Monday, 28 February 2011

Blogalonga Bond #2: From Russia with Love

Incase you weren't aware, The Incredible Suit is currently orchestrating the greatest Bond-related Blogathon in the history of the human animal. See here for the deets, here for the other entries, and get the hell involved!

In my usual habit of leaving things 'til the last minute, here is my contribution to "From Russia with Love" month, less than half an hour before the end of said month.

It's a song called "Rogues Gallery". Hope you like:

And the dodgy framing is entirely artistic and not at all accidental. And I misheard Robert Shaw's character's name as Douglas, I totally didn't just make something up to fit the rhyme scheme.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Oscar Predictions

Tonight is the night the movie industry has been waiting for. Here's my predictions: You can expect:

Lots of women being asked "Who are you wearing?" as if they skinned some poor twat to make their gladrags.

A wide range of menswear.

Sizzling chemistry between the hosts.

Some unexpected guests.

General cinematic self-congratulation.

Enjoy it.

Have a good night!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Legend of Sean Connery

In honour of Sugary Cynic's one year blog anniversary, I made her a video about her favourite grumpy Scotsman. Here is said video for your viewing pleasure:

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Guest Post: Kid in the Front Row

The Kid in the Front Row has very kindly offered a guest post for your perusal. Check it out and then go and vote for him in the "best entertainment" category here.

The Fucking Projection Room

The cinema had been closed down for years. Hardly anyone even knew it was a cinema. Seems kind of insane, right? Like, how can people just forget it was a cinema? The craziest thing is that it was still just sitting there -- but under all the decay and attempts to change what the building was used for -- it kind of lost it's identity.

But it was still there. Inside, hidden away, was the ghost of an old cinema. The seats were still there, the big screen was still there, an old 'Walls Ice Cream Fridge' was still out the back. There were still urinals in the men's toilets, but I thought best not to use them.

This was my Cinema Paradiso dream come true. And It was me and about only five other guys who seemed to know about it. It was a dream day; seeing old movie posters still stuck up on the wall. Creeping into derelict screens and feeeeeeling the history. It was perfect.

Except for the projection room. It was locked. And boarded up. The handyman guy who snuck me in didn't have the key. And he didn't know how to get into the room. I suggested we smash the door down. He suggested I leave.

But I was adamant. So he made me leave. And that is the end of the story.

But the silly handyman gave me his number. Why did he make such a mistake? I repeatedly text him and called him, "we should smash the door down! I wanna get in that projector room! I wanna see it! The projector is still there. We'll be the first people to see it in decades, amazing!" He didn't respond. That was the end, no more contact ever again.

And then he text me. He told me he really wanted to get in there. He said we should smash it down. We thought about the legal aspects and the historic aspects and they were all good and all but------ we wanted to smash it down!

And then he lost his job. The story ends abruptly.

Friday, 18 February 2011

A Self-Important Message

This has nothing to do with films or projectionism. This is to do with me trying to expand my horizons. An experiment. Please indulge me. It will involve looking at my ugly mug for about five minutes, if you can stomach it:

Monday, 14 February 2011

How to Become a Projectionist: Episode III: Part 2

In what will be the foyer, cables and wires hang from the roof with electricians swinging from them. People are milling everywhere. There is a distinct feeling of hurry. Chaos.

There are no doors. Or they are all propped open. There are no landmarks as the decor is unfinished. There are no windows, as the building is blocked on all sides but one by other buildings. It's like "Labyrinth" without David Bowie's tight pants.

We wander the corridors, dressed in our luminous jackets, trying to orient ourselves amongst the debris.

There are two projection booths, one on the top floor of the building and one two floors below. The two largest screens are on the ground floor, where the tills will be, then the other four are up a few flights of stairs. There is a lift, but I'm pretty sure it isn't working at this point.

When we find our way to the booths, they are in much the same state as the rest of the building. Electricians and workmen come and go, portholes are not yet in place, leaving little openings into the screens where the projectors shine through. The projectors and platter towers are present and correct, so I am tasked with continual lacing practice.

