I am NOT calling it Marvel Avengers Assemble, which is just insulting to our collective intelligence. Humph.
The Pitch: The long-haired god and his immovable object meet the irresistible force, the irascible scientist, the irresponsible robot, the irritable Russian, the invincible soldier, some guy with a bow and arrow and Samuel L. M***********’ Jackson.
The Review: For so many years, Marvel comic adaptations were the poorer cousins of their DC counterparts. While Batman and Superman films have dominated the blockbuster scene for thirty years and more, Marvel had to contend themselves with The Punisher, Howard The Duck and repeated failed attempts at a Captain America film. Then the last decade has seen a revolution, with the X-Men and Spider-Man being given successful treatment by filmmakers who actually knew what they were doing. But these were outsourced properties, and if Marvel was going to put its own stamp on the movies, what better way to do it with the biggest of all their properties, the Avengers? Over the last five years they’ve been testing the water with individual adaptations of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America, but it became clear that this was not only a strong array of characters but a massive collection of egos. Would it even be possible to get all of these massive Marvels onto the same screen? And who could do justice to them if they did?
Step forward one Joss Whedon, master of small screen and comic book culture, but a man who’s had a somewhat less than impressive record himself when it comes to big screen adaptations. Put simply, from Alien: Resurrection to Serenity Whedon has at best a cult following, but there may have been no-one better suited to bringing this clash of the titans together. No matter what the medium, Joss has a track record of marshaling large rosters of characters, and there’s a huge list lined up here from the best of Marvel’s own brand adaptations. This does create two problems up front: to actually assemble the Avengers takes an inordinate amount of time, as they’re rounded up one by one, and there’s then a significant imbalance in the back story afforded, with Thor and Captain America getting further exploration of their methods and motivations while poor old Hawkeye still gets little more than a name and an prior affiliation with a SHIELD colleague. If Basil Exposition had been a comic book character, he would’ve fit right into the Avengers.
That’s not to say there’s not a lot of nice moments or sharp dialogue, but that’s all they are, never quite gelling together or giving the plot the forward momentum it needs. Sure, it’s great to have an excuse to get them all together, but motivations in some cases are a little weak and throwaway in a way that comic books can often get away with but which seem more exposed on screen. Many of the best throwaway moments are given to Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, the potential star of the ensemble right from his first appearance in the shiny red suit four years ago, but the other major success story is Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, with a much better balance between Banner and beast than either of the previous attempts, playing well on Ruffalo’s natural charm but also managing a brooding menace. The rest of the Avengers themselves all get moments to shine but rarely steal the screen. Of the Avengers themselves, Hawkeye is the most underused, and while both Nick Fury and Agent “Phil” Coulson have some zingers to hand out, but Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill feels like she’s just being set up for future installments. As for the bad guys, Loki is even better here, Tom Hiddleston commanding the screen – no mean feat against such a roster of hero talent – but he’s poorly served by a supporting army who prove nothing more than Avenger fodder for the final battle.
Ah, the final battle. Once all of the Avengers are assembled, and something has finally been worked out for them to be Avenging, Whedon and co finally let rip. Everything that you’d possibly hoped this could be and more comes to pass, with scores of moments to please both the general crowd and the fanboys and an epic sweep to the action, which comes in wave after wave of that Avenger fodder mentioned earlier, that does finally give each of its leads stand out, iconic moments. The third act of The Avengers, taken on its own, has to be one of the best summer blockbusters ever, there’s just a risk that when you get the Blu-ray that may be the stretch which gets worn out first, as everything of the highest quality is weighted into that final third. Producer Kevin Feige somewhat bizarrely compared The Avengers to the most recent Transformers sequel in interviews, and he’s actually right in the sense that the film increases in quality over the course of time, but thankfully even the dullest moments here are better than the heights that the giant fighty robots managed last time out. The better comparison here is the first Spider-Man and X-Men movies, for despite what amounts to five prequels The Avengers turns out to be an origin movie, as good as its Marvel brethren but sadly suffering from the same flaws as almost every origin film in its genre. When you consider how well the second entries in each series turned out, and how high the heights reached are here, you’ll be salivating at the thought of Avengers 2. Let’s just hope that Iron Man 3, Captain America 2 and all of the other required interquels can keep us entertained in the mean time.
Why see it at the cinema: For the first of the main summer blockbusters of the years it’s oddly uncinematic, shot in 1.85:1 (the widescreen TV ratio, rather than the normal cinema widescreen of 2.35:1), but the combination of the sweeping visuals and the gut-aching humour of the last third mean this is best seen with company.
