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...


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Unstoppable: Training Day

I made a train joke.

Somewhere out there, amongst the infinite possible alternate dimensions created by every tiny chaotic variation of the multiverse, there is a version of "Unstoppable" which stars Ethan Suplee and TJ Miller as two bumbling railyard attendants, one fat and stupid, one cocky and stupid, who have to chase after a runaway train carrying explosive chemicals that they set loose in a stupid parade of stupid stupidness. With hilarious consequences.

Unfortunately, this is not that universe, and the disaster-causing idiots are swiftly relegated to the sidelines of the film as some more "interesting" (better looking) people take control of the situation.

This is the new high-concept, low-logic smash-attack from Tony Scott and his muse Denzel Washington. Washington and little Captain Kirk play veteran and rookie train drivers, respectively, who are out on the tracks when idiocy sets a half-mile long train barrelling towards them and their hometown. Do you think Denzel and Kirk are gonna take any shit from an irate locomotive? Hell no! So they set out to run it down, hop aboard, stop the unstoppable train and save the day.

That's about it.

It's a typically concise film for Scott, minimal characterisation (Denzel is a struggling single father who has forgotten his daughter's birthday, Kirk is a young husband with jealousy issues and a strained relationship with his Mrs), fast-pacing hurrying us past the ludicrously contrived set-up (the train is loose! It's full of explosives! there's a train of school-kids on the track! And possibly a basket of kittens!), and frenetic editing and jittery camera-work to set your teeth on edge.

It's all handled in a perfectly workman-like manner, with Scott going through the motions, Denzel and James T. playing flawed everyman characters they could do in their sleep, and the plot unfolding in a familiar and predictable way.

There's a pretty railway controller type person on the other end of the radio (Rosario Dawson) and the typically clueless authority figures who are there to worry about how much a crash will cost and try to tell Kirk and Denz not to play the hero and all that. The obligatory 'sticking it to the man' scene is triumphantly amusing, however.

What keeps the movie afloat is the earthy star-power of Kirk and Denz, manly men both, finding a burgeoning chemistry from initially frosty interactions. They could both carry a film like this single-handed, but together they have an almost incandescent appeal.

The rest of the film is not up to their level, unfortunately, as Scott ploughs through a few fairly humdrum stunts and set pieces before wrapping it all up in a perfunctory and unspectacular climax. Let's just say the title is a complete misnomer.

The best thing about the whole affair is the fact that the train roars. In a "Duel"-style effort to suggest the beast in the machine, Scott has his sound designers dub grunts, growls and roars over the mechanical clattering of the train. It's like Thomas the Tank hulking out. I laughed a lot at this, but I'm easily amused.

Ultimately, its not really worth bothering with. It's another of the Scott/Denzel films that doesn't really serve any purpose and never properly kicks off the way "Man on Fire" did. It'll pass an hour and a half well enough as a rental or a tv-watch, but it's not really worth running to catch.

I made another train joke.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Harry Potter: Coming of Age

I greeted the announcement that the "Deathly Hallows" novel would be sliced in half for its cinema outing with such typically cynical sneers as "Warners are just frightened that their cash cow is being put out to pasture and are milking it for all it's worth. I bet they'll make it 3D n'all!", and "the first film will be dull as ditchwater, nothing happens until the end of the book!".

Warners have since decided against 3D for this installment, claiming they didn't have enough time for the conversion, and the movie actually managed to smack down my jeering derision.

I think this is the best Harry Potter film yet.

Now, that may not be saying too much, as the previous films have ranged from dull essays on the source material, through passable attempts at cinemising the often absurdly involved world of JK Rowling, to entertaining family adventure fare, and on into goofy, directionless teen comedy. "Deathly Hallows" feels different. It feels like a film.

This change is apparent from the outset, as the typical foggy logos make way for a pre-title sequence that is both emotional kick-off and statement of intent. We see Harry's fat-head family bundled out of their house because it's "not safe anymore", minus the muted reconciliation of the book, and we meet Hermione's parents for the first time, only for her to zap them with a brain-fucking spell that erases her from their memories and their family photos in one fell swoop. It's an emotionally engaging and punchy opening which resonates with the sense of immediate doom that has been promised since Voldemort came back to life at the end of the fourth film and ruined Edward Cullen's hair.

