Movie-Con / BIG SCREEN
The Pitch: Stay away from that Trap Door, ‘cos there’s something down there. (In 3D!)
The Review: Nostalgia is a dangerous thing sometimes. For anyone the same age as me, childhood memories are particularly strong around the letter G – Ghostbusters, Goonies and Gremlins being the touchstones. Gremlins especially holds memories, mainly of not being able to see it at the cinema due to the 15 certificate. Joe Dante crafted something wonderful with his playful dissection of small-town America, allowing his critters to run amok through his decidedly Capraesque fantasy. Sadly, nothing since has had quite the same unhinged charm.
It’s good to see him still playing in the family horror sandbox, and my younger self might at first be delighted to realise that the 12A certificate would have almost guaranteed me the entry that Gremlins denied me. What would then follow, however, is the disappointment in what’s been created in this rather slight effort.
The title trumpets the 3D, and the effects are well positioned at the start, with plenty of the kind of demo reel moments that exhibitors can use to market their product. There’s also some gentle scares and a gradual building of tension as the hole is discovered, although there’s also enough sentences referring to The Hole as potential innuendo that wouldn’t be out of place in a Carry On movie.
Then you realise that the 3D show-off moments and the scares, one rattling doorknob aside, are mutually exclusive. You become pained at the anodyne leads and their stubborn refusal to avoid putting themselves in the way of the problem. You become frustrated at the ease of the resolutions to plot strand, over almost before they’re fully explained, and the lack of anything resembling originality. And finally, you will curse the missed opportunity, but deep down hope that one day, Joe Dante can recapture what delighted and scared your younger self in equal measure, all those years ago.
Why see it at the cinema: If you feel the pressing need to get your kids started on scares early, there’s not many other options right now. There is also one priceless silent cameo, but it’s not worth the price of admission, sadly.
Why see it in 3D: If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like for someone to repeatedly shine a bright flashlight straight into your eyes or throw a baseball into your face, now’s your chance.
The Score: 4/10
The Review: I think I was born at just the wrong age. I was two when Rocky came out, and still at primary school when Arnie was first flexing his biceps for the camera. I did grow up on a diet of action, but it was Die Hard and Robocop that helped shape my formative years. But as action movies, driven by those late Eighties classics, have evolved and grown more complex over the last thirty years, I’ve come to appreciate the dumber things in life. While I like to be intellectually challenged by some of my viewing, once in a while you just need to see stuff get blown up real good.
So thank goodness for Sylvester Stallone. He’s managed to find ways to extend his Rambo and Rocky series well past their natural lifespans, but especially in Rocky’s case he’s tried to find a different perspective with age. There is a part of the audience for these movies though, in which I shamelessly include myself, that longs for the succession of cheesy one liners and men shooting things until they explode. Forget character development and intricate plot developments – and by and large Stallone has, in a return to old school action movie making.
The concept felt fairly high to start with – cram as many action movie stars, old and new, onto the screen and let them have fun. Sensibly, the central team isn’t too numerous, with the big names evenly divided across the good, the bad and the morally ambivalent, but only a few get any real screen time. The highlights are Jason Statham for the good guys, who Stallone seems to have recognised uses his charisma to cover up his acting deficiencies, but who uses his particular Transporter-style fighting to the best effect in the many, many, many fights and brawls. For the bad guys, Eric Roberts chews the scenery and spits it in every direction, probably about the only one to find just the right tone. Mercifully, Stallone avoids the ageist navel-gazing that ultimately crippled the likes of the Lethal Weapon series, but there is still slightly too much contemplation at times. Come on, blow something up, will ya?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means perfect. The action scenes vary from the pretty good to the I-don’t-understand-what-just-happened-because-you-can’t-shoot-or-edit-properly, Stallone’s attempts to add emotional resonance, mainly in scenes with Mickey Rourke, have all the depth of the shallow end of a paddling pool and are about as enjoyable, a joke about Jet Li’s height wears so thin you can see through it and there isn’t a truly iconic action sequence that will stand the test of time. But it does deliver just enough big muscles, big explosions and giant pulsating stupidity to be a guilty pleasure.
Why see it at the cinema: Actually, if you want an action movie to watch this summer, try The A Team. You can watch that any time. The Expendables should only be seen on a Friday or Saturday night, with a willing crowd who are as drunk as possible. That is a recommendation, in case you were wondering.
The Score: 7/10
It’s now less than a week before the second part of my summer cinematic extravaganza takes place. (In case you missed it, the first part was my Inception / Toy Story 3 double bill at the IMAX, and it was a thing of rare beauty and joy.) But all my prep is done; the hire car to get me to and from some Tube station at the end of the Central line is booked, my T-shirts, one of which is custom made, have all now arrived, I have my ticket for one of the Saturday night previews as well, and all there is left to do is to sit back and wait for the excitement to start.
In the expectant pause between now and then, I’ve found myself wondering exactly what I’m getting myself into. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but one thing that struck me reading this article about audience reactions at Screen Rant this morning made me realise that I’ve always missed a little of the American brashness at the cinema – us Brits can be a little too reserved sometimes. Sure, I’m no fan of loud popcorn munching, mobile phones or discussing what you had for breakfast in a stage whisper, and the cinema experience is usually better without distractions. But sometimes it’s the investment of those around you that really makes the experience and sets it apart from watching on even a good home cinema set-up.
The opening movie is The Expendables. I’ve been looking forward to this all summer long, and even more so after the relative disappointments of The Losers and The A Team, its two nearest cousins in this summer’s entertainment. But although it’s not getting the best reviews at present, what gives me hope is the audience I’ll be seeing it with, especially after this Guardian article’s recommendation on how to see it.
Well, my three stage plan to take my movie obsession to the next level this summer hits stage 1 tomorrow, with my first ever IMAX double bill. Inception (my new movie of the year, as I couldn’t risk being spoiled any longer), followed by Toy Story 3. Later, in September I have a week off work where I intend to hit the Cambridge Film Festival hard, but in the middle will be the shiny, geek-infested glory that is sure to be Movie-Con III.
After the almost-debacle of getting a ticket I regaled you with in Chapter I, I thought it would then be all quiet until the day itself. However, never knowingly underobsessed and apparently not alone in that, I have been enjoying the community that has developed out of the thread on the Empire forum, where the struggle just to be there seems to have instilled a real sense of closeness among those lucky enough to have made the cut.
I like to practice what I preach, so my movie philosophy is not only to encourage others into the cinema, but for me to spend as much time there as possible. Two years ago, I set a target of seeing 100 films in a year, which I hit in mid-December that year, but since then I’ve tried to be more sensible. As with any addict, that can only last so long before temptation sets in, so this year I’ve been swallowing up films again like they’re going out of fashion – as of yesterday, I’ve seen as many this year as I saw all of last year.
But what I’ve been looking to do this year is to enhance that movie-going experience. I’ve already had one trip to the IMAX (for Journey to Mecca), and have a double bill of Inception and Toy Story 3 coming up later this month. Every time I think about that, I can already hear Gary Barlow striking up Greatest Day in my head. So how to top it? Well, I’ve booked a week off work so I can do my local thing, the Cambridge Film Festival, but there still felt like more opportunities.