Why see it in 3D: Don’t, if you can help it. The first third is swathed in darkness and becomes almost unwatchable with the polarising filter reducing the light levels, and when the film does move into daylight some of the 3D in-your-face moments have a disappointing feeling of fakery. You’re absolutely better off not paying the premium.
Should I wait for the obligatory end credits sequence? Only if you’re a hardcore fanboy. I’m not, so I had to come home and Google what happened. This one’s also in the middle of the credits, so only sit through all the names if you have a genuine appreciation for the craft involved or Alan Silvestri’s bombastic score.
The Score: 8/10
You might recall an article I wrote last year about a film that had been made in my own village last year, called Wreckers, starring Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch. I wrote a review, as well as a piece on how I was Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film, long before this blog was a glint in the milkman’s eye, but I also took the opportunity to conduct an interview with the writer and director, Dictynna Hood.
The interview took place at a local tea shop, where we had some delightful tea and scones, and I recorded a forty minute interview on my iPhone, which came out surprisingly well. Typing it back now has been a strange experience – particularly listening to the clanking and bustling going on in the rest of the tea shop – and Dictynna was a very open and friendly interviewee for my first such attempt, for which I must say a big thank you. We covered a wide variety of topics, everything from the films of Michael Haneke to Doctor Who, but it’s the cinematic impact and benefits that I’m most interested in, so what’s here are my questions specifically around that subject, and the film in general.
The film is showing tonight and tomorrow night (24th / 25th April) at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, and tonight there will be an opportunity to ask Dictynna your own questions. Hopefully if you’re in the area you’ll be able to make it, and enjoy both the film and the Q & A as much as I did.
When you set out to make Wreckers, was the intention to get it into cinemas or was it just an extension of the short films you’d made previously?
I was definitely thinking of it for cinemas, knowing that we’re selling to the BBC and abroad it will also be mainly TV sales, but we definitely wanted the cinema release. Claire Foy is also very filmic; she has this quality that you can just watch her. She does a lot of watching, not speaking, in the film and I think holds the screen fantastically, which is one of the reasons it’s gone into the cinema. In the cinema, you can also see the subtlety of the performances more clearly, which gets lost a little on TV when you’re more focused on the plot.
What was it that decided you to set it in a village specifically? Was it more plot driven or was it about the film economics?
A little of both, really. It’s very contained, and while there’s a budgetary reason for that people have mentioned at Q & As that they saw that containment as a blessing. There were a lot of people who helped with the production of the film who’ve ended up being cut; nothing to do with them or their performance, but that was all to do with keeping that contained feeling. The village in the film isn’t a literal reflection of the real village itself, or the village I grew up in, but it’s important that there’s that small space with a very large area around it.
I had a fascination with the Fens for a long time; I also had a look at the West Country, and took a lot of pictures, but it somehow didn’t feel right. I had a book of Fenland stories which was inspirational. I was looking for a village that wasn’t too twee or precious. A friend suggested looking in the Isleham area, and when I went to the village I found the church open and the layout of the village was immediately appealing. I’d also looked at Norfolk, but the extreme landscape on the Fens was just so appealing.
I understand you studied in Cambridge; was that where the love affair with the area came from originally?
No, I think it actually came from the book of stories originally, but it wasn’t something that it particularly occurred from my studying. I’d been on a biking holiday with my sister on the Fens when I was younger, but it didn’t capture me then, only later. I’d still love to do more filming in the area in the future, possibly getting on the water, or exploring the farming and the legends. I do think it’s one of the most extreme landscapes in the UK, and it gets away from all the murder mystery and period drama feel that you normally associate with the countryside.
Although I live in the village, I wasn’t aware of who you had in the film until after you’d finished filming. How did you put a cast like that together?
We cast them because we thought they were a cracking cast; as it turns out, everyone else seems to have thought that as well! They were fantastic, and obviously that has helped the film enormously. Their profile has increased since we filmed, and we were very lucky to get them all, especially given how especially Benedict’s profile has soared since. He makes David’s character very ambiguous, with a more straightforward performance the film would have taken a very different turn, and potentially been less interesting for it.
Reading interviews with him, he seems to be in it very much for the craft rather than the attention. How did he come across when filming?
My impression is that he loves to work, and that’s why he did the film, as he had a gap in his schedule. I read in one of his interviews that he wanted to follow the James McAvoy path, mixing blockbusters with films like this, but his schedule actually made finishing the film rather complicated.
When did you actually film? Was it a couple of years ago?