This is followed swiftly by a council-meeting with Voldemort and his evil bitches which is highly reminiscent of the scene in "The Untouchables" which culminates in Bobby D hitting a home-run with some geezer's brain-box. It is apparent that all but the most stupid and/or psychotic of the The Dark Lord's underlings are absolutely terrified, making him all the more unpredictable and sinister. After a bit of torture, anti-muggle racism and snake-feeding, we are left in no doubt that shit is serious this time round.

We rattle on from there to a wacky scene involving multiple Harrys, which soon segues into a frenetic, broom-based air-battle which then mutates into a break-neck moped-chase sequence complete with flipping vehicles, people being knocked off brooms into traffic, Harry running on the roof of a bus, and the deaths of two beloved characters. This is a pacey, kinetic, emotionally-charged sequence unlike anything seen in Potter before, and bodes well for what's to come.

This standard is maintained fairly well for the rest of the film, as Harry, Ron and Hermione go on the run from Voldemort's fascist regime, disappearing into the English countryside like guerrillas in the mist.

This was what I thought would pose a major problem for the momentum of this film. Here we have three friends wandering the wilderness, ostensibly searching for the hilariously-monikered "Horcruxes" that contain parts of Voldemort's soul. The problem being that they don't know what or where these mysterious objects are, so they are pretty aimless for a large part of the novel, and spend most of their time arguing with each other and listening to the radio.

Director David Yates circumvents the potential pitfalls very well, punctuating the wanderings with barn-storming setpieces such as a tense and amusing raid on the Ministry of Magic (which features a brilliant pay-off for a hateful character who got off lightly in an earlier film), and a visit to the deathplace of Harry's parents which results in a sequence of such fairytale horror that it wouldn't be out of place in a Guillermo Del Toro film. It's all creepy old women and shadowy atmosphere, before it explodes into blood, smashing through walls, swinging lampshades and Harry bricking a giant snake in the head.

It's Yates's handling of sequences like this that sets the film apart from its predecessors so distinctly. There are small moments of action, such as a brief wandy shoot-out in a cafe, that are more visceral and exciting than even the biggest thrills from the past films.

He also has the balls to insert an animated interlude to deal with an expository fairy tale read by Hermione. It's like some sort of grim shadow-puppet show involving murder, suicide, treachery and Death himself, and is both eerily beautiful and perfectly judged.

But it's not just Yates who's raised his game. The central trio of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint are out on their own for most of the film, without the usual rogues' gallery of British acting talent to fall back on, and they actually acquit themselves very well. I usually spend a Potter film sneering at the fumbled jokes, the forced emotion and Hermione's hyperactive eyebrows, but this time around they managed to almost entirely humanise their characters, realise their emotional interaction and create three-dimensional people out of these household names. And the eyebrows have calmed down a lot.

That's not to say that there's no acting legends in attendance at the Potter-party, though. Rhys Ifans gives good loony as the crazy Irish blonde girl's crazy Irish dad, Bill Nighy does his thing in a sturdy two-scener, Peter Mullen brings a rare sense of palpable physical threat to a minor baddie role, and many familiar faces crop up for their usual reliable extended cameos (David Thewlis, Alan Rickman, Snake-Faced Ralph Fiennes, Imelda Staunton, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane et al.).

The effects are stronger than ever, the cinematography refreshingly earthy and the sets and locations vibrant and varied. If nothing else, it's a nice-looking film.

The watchword for each consecutive Potter episode is "darker", and that is certainly the case here. As our leads appear more and more grown up (Hermione noticeably more "womanly", and Harry and Ron rocking some 5 oclock shadow after weeks in the wilderness), so do themes and imagery. When Ron's terminal insecurity manifests itself as a naked Harry and Hermione getting down to some heavy petting, you know a line has been crossed. This is a film laden with death, violence, suffering, and more than mild threat.

It is in the lighter moments, however, that the film truly transcends its station. This is, more often than not, through the handling of the ever-alluded to romance between Ron and Hermione, depicted perfectly here in tiny gestures, looks and a brief moment where she tries to teach him to play the piano.

