlie Sheen's mush. That's about it.

So I wasn't chomping at the bit for this sequel. Oliver Stone hasn't made a good film in a long time, Douglas is all but retired, and young lead Shia LaBeouf is more at home dodging giant robots than engaging in insider trading. How good could it be?

The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is "not very".

The film is overlong, dramatically uninvolving, and bogged down in the machinations and vernacular of a world that most of us have nothing in common with and cannot relate to.

If you're interested in money and stocks and shares and stuff, then this may appeal to you the way that "The Fast and the Furious" appeals to petrol-heads, but I was left to amuse myself by chuckling at Oliver Stone's attempts to keep me interested and informed by having little animations appear whenever the cash-chat got too complex. It's like watching a financial advert from L'Oréal: "Concentrate girls, here comes the science part! Wall St. 2: your money's worth it!"

The flat drama isn't helped by the generally inert performances. Cutey Carey Mulligan seems to spend the whole film with big, fat tears rolling down her cheeks, Douglas feels like a shadow of his former self (which is perhaps the point, but it's not a lot of fun to watch), to the point where, during a Gekko speech, LaBeouf has to announce to the audience something like "this guy's awesome", because what he's saying is thoroughly un-gripping to us, but we need to know it's impressive to the characters.

LaBeouf himself isn't all that bad. He isn't all that good, playing simply a less nervy and wisecracky version of his usual persona, but this is another cinematic failure which shouldn't be solely blamed on him, but probably will be.

Josh Brolin is appropriately oily, but bears the extra menace of looking like he would beat the shit out of you if you didn't do business with him, Eli Wallach is hilarious in a tiny recurring role, and Frank Langella is suitably morose and pitiful as a past-it broker.

The plot drifts along relatively aimlessly towards an all-too-predictable twist, and then inexplicably twists back on itself to deliver one of the most deliriously inappropriate happy endings of all time. Why spend so long establishing the essentially selfish nature of "the game between people", only to inexplicably pussy out in the last five minutes?

Add to this the typically overwrought stylistic tics that Stone throws at you, and you have a movie so tonally imbalanced as to be completely ludicrous. When LaBeouf is in a public toilet and the spectre of his mentor appears over his shoulder like fucking Obi Wan Kenobi checking out his junk, I was guffawing like a deficient. LaBeouf may have been at the sink at the time, but my mind says urinal.

Oh, and Charlie Sheen pops up for a cameo which amounts to little more than a facelift-off with Douglas for two minutes. It's not funny. And Stone himself is in it a couple of times. He looks like he eats children.

The Town: Long Live the New Affleck!

Remember Ben Affleck? You know, the guy from that Jennifer Lopez video? He was the anodyne, boyishly handsome one in "Pearl Harbour". The one who wasn't Josh Hartnett? He was responsible for some of the biggest laughs in "Armageddon", some intentional ("leaving on a jet plane...") and some not so much ("HARRY, I LOVE YOU!")? You remember him, right?

Well, he's dead.

Someone's killed him off and replaced him with a bigger, meaner, harder, smarter facsimile. This impostor writes and directs gritty, punchy, old-fashioned crime dramas and acts the shit out of the lead in his latest effort, "The Town".

The Affleck is dead. Long live The Affleck.

It may be a bit reductive to snipe at Affleck's earlier works, as he was certainly not without promise, but it is only since he stopped trying to be a movie star that he has begun to really flourish. "Gone Baby Gone" was an intricate and exciting little thriller, set in a grimly authentic Boston slum, and featuring solid performances from an all-rounder cast headed by a toughed-up Affleck. That was Casey, of course.

"The Town" is essentially more of the same. Set in a Boston district called "Charlestown", where bank-robbery is a vocation handed down from father to son, it tells the tale of a group of robbers who take a girl hostage only to find, after they've released her, that she lives a couple of blocks away from them. Affleck's Doug takes it upon himself to scope her out and see what she knows and, of course, they embark on an ill-advised and worse-fated affair.