It was 2009, and it’s actually turned out to be a real help that it’s taken a while to put together, in terms of the profile of the cast and where they are now, but at the time it didn’t it didn’t feel like that, it felt like, “why can’t we just finish this bloody thing!”
I need to be careful, I’m technically a PG blog!
But no, everything about it felt wonderful in the end, for such a small production.
How do you go about getting a film into something like the London Film Festival [the film played at LFF in 2011]? Is it a fairly lengthy, tortuous process?
When we showed it to our cast and crew on a big screen for the first time we realised the film had a real pull in the cinema. Then we hosted a couple of screenings for industry folks and got Artificial Eye our distributor on board at that point which no doubt helped. We invited one of the programmers for the London Film Festival to an industry screening, it’s certainly better if a programmer can see your film big screen.
Do you think that British film is becoming confined to the festivals? It seems harder to get distribution for British films these days.
We had very realistic expectations for our film and it’s already gone beyond those expectations. I saw a lot of bold films at the London Film Festival which probably won’t get a release, but I’m not sure what the answer is; maybe more the French style of distribution. There’s a lot more film clubs in villages these days, which does open up more opportunities for folks to see films on the big screen. From a filmmaker’s perspective it does help enormously if you can cast people more recognisable to a wider audience, but it’s a shame if you have to do that at all times.
Has Wreckers turned out pretty much how you imagined it?
We realised on day three that we couldn’t shoot our storyboard, so we had to work out quickly how to capture the feeling we were after, happily we’d had a lot of discussion during pre-production about the grammar and the atmosphere of the film and how to maintain that even if shooting not exactly as planned. Even if you’re Hitchcock or Kubrick, as soon as you cast it the film becomes something different, as actors embody the characters and make them their own. The key as a director is to hold on to the core ideas and the core feeling of the film and to create around that. It’s was Annemarie’s [Lean-Vercoe,director of photography] first or second feature, and I couldn’t have done it without her, but all of the crew were magnificent.
What’s next for you, now that Wreckers has been a success and gotten into cinemas?
I’m exploring what to do next; we’ve got a story about a big family gathering where the parents are ageing hippies, and we’ve got a wonderfully twisted rom-com. I want to get on and direct more, but you have to make sure that the script is a match, and I guess the joy of writing is that you know your script is a match! [laughs]
Dictynna Hood, thank you very much.
Wreckers is also available on DVD now from all good stockists.
The Review: Pirates must have the best PR people in the world, based on their current profile and perception. Never mind general thievery and seafaring atrocities on a scale that’s probably only outdone by the Vikings, from International Talk Like A Pirate Day to the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow these days it’s cool to roam the high seas with a parrot and a heavy West Country accent. The Pirates! and their obligatory exclamation mark are only likely to make that worse, given that the Captain is the world’s most famous stuttering Englishman, his first mate is Tim off The Office and they’ve been brought to us by the same firm that brought us Wallace, Gromit and Arthur Christmas.
Yes, The Pirates! is the latest from the wizards of Plasticine from Bristol, and like their most famous man and dog creations both the Pirates! and Scientists! of the title are carved from the same clay and they share the same very British sensibility that has characterised every big screen adventure that Aardman has embarked on to date. (Sorry, I’ll stop with the exclamation marks now.) While their philosophy has always been that it’s better to see the thumbprints, the better to appreciate the quality of the craft, it’s never stifled their ambition and Pirates is rich in quality from the tiny background details to the beautifully realised characters. Aardman have also managed to apply their distinctive style to the story while allowing the material to retain a feeling of freshness.
There’s also wall to wall quality in the voice department, with the biggest surprise being Hugh Grant. Casting aside his trademark foppishness and instead channeling a gruff yet playful tone, almost like a younger, more coherent Brian Blessed (who also pops up as the Pirate King), Grant is a thoroughly cheerful presence who keeps the story rolling on his bountiful charisma, and he’s ably supported by his pirate crew, including standout Russell Tovey. The other star of the extensive cast, which ranges from Jeremy Piven to Lenny Henry, is David Tennant as the fraught and slightly scheming Charles Darwin. As with Darwin, the real world characters (such as Imelda Staunton’s Queen Victoria) are not particularly faithful but are all the more fun for it.