The most memorable character scene, however, belongs to Harry and Hermione, as they dance together (to a Nick Cave song, mind!) in a tent. This short scene contains more subtle, unspoken profundity than many films manage in a whole runtime. It manages, for a moment, to create a will-they/won't-they uncertainty even in those who know the story, but serves ultimately to only reinforce the true nature of their relationship. It's a complex scene which goes above and beyond what you'd expect from a Potter film, and deserves to be applauded.

There are, of course, flaws and problems to be found, however. In spite of Yates's best efforts, the second act drags occasionally as the trio mope around in the woods until one of them says "I think we should go HERE..." in order to find the next bit of plot, and there is the argument that we are only getting half a movie, which can never be a fully satisfying cinematic experience. Heyman has managed to structure the film in such a way as to build to an emotional climax, if not a resolution.

I have seen comparisons made with "The Empire Strikes" back, and that's not far off the mark. Both films consist of the heroes being beaten back, running scared and narrowly escaping for the duration, before a "down" ending leaves them in a very bleak situation indeed. It's exactly what family cinema should be about!

If you're not a Potter fan, this isn't going to convert you, laden as it is with obscure references and exposition, and it does benefit from a knowledge of the extensive backstory they are building to the climax of, but this remains an entertaining and engaging fantasy adventure that left me anticipating the finale. If Yates can do this with the boring part of the book, what's he gonna do when it all kicks off?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Year of the Sprocket

The Intermittent Sprocket is one year old. So, in the spirit of lazy sitcom writing, let's do a month-by-month run down of the greatest hits from this quiet little corner of internetsville. Click the links for a stroll down memory lane...

Nov '09

The Sprocket gets off to a tentative start, with only three posts for its inaugural month. Kicking off with a statement of intent/spookily prescient piece about the future of projectionism in The Digital Age, before segueing into a FAQ revealing everything you ever wanted to know about the art of shining a light onto a big canvas. Rounding out the month, we see the origins of The Sprocket's long-running hatred of the Twilight saga in Bad Moon Rising. An inauspicious start? It can only get worse!

Dec '09

Barrelling towards Christmas, productivity ramps up to exactly the same level with three more posts in a month. These include what could be called the Sprocket's first semi-proper review, a piece comparing "The Descent Part 2" and "Paranormal Activity", and a list of alternative Christmas movies filled with jovial festive spirit. We also welcomed the beginning of the short-lived My Cinema Pet-Hates series. More on that later.

Jan '10

The new year saw the workload increase exponentially, with a whole FIVE posts in the first month! Highlights included a debate of the (lack of) merit in James Cameron's Avatar, followed by a surprisingly lengthy essay on the problem with movie piracy (or "film-theft" as it is often melodramatically referred to in the industry) and a Cristoph Waltz-led lament on the loneliness of The Invisible Projectionist.

Feb '10

Honestly, fuck all of note happened in February. Have a click on February over on the right-hand side of your screen if you don't believe me.

March '10

March is where it all kicked off. Twelve posts. That's more than ten. Double figures. We're off. I am going to try to limit my self to three greatest hits per month, though, so don't worry if you're getting bored. There's the accurate prediction of the outcome of the big Avatar/Hurt Locker Oscar-showdown, a tirade against mobile phones in the cinema which forms the barnstorming finale to the Pet-Hates cycle, and a heartfelt paean to The Sprocket's first visit to a cinema.

April '10

April starts under the shadow of bad news as we discover that one of our projection team is moving on to better things in Man Down, before continuing into scathing territory as the inexplicably second-most-popular Sprocket post of all time asks What's the Deal with Sam Worthington? The month ended on the one-line statement of Why I Love Movies.

May '10

Let's kick off the merry month of May with the most disparaging Sprocket review so far, the inexcusable Street Dance, and then follow it up with a taste of philosphical self-pity and the first installment of the ever unpopular Fantasy Films series.

June '10

June brings a debate on the difference between chick-flicks and their masculine counterparts, the ever-pondered amount of projectionists it takes to change a lightbulb, and the revelation of the etymology of the name Intermittent Sprocket.

July '10

July brings the unthinkable in a slightly positive review of a Twilight movie, a bunch of silly fake poster taglines and a run of ideas for sequels, remakes and reboots which I can't believe hasn't started a bidding war in Hollywood yet.