The set up is rather typical, and the plot points and structure can feel a little formulaic - even coasting dangerously close to the old romantic-comedy cliche of "can a relationship based on a lie survive the revelation of said lie at the end of the second act?"- as events unfold in a generally expected manner, but this succeeds on strength of acting, dialogue, atmosphere, and some thrillingly mounted robbery sequences.

Affleck leads the cast with what is almost definitely a career-best performance. The movie-star charm shines through once or twice in the more romantic scenes, but for the most part Affleck is stoic, gravelly-voiced, intense and, let's be honest, FUCKING HUGE. He's always been a big lad, our Ben, but here he's buffed up to the point where he dominates the screen like some sort if human obelisk. When he tells his mate "we're going to hurt some people", you can fully believe him. It's not a transformation as extreme as DeNiro getting all fat, or a theatrical disguise such as Johnny Depp favours, but it is a subtle and brilliant performance, the greatest triumph of which is the indefinable moment when you stop thinking "That's Ben Affleck" and start to only see the character, a living, breathing human being.

He's ably assisted by future Avenger Jeremy Renner as Jem, the resident Joe Pesci in this group of Goodfellas. Though the character may be the stock Begbie/Johnny Boy loose cannon destined to go off in Doug's face, Renner makes him incredibly watchable, by turns jovial, sinister, coldly calculating and prone to explosive violence, Renner manages to keep him real. Of particular note are an excruciatingly tense sit-down outside a restaurant, and Jem's violent dejection at Doug's announcement that he intends to leave Charlestown, which leads to one of the most amusingly authentic fights I've ever seen on a cinema screen.

The small female presence in the film is equally strong, thanks to Rebecca Hall's confident-yet-fragile performance as the slightly idealised banker with a heart (she does volunteer work! She tends an allotment!), a role which could easily have become a cipher. Her English accent does slip through occasionally, but it is only a minor scratch on the surface of a very respectable turn.

Hall is backed up by someone called Blake Lively as Jem's sister and Doug's sometime fuck-buddy. Lively is apparently from something called "Gossip Girl", which I have never seen and probably never will, but here she is utterly convincing as a wreck-head single-mother, dressed like a cheap hooker and drawling her lines like she's not been in her right mind in ages. Judged purely on this appearance, she is a talent to watch.

The supporting cast is rounded out by John Hamm from "Mad Men" (there are people other than Christina Hendricks in that show? I was not aware.) and grizzly old Pete Postlethwaite. Hamm is sturdy, giving layers of intelligence and determination to another stock character - the dogged FBI agent - while Postlethwaite is, surprisingly, the weak link as a crime boss known as The Florist, delivering a theatrical performance at odds with the natural tone of the film. And his Irish accent's pretty shit.

Oh, and Chris Cooper is typically great in an understated one-scener.

All this performing is anchored by the sharp writing, fleshing the characters beyond their types and the genre's conventions, and an intimate and genuine visual style.

When things kick off, the action is handled in much the same matter-of-fact manner as the dialogue scenes, lending a sense of immediacy and believability to the frantic shootery.

So, it's a great character piece with some tense action built on a slightly cliched crime-drama skeleton, and a resounding confirmation of "Gone Baby Gone"s suggestion that Affleck is a director to be taken seriously. Well worth a peep.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Back to the Future is Back!

We started showing a remastered digital print of "Back to the Future" last weekend. Here's a film that I omitted from my lament for true family movies , but one that fits the criteria perfectly.

Made slap in the middle of the 80s, the film is a PG comedy involving swearing, sex references, incest references, violence, rock n roll, implied drug use, attempted rape, voyeurism, reckless driving, dangerously imitable skateboarding and an eccentric old man who hangs around with school kids.

It's also one of my favourite films. Ever.

There is always the danger with fond cinematic memories that they can be unconsciously rose-tinted as time passes, causing a sense of disappointment upon revisiting them. BTTF suffers no such memory/reality discrepancy. It's every bit as light, funny, exciting and clever as you remember it being all 500 times you saw it before.

If you haven't seen this film, first of all SHAME ON YOU, and second of all: go and watch this rerelease immediately. If you need to know, it involves a kid from the 80s (Mickey J Fox) going back in time to when his parents were teenagers and getting himself into all manner of scrapes whilst trying to ensure his folks get together and he doesn't fade from existence.