We have been sent a copy of "The Dukes of Hazzard", which we may do with as we please so, instead of burning it, we cut a ten/fifteen minute segment of the first reel and I lace it and run it. Over and over. And over again. The men working in the screens keep asking if we have any other films to run, as they are sick of seeing Johnny Knoxville getting chased out of some woman's house every ten minutes.


It must be around this time that I learn how to build a film. Films are delivered in boxes, divided into reels of about fifteen/twenty minutes of film each, and we have to build them into one huge reel which sits on a big metal platter.

Get this:

The reels are either "Head Out" or "Foot Out". Sometimes "Foot" is replaced by "Tail". The film begins at the head of reel one and ends at the tail of the last reel. The head of reel two connects to the tail of reel one and so on. We build the film on a workbench with an electric motor which spools the films automatically. The reels are spliced together seamlessly with what is basically sellotape. The reel splices are marked with a white pencil crayon. The film needs to be run onto the platter "Head Out" so the start of the show goes first, so the film may need reversing once built. Small tags of metallic tape are placed on the print at various intervals to initiate different stages of the show. The Leader, which is laced through the projector first in order to avoid damaging the actual print, has a countdown (usually from eleven to three, followed by some black spacing) marked at its end. A tag must be applied to the frame marked number ten. The projector motor will start at a pre-programmed time, but the bulb will not strike until this tag passes through a reader below the gate and lenses. This is the Start Cue. Cues must also be placed at the end of the advert reel to lower the lights, just before the start of the feature if there is a change from flat (widescreen) to scope (cinemascope), on the certificate of the film, at the start of the credits and at the end of the credits. If the cue is designating a scope change, we place it on the edge of the print with the soundtrack on it. All other cues go on the opposite side.

Simple, right?

The first film I remember building is "Crank". I build it on a manually operated workbench whilst listening to "The Queen" playing in one of the screens. Another early film I have to deal with is "Right at your Door", which I'm pretty sure fades to black for every single reel-change, presenting something of a challenge to a rookie splicer. See, every reel-change needs to be spliced "in rack", meaning a whole frame is cut from the end. If you've ever been watching a film at the cinema and suddenly the image was half off the screen, that's a racking error. Each frame is four sprocket-holes wide and if you splice in the wrong place, say two or three sprocket holes into the frame, the film from that point on will be out of rack. Blackness at the end of a reel is a ballache, because it makes it hard to see the racking lines between the frames, so you spend ages peering at film under lights and running it through footage counters, looking for a racking line.

One of my most memorable training days is when a projectionist from another site comes to show me some stuff whilst my associates are busy with other things. It's memorable because she is an oriental lady with a voice like a David Walliams character from "Little Britain" (not a specific one, she could just be played by Walliams in the movie of her life) and she spends the majority of the day pointing out things in the projection booth that could kill me.

What's not memorable is what the things that could kill me are. They were mostly inside the platter tower housing or the projectors though, so I make a solemn promise to myself to avoid removing the covers from these machines as much as possible. "The machine needs maintenance? I'm sorry, but I need to LIVE!"

As we near the grand opening of the cinema, things begin to take shape. The place starts getting tidier, less of the workmen reappear day after day, everything in the projection booths begins to work, and the floor staff I shared a single training shift with begin to appear, brought in for orientation and training and what have you.

The opening day comes and goes. I don't remember it, so it must've gone without a hitch.

There are problems later, however. I remember lacing a film with the soundtrack on the wrong side of the projector, so instead of the Pearl and Dean theme, the audience were treated to the BRBRBRBRBRBR noise that occurs when the sensor is just reading sprocket holes. I remember "Open Season" wouldn't play because I'd packed the trailer reel in too tight.

When I lace the film wrong, I go to apologise to the managers for holding the show up. The site manager says not to worry, these things happen. He tells me he's never seen a projectionist go from scratch to running shifts on their own in such a short space of time. I feel smug.