Aug '10

August heralds a thrilling sequel to the silly poster taglines, a gripping story of terrifying homelesses in The People Under the Stairs, and the return of our old friend James Cameron and his mountain of money.

Sep '10

September brings us full circle as the prophecy of The Digital Age is finally put in motion, bringing about Judgement Day for projectionists across the land, 80s classic Tron turns out to be a bit shit and we pay tribute to the lost genius of Satoshi Kon.

Oct '10

The story of the cinema industry's final solution for projectionists continues with The Summons and The End of All Things, while The Sprocket takes solace in the arms of Sir Michael Caine (pay particular attention to the comments at the end of that one!).

Nov '10

Bringing us up to date, we have the profound image of a cinema in flames for our cataclysmic 100th post, a pretty positive review of a film that nobody else seems to like, and the realisation that I am going to miss all this when it's gone.

And there you have it. A year of life in a cinema projection booth. I hope you've enjoyed reading it more than I've enjoyed living it.

Hopefully there's life in the old blog yet, but it remains to be seen for how long!

Thanks to everyone who reads, everyone who comments (even you, anonymous!), everyone who follows, everyone who likes, and everyone who comes here searching for bizarre and perverse keyword combos. I may just be pissing in the wind, but with you lot around, at least I've got someone to laugh about it with.

Here's to another year.

Friday, 12 November 2010

I Saw a Film Today, Oh Boy...

I think I might miss this.

I watched a film today.

I doubt I'll ever have another job where I can clock in and then sit and watch a film as part of my day's work.

I had a revelation, then. That I take this job for granted. Before I worked here, I think I would've been ecstatic if you offered to pay me money to watch a film. Now it's just something I do.

We've always said that a projectionist is like a ninja: if they're doing their job properly, no one will even notice they're there.

This, of course, means that no one will notice when they're gone.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Skyline: Surprise Attacks!

This film crept out of nowhere, and apparently not just for me. Word on the information super-street is that the Strause brothers (directors behind the cinematic turd-burgle that was "Aliens vs Predator: Requiem") are in trouble for keeping it a secret. Apparently, their effects house was hired by Sony to work on the upcoming "Battle: Los Angeles", which sounds like it should be a movie about Rage Against the Machine, but is in fact a tale of alien invasion in the Angelic City. That's due out next year, but in the meantime the Strauses have popped out "Skyline", a nifty little B-movie about, guess what, an alien invasion of Los Angeles!

Hollywood insider-trading aside, this is a story of a bunch of people who are trapped in a penthouse apartment with a bird's eye view of extra-terrestrials laying the smackdown on L.A.. One of a few lower-budget sci-fis emerging in the wake of "District 9", this plays like a mash-up of pretty much every alien invasion film you can think of, but told in a refreshingly small-scale and intimate manner and with a few interesting twists of its own.

The strength of the film lies in several surprising developments (well, if you haven't seen the second trailer), and in the design and behaviour of the creatures. Although they may look familiar (like a cross between the Sentinels from "The Matrix" and the aliens from "Independence Day") they have some interestingly bizarro traits. These monsters aren't just gonna kill you, they're gonna do some weird shit to you first. Mostly eschewing splatter and gore, the Strauses go for something altogether more macabre and, well, alien. Seriously, there is some Fruedian shenanigans going on with these buggers: all probey tentacles and slimy orifices.

The weaknesses lie in the typical and formulaic characterisation which doesn't really develop once the action kicks off, some dodgy acting from the mostly tv star cast (there's Turk from Scrubs! There's Charlie's brother from Lost! There's that dude who gets his face nicked in the "Chainsaw Massacre" re-make! He must be the star because he's been in films before!"), intermittently budget-stretching effects, occasional ludicrous and cliched moments, and an ending that may well feel like a cheat to some. Also, don't be looking for any explanation of who or what the alien creatures are, the closest we get to exposition is a conversation along the lines of: "What do you reckon they are?" "I dunno." "It just... doesn't seem real..." "Well it IS real. So shut up."

Personally, I found it a simply entertaining experience, lacking the humour or wit of "District 9", but excelling in ambition beyond its station whilst gleefully embracing its schlocky roots. And I loved the ending.