Everything about this film is perfect. The cast are uniformly hilarious, delivering perfectly judged turns each as memorable as the next. Crispin Glover is monumentally but convincingly sweet, strange and awkward, Lea Thompson is innocent, naive, headstrong and sexy all at once, Thomas F Wilson is simply the last word in cinematic meathead school bullies, Christopher Lloyd brings the crazy but never loses Doc's heart, and MJF is one of the funniest, most charismatic and convincing twenty-odd year-old teenagers ever. It's bizarre to think that there's a version of this film in some parallel universe where Eric Stoltz is playing Marty McFly and, by all accounts, not being very good at it.

The effects, although a little rusty now, still do the trick, the movie clips along at a perfect pace, delivering economic set-ups and cheer-inducing pay-offs at regular intervals, and Alan Silvestri's score infuses the action with a thrilling epic adventure feel.

Add to this the fact that Marty raises the roof in one of the finest musical moments in cinema history, running through thirty years of rock n roll guitaring in one amp-smashing, power-sliding rendition of "Johnny B. Goode", and you have the ultimate sci-fi fantasy family comedy adventure musical thing.

"Back to the Future" was, of course, followed by two marginally inferior sequels (funnily enough, the flying-car future of part two was only set five years from now), but the trilogy as a whole remains one of the most consistently entertaining movie franchises of all time.

So don't miss your chance to see this shiny new print in super hi-def with face-smashing surround-sound! If your kids haven't seen it, take them and they will thank you for introducing them to their favourite movie!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Sir Michael Caine Loves My Work

See? And no it doesn't say "A rue young wok".

So this is how it went down. After a hard day's being made redundant, I like to unwind by sitting in a sports hall with 700 other people and listening to an old geezer do the anecdotes about his hollywood life.

This is what I did on Monday. Michael Caine has a new autobiography out called "The Elephant to Hollywood" (the "Elephant" part referring disappointingly to Caine's old manor of Elephant and Castle in London and not to a "Temple of Doom"-style pachyderm trek to tinseltown) and is touring the country doing a bit of talking and stuff.

So he comes on stage and immediately spots me sitting in the crowd. He recognises me. Says he reads the blog. I am a bit confused by this, as I have no pictures of myself on this site. He rushes into the audience, punching people out of the way with surprising force for his advancing years, and grabs me in a big bear-hug. He says what an honour it is to meet me. There are tears in his eyes. He pushes a copy of his book into my hand, and writes me the above message with a glowing smile. Then he shakes my hand and goes back to the stage. The show must go on.

This is totally how it went down. It was a personal and meaningful exchange between two artists. This wasn't one of those things where the plebs queue up for an hour just to get a glance and a smile from a celebrity as they scrawl a pre-arranged-by-post-it-note message on the inside cover of a copy of the book they're hawking. How cynical are you?

In all seriousness, Sir Mickey Caine was a delightfully amusing host for the hour or so he was onstage, even managing to respond to a bellowed demand of "SAY IT, THEN!" when talk turned to "The Italian Job" with dignity and humour.

My actual "meeting" with him went something like this:

I handed my copy of the book to a lackey.

The lackey handed it to another lackey.

The lackey slid it in front of Maurice Micklewhite.

Maurice read the message I had requested aloud: "I love your work?"

I spoke up: "It's a message from me to you, which I would like you to reciprocate by writing it in the book."

Maurice said: "Well, I do love your work", scrawled some vaguely intelligible words to that effect on my copy of his book, before passing it to another lackey who finally passed it back to me. The whole transaction took no more than about twenty seconds. I didn't feel cheated, though, as I had actually got him to acknowledge my existence and almost say more than six words directly to me, which was more than most people managed.

He's signing so fast he's a blur!

I don't take this as Caino being rude or anything, he's just an old geezer who had had a long day, was tired, in a hurry (something about a helicopter pad closing. Oh yeah, he arrived by helicopter.) and was trying to make sure everyone got their book signed, so no time for a chin-wag. The interview we had seen earlier was more than enough engagement with the man himself, amusing and entertaining with name-dropping tales and self-deprecating anecdotes. I haven't read the book yet, but if it's owt like his public speaking, it should be highly amusing.