However, fun is actually where The Pirates! is sadly a little lacking. While it’s all entertaining enough and will happily while away an hour and a half with the rest of the family, the humour and the peril are both just a shade underdone and there won’t be the repeat value of the likes of Wallace and Gromit or even Chicken Run. There’s a couple of decent set pieces and some moderate chuckles, but the only thing that truly soars is a whale which crashes a pirate get-together early on. It’s so frustrating when we’ve seen what Aardman can do when on top of it’s game, and like Pixar the disappointment is even more acute when the treats on offer aren’t as fulfilling, knowing how high their bar is normally set. Since writer of the original stories Gideon Defoe provides the screenplay and Aardman stalwart Peter Lord direct proceedings, it’s maybe a surprise that it’s all a bit flat in places, but despite the consistently gorgeous animation the occasional pacing issues and the lack of a steady supply of truly great gags mean that you’ll probably enjoy plundering Pirates once, but the treasures here are in somewhat limited supply.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s amazing how much the lumps of clay can be moulded into epic vistas, albeit with a little CG augmentation, but as well as the fantastic visuals, allowing you to see every fingerprint, there’s just enough laughs to make it worth seeing with a big audience.
Why see it in 3D: While animation still seems to hold an advantage over live action in terms of clarity of image in 3D, there’s nothing here that stands out (if you’ll pardon the pun) in terms of a compelling reason to see this in 3D. 2D absolutely fine this time.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: Young adult fiction is the hot ticket right now. It seems that if you can get to the heart of that market with your subject matter, then nothing is potentially off topic. Wizardry as a metaphor for adolescence? No problem. Star-crossed lovers who might have a problem with sunlight and being just a bit bitey? Ker-ching. Two dozen teens who must fight to the death because, in true Highlander style, there can be only one? Really? Writer of the original novels Suzanne Collins has claimed that the inspiration lies within Greek myth, specifically Theseus, although of course the Minotaur put paid to the Greek kiddies, rather than allowing them to take their issues out on each other. So what kind of role model is twenty four teens and tweens grabbing a weapon and taking pot shots?
The Hunger Games is actually an excellent role model if you consider where viewing habits will go when young adults become actual adults. There is an obvious level of satire on the current obsession with reality television that has obvious echoes of direct precedents such as Battle Royale, but also is only a couple of steps removed from Paul Verhoeven’s back catalogue. There’s also a dystopian future into which we are plunged which will hopefully inspire youngsters to seek out even darker material at some future date, but Hunger Games also works as a feminist ideal without ever really being overtly feminist, but shys away from casting the central teens as brutal killers, rather than desperate survivalists. From start to finish, there are seeds planted that are reminiscent of more adult films, and director Gary Ross does an effective job of weaving them together. Still, this is probably one you’ll not be wanting your own young’uns to emulate too closely on the playground.
This movie, as I alluded to earlier, is also being touted as the next Harry Potter or Twilight, and it’s certainly the equal of the former while probably besting the latter in terms of the cast that’s been assembled. Jennifer Lawrence is older in real life than her literary counterpart, but it’s worth the slight age gap for the quality of performance that she provides, not only showing steely determination and defiance but also allowing her guard to drop and showing real moments of vulnerability and fear. Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson have a long track record of top quality character roles, and if made a short list of potential menacing overlords, then Donald Sutherland would be on it. In an attempt to reflect futuristic fashions, the Capital’s garish colour schemes offset well against the drabness of the districts, but occasionally those artistic choices go a little over the top; Elizabeth Banks ends up wearing more than her fair share of them and it’s credit to her that her performance doesn’t get lost in them. The only slightly weak link is Josh Hutcherson’s slightly anaemic performance, but it doesn’t serve to unbalance the remainder.
Most people in the age range this is targeted won’t remember the delights of Saint and Greavsie, but as Jimmy was so fond of saying, “It’s a game of two halves, Saint.” Strictly speaking, the two halves are actually pre-game and game, and it’s the first half that’s the most effective, with the game itself struggling ever so slightly to throw off the shackles of the 12A rating, some shaky camerawork and some poor effects in the finale. There’s also the occasional pacing issue in this stretch, which is a shame as the first half has a steady build of tension marked out with some dark themes and leavened with the occasional dash of humour. The final score on The Hunger Games is that it’s respectable rather than compelling, but with enough to make it watching for adults of all ages.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s an ideal education for the young adult age range, who can expand into more grown-up themes easily from here, and apart from the occasional bit of dodgy CGI there’s plenty of meat here for the whole family, with both cityscapes and the countryside looking good on the wide screen.
The Score: 7/10
Pitch Pie Chart Showing What Battleship Has Been “Inspired” By:
Review Hits / Misses Lists:
Why see it at the cinema: IF YOU LIKE TO WATCH GENERALLY INDETERMINATE GREY BLOBS AND STUFF BLOWING UP REALLY, *REALLY* LOUDLY WHILE IN REALLY TIGHT FOCUS AND WITH NO LOGIC OR REASON THEN DON’T MISS BATTLESHIP! (Put that on the poster, Universal, I dare you.)