But whatever you do, if you haven't done so already, don't watch the trailer before you see the film. It gives away at least two of the big shock moments, and probably more, so if you like the alien attack genre, just pop along and watch it with no expectations. I think it'll surprise you.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Due Date: We've Been Down this Road Before

"The Hangover" was something of a surprise hit last year, raking in dough and making stars out of its then B-list cast. Now, director Todd Phillips and beardy weirdy unpronounceable Zach Galifianakis return to our screens, with the help of one Robert Downey Jnr, for a similarly pitched comedy of escalating exasperation and silliness.

RDJ plays Peter, a grumpy architect trying to get home from a business trip before the imminent birth of his first child. Galifianakis is Ethan, the beardy weirdy bane of his life. Within five minutes of meeting, Ethan gets Peter shot and banned from flying home so, of course, they end up in a rental car together, driving cross-country before you can say "Planes, Trains and Automobiles".

This is a very familiar and contrived set-up, but that shouldn't matter as long as the laughs are there, and they mostly are. Now, personally, I didn't see what the fuss was over "The Hangover". It was funny, sure, but more due to the performers and the dialogue than the episodic silly set-piece based structure. This is the case again here.

It's no secret that I have a complicated man-crush on RDJ, and he is immensely watchable as an unusually bitter and vicious character, prone to obnoxious outbursts and random acts of violence. He spits on a dog, he punches a child and, for a fan of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", it's good to hear him swearing again.

Galifianikis carries on where Alan left off in "The Hangover", another bumbling, ignorant man-child who means well but causes chaos via sheer stupidity. He's funny, but the wacky beardo shtick may be in danger of wearing thin already. And this has nothing to do with the fact that people say I look like him. Nothing at all.

The combination of these characters may prove a difficult one for some audiences. Extremely flawed as they both are, it could be argued that there is no one to root for onscreen, but I found the film engaging enough on its own terms as a catalogue of errors made by a pair of idiots who don't know how stupid they are.

The plot cycles through a number of contrived mishaps as our "heroes" grow to like each other intermittently, but there are few real standout moments aside from some choice banter and RDJ's ever-increasing exasperation at Galifianakis' hairy space-cadet.

There are hints of plot development,but most are left hanging or resolved without event, leaving us with lots of musical driving montages and that old feeling of familiarity mixed with the suspicion that many scenes have been trimmed in the edit to streamline the pace. Phillips is content to simply punctuate the film with digressive guest stars such as Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis and the RZA whenever things get dull.

So, like "The Hangover", it's a broad, simple, and fairly predictable comedy buoyed by strong performances from its leads, but with a few added moments of pathos due to Ethan's grief over the loss of his father, who accompanies them on their journey in the form of a coffee tin full of ashes. Bet you can't guess what happens to that.

And another thing for fans of KKBB, the pregnant wife waiting for Peter in Los Angeles is played by Michelle Monaghan. Her appearance is little more than a cameo, but its the closest thing we're gonna get to seeing Harry and Harmony together again, so it is to be treasured.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Jackass 3D: In Your Face

"Jackass 3D" is just that. "Jackass", but in 3D. So you can expect paintballs, excrement and genitalia flying at your face for the duration.

The 3D is only really taken full advantage of in a few set-piece skits, but otherwise it is business as usual: puerile frat-boy humour, horrifically ill-conceived stunts, male nudity, stupidly dangerous pranks and lots of bodily functions.

And it's bloody hilarious.

There's something about the "Jackass" combo of vaudevillian slapstick, performance art, homoeroticism, and casual sadism that never ceases to shock and entertain, yet it's very hard to write a a full review of this "film", simply because it is just a seemingly random collection of stunts and pranks that amounts to no more than an extended episode of the show with a few more expensive skits thrown in. As with the show and the previous two films, there are hits and misses, but when it hits, it hits big.

Highlights include: That Margera arsehole getting smashed in the face with a giant hand, Steve O being launched into the sky in a portaloo full of shit, that Margera arsehole being dropped in a pit of snakes, an epic battle between Chris Pontius' chin and a scorpion, and a practical joke that starts with two midgets walking into a bar and quickly escalates into something that may actually be comedic genius.

Basically, if you like "Jackass", you'll like it. If you don't, you won't. And you have no sense of humour.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

100th Post: Burn, Baby, Burn!


Not really, of course, we are a peaceful race and are more likely to just grumble under our breath and make rude gestures at you when you're not looking.