If you get chance to see him on this book tour, do so, cos he'll probably be dead soon. He's pretty old now. As for the book, you can probably get it on amazon, but I'm not posting a link. I'm not a fucking prostitute. Yet.

The End of All Things

So we set out on our quest.

We journeyed far, to a mysterious retail park on the edge of a magical city.

We had a McDonalds, and we saw that it was mediocre. I became disoriented by the sterile white furniture and symmetry.

We smoked outside a majestic twelve-screen cinema.

We went in.

We waited.

We were led into Screen 6.

We were told a load of stuff we already knew about why the overlords of our company saw fit to replace us with robots. Basically: It makes business sense. And it does.

We were then told what we all (well, most of us) expected. As soon as the digital installation at our site is complete, every member of the projection team will be made redundant.

When this happens, we have four options:

Apply for a single available management position which means dealing with customers and staff and cash and such, but also dealing with the greatly reduced projection workload a couple of days a week.

Apply for a team-leader position, which basically means you're a lackey for management, doing pretty much the same job for less pay.

Become a popcorn jockey.

Accept redundancy and walk.

We were told that the company didn't want to lose us, that it would do everything to "re-deploy" us in positions we were suited for. I voiced my concern that institutionalised projectionists are not suited for very much else, particularly anything involving dealing with the public. I told them I would be like Brooks in "The Shawshank Redemption", who can't function in the real world outside the safety of the prison walls.

I was told that I could be retrained. If I had a problem with customers, why not go downstairs on an evening and mingle with them? Basically, I was told to get used to it, cos I was heading down to ticket-tearing hell whether I like it or not.

Much was said about the method behind all this. Making projection teams compete for a single management place, demoting projectionists to front-of-house whilst, at this point, being unable to say whether they would receive a pay cut, it all seems a little insensitive, right?

We were told that this is more than projectionists in certain other cinema chains were given. They just found out they didn't have a job anymore.

My boss said it was like somebody telling you they were going to kick you in the balls before they did so.

It's surprising how little we have actually been told, though. They don't know what the redundancy package is yet but, as was pointed out during the meeting, we recently signed a new employee handbook which apparently omitted reference to any redundancy arrangement. Really should start reading those things.

They don't know exactly when the change-over will start (early next year, they said), they don't know which order the sites will be converted in, so we have no idea when our jobs will cease to exist, they don't know how much notice we'll be given when our site is scheduled for conversion, we've basically just been told our number could be up anytime in the next year.

This all comes, of course, with the promise that this is just a business plan and is yet to be finalised, so if we have any alternative suggestions or a better business model to present, we may do so by wednesday. We're projectionists. How the fuck can we argue with a business plan researched and developed by number-crunching stat-fetishists with their eye on the bottom line?

The fact of the matter is, we can't. As I keep saying, it makes absolute business sense for the company to move forward with this plan. Their obvious awareness of this made all the platitudes we were being fed all the more patronising.

When you're looking at a presentation that climaxes with the company saving tens of millions of pounds, it's hard to argue that they shouldn't go through with it because a tiny fraction of that will be saved by them not having to pay your wages anymore.

See if you can guess which of the aforementioned four options I will be taking?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Guest Post: Laura's Worst Film

I engaged in a blogging challenge with Laura over at Small Doses of Bigger Things. The idea was that I would suggest a topic for her to blog about and post the result to my blog and vice versa. You can see the short story I wrote for her here.

My demand was that she write about the worst film she ever saw. She chose a film that I believe is much unfairly maligned, so expect a defence of it from me some time in the near future.

Until then, enjoy Laura's review and pop over to check out the rest of her blog. She's just getting started and is actually trying to do something useful with her space on the internet, unlike most of us!

Oh, and I might make this a semi-regular thing if anyone's interested. Leave me a comment if you fancy venting about your most hated (or beloved) film of all time from my webspace, and we'll talk!

Heeeeere's Laura:

The Year 1995 -The Event....

The Blockbuster movie everyone’s been waiting for.