This is the golden age. All the security doors have the same code, so the floor staff can wander into projection at will, and often do. Some of the young popcorn-jockeying ladies even concoct a game called "Poke the Projectionist", which is not quite as intrusive as it sounds. I frequently head downstairs to hang out with the staff or the security guards, talking bollocks and being generally sociable.

None of this lasts.

The staff turnover is typically high for what is essentially a retail job, so the numbers of people who were there on induction day eventually dwindles to the point where there are just a couple of the old guard left. Initially, I make an attempt to introduce myself to the replacement staff, but I see new faces so frequently that I begin to make less and less effort. The projection manager leaves, as does the site manager. My angry fellow ginger becomes projection manager. An auditor decrees that the projection booths must have different codes to the staff doors, and the staff are not to enter projection areas unless given specific permission, isolating us even further. I venture downstairs less and less, hiding away in the booth for as long as I can. People come and go, the job remains the same.

Until we get the word that the end is nigh. After about one hundred years, the profession of Projectionism is going to become an archaeological curio. Digital projectors are coming, and there's nothing we can do to stop them. Projection booths will be quiet, empty places. No constant clatter of machinery, no equipment for the handling and construction of 35mm film, no grumpy projectionist with his feet up.

So if you're thinking of becoming a projectionist, here is the most important lesson you need to learn: Becoming a projectionist at this period in history would be akin to seeking gainful employment on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. You might enjoy it for a bit, but pretty soon you're gonna have to jump ship.

You wanna know how to become a projectionist?


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Paul: Spaced Out?

Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way up front. It's not as good as "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead". Yes, it is more mainstream and arguably more low-brow than its Pegg/Frost predecessors. Yes, this particular brand of nerdy in-joke comedy can all seem "so 1999" on occasion. But! This is still an entertaining, fun, knockabout comedy that, when taken on its own merits, is more than worthy of a couple of hours of your life.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (writing together for the first time) play Graeme and Clive, respectively, two sci-fi nerds travelling across America from the San Diego comic con to various locations of UFO significance. Around Area 51, they meet Paul, the titular E.T., and give him a lift on a wacky adventure to a rendez-vous point with his mothership.

Plotwise, this is basically "Race to Witch Mountain" with dick jokes. Along the way, the trio cross paths with a cast of allies and enemies made up of American stereotypes including Kristin Wiig as a religiously oppressed yokel, John Carroll Lynch as her evangelical, trigger-happy father, David Koechner as a burly, aggressive hick, Jason Bateman as a stoic and unstoppable "Man in Black", and Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as his oafish lackeys.

Pegg and Frost are playing mere extensions of themselves, Kristin Wiig is as adorable as usual, Bateman phases out his natural charisma in favour of cold calculation with great success, and there are a couple of entertaining cameos to raise a chuckle.

The film is a little repetitive in its chase/escape/chase/escape structure, but moves at an agreeable pace and maintains a light flipness of tone which keeps you smiling even through the dry laugh-patches.

The major problems are going to be the fact that "Paul" suffers in comparison to Pegg and Frost's collaborations with Edgar Wright. Much will be made of the fact that director Greg Mottola opts for his usual warm and languid approach, rather than the frenetic verve of Wright, and that Pegg and Frost's script lacks much of the wit of Pegg's work with the "Scott Pilgrim" director, instead spending more time on obvious references and bodily function gags.

This is to do a disservice to the work on display here, though. The film may be a little crass on occasion, and a few of the gags may fall flat or be a little obvious, but there is also a lot of fun to be had, and a surprisingly warm heart beating at the centre of it all.

I can't help thinking this review reads like an apology, or an attempted justification for the failure of two people I admire, but I really didn't intend it to sound that way. "Paul" is an enjoyable film, which manages to be fun even when it's not funny. It's greatest failing is that it follows in the footsteps of two much better films.