So we had our final meeting, in which the ultimate plan for the future of projection was revealed to us. And, after multiple "consultation" meetings and "your opinion counts" platitudes, the plan was pretty much the same as the one they proposed in the first place.

The meeting basically amounted to: when the hammer falls and your cinema is chosen to convert to digital (at a still undisclosed date) you either become a manager, a team leader (management lackey) or a popcorn jockey, or you can sling your hook and help yourself to an "enhanced" redundancy package which is a little bit better than the legal bare-minimum so be grateful for it you soon-to-be-superfluous bastard.

This was hammered home by the grossly insensitive logo which proclaimed the PowerPoint presentation "the future of cinema". It might as well have continued: "doesn't include you reel-spinning, sprocketeer shutter-monkeys".

I think they said we would get three months' notice before the changeover, but I can't be sure because I'm pretty certain I was nodding off by this point.

It was nothing we didn't expect. Until the building caught fire.

I wish I could say that the plumes of smoke you see in the picture above were caused by a disgruntled projectionist's attempt to sabotage the "future of cinema" by strapping a bomb-bag on and hurling himself at a Sony projector, but that was not the case. Apparently there was a fire in a bin round the back or summat.

So we finished the meeting outside.

And then we went home.

It's all over bar the blubbing. And we don't know when that will start. I'll let you know when I do.

This is The Intermittent Sprocket's 100th post, less than two weeks from the blog's first anniversary, and it's already the beginning of the end...

Burke and Hare: Cack Black Comedy

I was looking forward to this film. John Landis directing a black comedy about murderous grave-robbers? Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as a gothic Laurel and Hardy? A cast made up of British comedy talent such as Jessica Hynes, Reece Shearsmith, Ronnie Corbett, Steven Merchant and Bill Bailey? What could possibly go wrong?

Then I saw this trailer:

It looks like fucking "Nuns on the Run" or "The Pope Must Die" or "Splitting Heirs" or some other bullshit Brit-Com from the olden days. I told myself that it was just a bad trailer and everything would makes sense in context. The accents wouldn't be as grating, there wouldn't be a shitty, anachronistic soundtrack, and trailer-man won't be intoning bullshit about "these guys" over the top of it. The film would be better.

And it is. A little bit.

The film is about Williams Burke and Hare, two Irish immigrants in Edinburgh who discover that they can make some cash by selling bodies to a local surgeon who wants to make the definitive anatomical almanac. It's a true story and has been filmed plenty times before and all that.

This is a black comedy that isn't very funny. It's not repellently unfunny, it's just that a strange awareness begins to creep over you as the film progresses, an awareness that you aren't laughing very much. Every set-piece feels under-cooked and un-inspired, a lot of the gags are telegraphed or familiar, and there is a general sense that the film is somehow unfinished.

This is present in the slightly sloppy editing, as scenes drift by without a purpose, go on a shot or two too long, or cut away before a logical conclusion. It's as if they started rolling on an unfinished script, in the hope they could chop some sense into it later, but it didn't really come together.

There will be much debate, I'm sure, about the accents of the various performers, as almost none of them are using their own. Pegg and Serkis do okay, with Pegg being the least convincing Irish man, Hynes fluctuates wildly and little Aussie fitty Isla Fisher does well with her Scottish. The performances are mostly fine, with Pegg being the boyish innocent being led astray by Serkis' amoral opportunist, Fisher being her usual cute-as-a-button self, Hynes being unusually sexy and predatory when not covered in porridge or something and the roll-call of familiar faces all manage to say their lines without bumping into the scenery.

Which brings me to another problem: Whilst Pegg and Serkis are pretty funny together, it felt like not enough attention and screentime was paid to their relationship and their "work". The plot becomes preoccupied with Pegg's attempt to woo Fisher's Ginny, and the central duo seem to spend less and less time onscreen together. Any humour to be generated from a tangible connection between the two leads is squandered in favour of motoring on to the next comedy cameo.

So a mildly watchable film with some evocative sets and locations, a few choice lines here and there and some vaguely amusing performances, but a crashing disappointment from the swathes of talent involved.

You do, however, get to watch Gollum vigorously shagging Daisy from "Spaced", if that's your cup of tea.