Seat gripping, teeth grinding, all out heart-stopping adventure-filled, action-packed most suspensful super movie of the summer...complete with 2 hours and 15 minutes of…..

Yep, you guessed it, Water!

By now you are probably wondering, “What is she going on about?” Here’s a clue…Waterworld. Okay, maybe I gave it away but unlike this movie’s never-ending blather to get to the point, I didn’t want to leave you “drifting into the sea of boredom” like I was when I watched it.

Allow me first to say, although I completely despised “Waterworld” for its lackluster of acting ability, coupled with downright ludicrous scenes of ridiculous mayhem, it did have some good moments. The overall concept was interesting, the special effects were somewhat creative, and the imagery of the ocean was captured beautifully, (as many times I found myself day dreaming about the houseboat I want instead of actually watching the movie). Not to mention Dennis Hopper, who played Deacon, the ringleader of the bad guys, he depicted exceptionally well; considering the writers seemingly limited ability to string a sentence together.

Good stuff aside, let me get to the reason I’m writing about this truly awful movie. This was a challenge to me from “TheUnwashedMass,” another blogger here on, whose challenge was for me to write about the worst movie I ever saw. Waterworld takes the prize. So on with the “review.”

The opening scene gave me that overwhelming desire to hurl and the sea sickness hadn’t even begun. Kevin Costner, the lead character, “Mariner,” opened this film by urinating into a plastic container and pouring it into some purifying device so he could drink it. EEWW! All I could think was; if you can purify your piss, why can’t you purify the water from the ocean?

I guess you could say I’m not much of a Kevin Costner fan. Throughout this entire movie-as with all his other movies, he has no facial expression. There is no emotion whatsoever in his feeble attempt at fear, shock, surprise, anger, remorse, pain, etc…In every scene he looked like this...

(unless his mouth was open). It makes me wonder if he had some Botox or plastic surgery procedure to keep his face from showing emotion-It’s a little creepy. Not to mention his monotone voice, which I swear he uses to send subliminal messages “You must keep watching, don’t turn away,” repeatedly, as I wanted to run out of the theater screaming for the box office to refund my money! And by the way, he is also equipped with gills and webbed feet. I’m guessing the film needed to have some form of cinematic mutation to keep things “afloat.” His only redeeming quality was he did look good in those tight pirate-inspired pants.

Roughly 33 minutes into the movie, while I’m patiently waiting for the plot to thicken before getting “submerged” in my thoughts of how to make him at least wince, the action begins. Boats, jet skis, a plane, (wait...what?!) as well as arrows-of-fire and ammunition. (I’m still confused about the plane, but ammunition too?) It’s the “Smokers” (the bad guys) coming to visit the trading station in a less than amicable manner. During the first 33 minutes we are briefly made aware of the pre-teen girl with a tattoo of a map on her back (which by the way is just wrong….who does that to a child?) Anyway, after several minutes of this battle and Mariner escaping with the girl “Enola,” played by Tina Majorino, and the leading lady “Helen,” played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, we finally get some sort of clue to the plot.

Apparently Enola is being hunted by the Smokers for her tattoo because it is a map to dry land; something no one has seen or touched in hundreds of years, since Earth sank to the bottom of the ocean. The Smokers wanted the map. Helen has been protecting Enola, but we really don’t know why or where Enola even came from, or how she got to the trading station, and for whatever reason, Enola can’t swim…UH HELLOOOO….water movie!

Perhaps the most disappointing factor of this movie is why Helen has to be such a helpless and stupid character? Seriously? In one of the scenes as the Smokers are chasing them…in a plane, while the trio (Mariner, Helen, and Enola) are on a boat, Helen asks the dumbest question, “Can’t we outrun them?” And not only does she ask one dumb question, she asks several more. The script was obviously written by some obsessive compulsive man with an irrational view that women should be barefoot and pregnant, while the man does the hunting/gathering. (Absolutely caveman in philosophy, if you ask me… Me hunt, you cook! Grunt –grunt.) Long before the end of the movie, I think my eyes were terminally stuck in my forehead from rolling them at her crappy role. (I do hope something better came along for her.)