Oh, and this was the film I wasn't allowed to talk about after the Universal day t'other week.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sanctum: Cave of Blunders


I hope I'm now allowed to say, without fear of legal action, that on the Universal presentation day I went on a couple of weeks back, there was a short video introduction for "Sanctum" from its producer James Cameron. Cameron claimed that this film was an effort to show movie studios that any film could be made in 3D, not just big expensive blockbusters, whilst congratulating the Universal staff and other distributors for encouraging the move to digital. Little did he know that at least two of the projectionists he'd put out of a job were shouting "cock-knocker!" at the screen. I'm sure he wouldn't have cared anyway.

Looking at the film from this point of view, it is pretty much a failure. The 3D is unremarkable, most of the film is set in such confined spaces that any sense of scope and depth is completely irrelevant and, in the wider areas, the digitally enhanced caverns betray the frugal budget by looking wonky and fake.

Also, according to former musical villain Richard Roxburgh: "3D was a nightmare. Its camera is famously slow, and because it is new technology, it's fraught with issues. For instance, the camera runs very hot, and when it breaks down, it has to be rebooted and that takes time. Consequently the actors were paddling in water the whole time in wetsuits and we were freezing while waiting for the camera to be fixed."

So not really a successful technical trial either.

Cameron's assertion that this was the kind of film that should be being made in 3D, whilst proclaiming that tits 'n' gore-fest "Piranha 3D" is "an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s" seems extremely hypocritical. "Sanctum" is a ropey disaster flick, a buffed-up B-movie with a high concept, shallow characters and profoundly predictable plotting. Kind of like a load of shit films from the 70s and 80s eh, Jim?

Lest this whole review turns into just another airing of my Cameron-spite, let's actually talk about the film, shall we?

The story involves a bunch of cave-divers getting trapped in a cave when it begins to flood during a sudden storm. They have to enter uncharted territory in order to attempt to find a way out. The film has the dubious claim "Inspired by True Events" splayed across the opening credits but, judging from the ludicrous happenings in the film and the dearth of information my (admittedly superficial) research turned up, I'd the say the inspirational true event was that one of the writers got trapped in a cave one time. With some other people. Then they got out.

The film takes this as a springboard to dive into a story packed with cliched characters: the driven, professional cavediver (Roxburgh) who doesn't get on with his son, the son railing against the compulsion to follow in his father's footsteps, the rich investor who might as well be called Burke, Carter J., the visiting girlfriend who's out of her element, the cavediver's grizzled right-hand man who provides the comic relief with his wry commentary etc.

They are all buffeted along in a series set-pieces culminating in mishaps and misfortunes that you can see coming if you're watching the film cold, and which you have already seen if you've watched the trailer. Seriously, I was going "Oh, so this is the part when she drowns, when he falls and smacks his head, when she falls into the water, when he goes nuts and gets set on fire, the part where he's swimming on his own through a submerged cavern and sucking air-bubbles off the ceiling... Every major beat of the film is pretty much revealed in the promotional material, leaving you no surprises to be had.

Not that there would've been many surprises anyway. It's the kind of film where, when a character points out the tiny torch made out of a boar-tooth that he wears around his neck, claiming it an unwanted gift from his father, you want to slap your head and shout "I WONDER IF THAT WILL COME BACK LATER IN THE MOVIE?!?"

Here's the third act twist, though: In spite of, or maybe because of all this, I actually found "Sanctum" to be a fairly entertaining excursion into cornball disaster-movie tropes.

It's surprisingly sweary and grisly - perhaps an attempt at realism at odds with the actual content of the film - which keeps you on your toes when you go from laughing at the silliness of it all to wincing at someone's scalp being peeled off. Roxburgh is agreeably grumpy and grizzled as the Quint of Caves (I don't think he ever said "This cave'll swallow you whole", but he did some very close variants), and the father/son connection plot is paced well enough. Mr Fantastic gives good wanker as the investor, even though his inevitable fate is telegraphed from early on, there are some effective invocations of claustrophobia, vertigo and aquaphobia and the whole thing clocks in at about an hour and three quarters, so it won't eat your whole evening and you can laugh about it in the pub.

Feminists take note, though, as the only two prominent female characters are shown to be panicky, unprofessional, incompetent and basically useless, leading to their demise. Pretty much every member of the male gender who buys it, however, goes via some kind of noble sacrifice. Even the dirty traitor.