A little background on the bad guys: They were affectionately known as “Smokers” because they….well they smoked cigarettes? There were so many questions regarding these kinds of things that my head felt like it would explode at any given second. Where did they get the cigarettes, there was no land to cultivate tobacco on. Better yet, later in the movie Deacon is throwing boxes of them into his crowd of followers. Here’s the thing though, the earth has been buried at the bottom of the ocean for hundreds of friggin years! Even cigarettes wrapped in boxes with cellophane won’t survive the water that long. Yes, logic says they swam to the bottom of the ocean and retrieved many earthly things including war toys, the plane, and booze, but cigarettes? Really?

Time for more action, or the threat of it anyway…Mariner took Helen to the bottom of the ocean to show her the earthly goods. By took her, I mean she climbed into a plastic bubble contraption and he dragged her down with a rope, meanwhile leaving Enola alone on the boat. No surprise what happens next; yep, the Smokers come by for a not so friendly visit and board the boat. Mariner and Helen rise out of the water to be taken hostage and killed if they don’t divulge where Enola is, as by now she has gone into hiding. Neither Helen nor Mariner speaks and Deacon threatens to shoot them both if she doesn’t appear. While Deacon fires bullets into the air, Enola suddenly appears screaming “No” and blows her cover. A fight breaks out and Mariner’s boat is set ablaze, and Enola is taken by the Smokers leaving Mariner to save the day.

Just when I thought this couldn’t get any worse…Mariner plays the “lone-hero.” He ventured out from his newfound ship and located the enemy. As he boarded their ship alone, he was battled by guards, while Deacon was giving a speech to his freakish followers (By the way, this was probably the best line in the movie) proclaiming, “We shall suck and savor the sweet flavor of dry land.” Again, the writers leave something to be desired but Dennis Hopper made this rather amusing.

Mariner does save Enola, after more fighting and then blowing up the ship with a flare, as he dropped it into the oil pit of the ship. They escape in the balloon…(yeah, just go with it) but wait, not before Deacon grabs the rope they are being hoisted from. Deacon grabbed Enola by the foot and she struggled and kicked almost losing her grip. From inside the basket of the balloon, Helen throws a bottle hitting Deacon in the head forcing him to lose his grip and fall back into the water. Mariner and Enola climb to the safety of the balloon but Enola gets knocked off the edge when Deacon fired his weapon and she fell back into the water, where Deacon and two of his cronies were waiting to snatch her again. Mariner once again playing the lone-hero, ties a rope to his ankle while his helpers tie the rope down to the balloon. He dives off the balloon headed for the water, sweeps Enola out of the water and is…wait it wasn’t a rope, it was a bungee cord and they are bungeed all the way back to the balloon. During which time, the jet skis collide, sending Deacon and the other two Smokers into the air in a huge ball of fire.

We have finally arrived to the end result of this movie but let me just ask; what part of any of this is believable? I know it’s a movie and made for entertainment purposes but c’mon the audience (me) is fighting boredom! I am still not really sure why I watched it, other than to appease the person I was with at the time, being this was 15 years ago (though I did have to watch it again to write this review). We still don’t know how Enola got to the trading station, though we finally know that dry land is where she came from. Now, I won’t give away the rest of the movie, because some may not have seen it, but I will say this…Bring a snorkel and some flippers, just in case you want to survive the drowning effect of the boredom you might experience while watching this dreadful joke of a movie.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Summons

Our presence has been demanded.

The cinema company I work for has initiated a series of crisis meetings, ostensibly to decide the future of projectionism, but seeming more like a method of patronising us into thinking our opinions count in what is essentially a no-brain business decision.

Me and my boss have been told we have to attend a meeting on Monday in a town about a half hour train journey away, and that the information which will be imparted is of such a momentous and sensitive nature that it cannot possibly be communicated via phone or email or even hinted at in advance of the meeting.

We've been sent for.

And anyone who's seen "Donnie Brasco" knows what that means.

They're going to kill us. Our usefulness has run its course and they are going to gather all the institutionalised protectionists together in one place and wipe them out in one fell swoop. It's their final solution.

Should I not post again, I ask only that you think of the projectionists from time to time. They weren't such a bad lot.

Remember them.