So this is Cameron's future of 3D. Bog-standard, disposable disaster movies with clumsy characterisation, formulaic plotting and arguably dubious gender representation. Can't fight progress.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Fighter: Marky Mark and the Punchy Bunch

Marky Mark has assembled an all new funky bunch of volatile talent for this labour of love tribute to "Irish" Micky Ward, a champion face-thumper from working class Lowell, Massachusetts.

He's got his old mucker David O Russell (whose previous works include having a slanging match with Lily Tomlin and scuffling with George Clooney)behind the camera, one Christian Bale (also not renowned for a balanced temperament), and Amy Adams (who is a sweet angel and I will not listen to anyone who says otherwise).

With this much strong-minded talent on set, you would think that the movie's production would've degenerated into screeching rows and trashed lights, but apparently the whole thing ran disappointingly smoothly. So no hilarious on-set gossip or embarrassing tantrums to be aired. Suppose I'll just have to tell you about the film then.

Micky is an underachieving boxer living in the shadow of his family. He is managed by his overbearing harridan of a mother, surrounded by a gaggle of obnoxious sisters, and is trained by his former-pro half-brother Dicky.

Bale's Dicky (steady on...) is a force of nature on-screen. A local legend due to the fact that he knocked Sugar Ray Leonard down in a fight years earlier, he swans through Lowell like he owns the place, loved by all and basking in it. He is also a raging crack-head.

Bale is brilliantly watchable here, a far cry from the moody, broody schtick he sometimes descends into (witness his morose, one-note turn in "Terminator: Salvation"), as Dicky is an irrepressible, vivacious, footloose showman who means well but constantly fucks up. People will talk about Bale's weight-loss as if it is a gimmick, but this is a complex, heartfelt and entirely human performance which is sure to bag him the best supporting actor action-figure at the Oscars.

Bale's role is obviously the more showy and eye-catching, but Marky Mark is the stoic heart of the movie. One of those actors who is either brilliant or terrible from one movie to the next, Wahlberg excels as men struggling to express themselves. Micky is a lost soul, buffeted around on the whims of his domineering family, and the film covers his eventual realisation that he has to man-up in more ways than one. Wahlberg is overshadowed slightly by the colourful characters that surround him, but acts as the soulful anchor that grounds the film.

Amy Adams is Micky's trashy-yet-true girlfriend, helping him find his own voice amongst the squabbling cacophony of his family. She is confident and sassy and all that gubbins, but it is through her eyes that we see the vulnerability beneath Micky's muted exterior. It's a stock role, to a certain extent, but Adams makes it feel genuine and likable whilst delivering some snappy dialogue with aplomb.

Almost managing to steal the movie from her big-name co-stars is Melissa Leo as the matriarch of Micky's clan. Manipulative, aggressive, sentimental, violent and with ridiculously massive hair and stage-show make-up, she is a terrifying and formidable creation, made all the more frightening because she actually exists. She should probably win best supporting actress, if only for the scene where she sings "I Started a Joke" with Bale.

Marshalling these wild horses is Russell, a director known for making unusual and occasionally difficult films (his last effort, "Nailed", has yet to see the light of day), and this is him at his unfussy, accessible best. The film is raw and naturalistic, with a subtle kinetic creativity driving the camera. Russell often utilises the presence of a documentary crew following Dicky, or the sports-channel presentation of the fights, to further push the sense of realism. The film manages to feel personal and genuine whilst achieving crowd-pleasing, feel-good status without ever manipulating the audience or cheapening itself.

Rather than mawkish sentimentality or histrionic drama, "The Fighter" is surprisingly humourous. The ever-changing family dynamic leads to some hilarious character beats and Dicky's self-destruction and fumbling attempts to do right swing easily between comedy and tragedy.

Add a soundtrack laced with aging rock standards, and you have a potent dick-flick which has enough triumphant heart to break out of the mould marked "TESTOSTERONATHON" and satisfy a wide and ranging audience. Solid film.