The Score: 4/10
The Review: There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to survive a horror movie. Did you know, though, that those rules apply to the audience as much as they do to the characters? We now live in a culture where it’s possible to watch pretty much anything seven days after it’s aired on TV, even if you didn’t record it; but only if you have no desire to watch it without knowing what happens. Likely Lads Terry and Bob thought they had it bad trying to avoid the footy score, but these days you can’t even watch an episode of anything from Masterchef to The Walking Dead unless you’re willing to cut yourself off from friends, the internet and social media as today, the tools that allow us to communicate feed instant discussion and analysis and leave no hope for spoilerphobes. So what chance have you got of watching a horror movie that depends on its surprise for gaining the most enjoyment, and that’s been sat on the shelf gathering dust for three years?
Be afraid. Be very afraid. But maybe that fear is what will get you to The Cabin In The Woods unspoiled. If you’re reading this review and you haven’t seen it, then curiosity is already probably getting the better of you, and that kind of recklessness wouldn’t see you last five minutes. But you already knew that – you’ve seen horror movies before, who hasn’t? – and it’s that very fact that means if you don’t go into a film written by creator of Buffy and Angel and directed by the writer of Cloverfield expecting that it knows its audience watch horror movies, then you’ve probably not seen enough popular culture in general. But in the post-Scream era, just being self-referential about your genre isn’t enough; to truly stand out you either need to innovate, or you need to be damn good at what you do.
Whether it’s April or whether it’s Hallowe’en, everyone’s entitled to one good scare. But those expecting a film delivering wall to wall scares may be in for a disappointment, for while Cabin has a decent set of scares and a reasonable dose of gore, it’s primary achievement is that it’s consistently hilarious from start to finish. Some of the subtler jokes will depend on both your deep knowledge of horror and also your ability to pick up details in the background, but by and large it’s the characters front and centre that will have you rolling in the aisles. Where the genius starts to become apparent is that Cabin can switch between humour and fright seemingly at will, without ever losing the impact of either. It also has the most bizarrely erotic moment seen in any film in living memory, which while relevant to nothing else in the film will probably live long in your memory.
But whatever you do, don’t fall asleep, for The Cabin In The Woods moves at a fair old lick. While much horror relies on the slow burn, Cabin expects you to come with it on the journey, and conceptually it’s a long way from where we start to where we end up. Taking that journey are the cast of relative unknowns venturing into the woods, although Chris Hemsworth has found global fame since this film was in front of the cameras. Of the others, the standout is Randy-from-Scream clone Fran Kranz who steals most of the scenes he’s in and grabs a fair chunk of the best lines. There are two other well known faces who have big roles and who help to elevate the film to what it is, but given that they’re not even in the trailer, even mentioning in their names is more of a spoiler than I’d like to give you.
We all go a little mad sometimes, and frankly attempting to review this without giving the game away has almost driven me crazy. But back to my point from earlier: The Cabin In The Woods is being touted as revolutionary, and on that I’m not convinced that it is, but it certainly doesn’t hold back, and at the various points where you find yourself thinking where the story could go next, and hoping against hope that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have the balls to deliver what you’d most like to see, they never, ever disappoint. So what The Cabin In The Woods does achieve is being entertainment on the grandest of scales, an absolute joy from the first moment to the last as you put the pieces together to see if you can get to the end game before the characters, and it will become endlessly quotable once everyone that’s interested has actually seen it. Others might have trodden the path before, but Whedon and Goddard have proven they have what it takes to be considered right at the top of the tree where big scares mixed with hard laughs are concerned. Hail to the kings, baby.
Why see it at the cinema: I’m not sure what I expected, but I know I didn’t expect this film to be quite so consistently funny in a way that doesn’t undercut the scares. Comedy and horror are the two best friends of audience reaction, and there’s reason enough to see it on the big screen, but there is undoubtedly some imagery that will also benefit, and even the sound design screams “See me in a cinema!” if you’ll pardon the pun. But the sooner you see it, ideally on opening day, the less chance you have of one of your less intelligent friends blowing the whole gaff.
The Score: 10/10
I saw this film at Ultra Culture Cinema #09: for my review of that, see here.
London. City of dreams, land of opportunity, where everyone is 19% more good looking than elsewhere in the country, where you might have to remortgage your house to be able to eat at the best restaurants and home of the most diverse range of cinemas known to man. I’m a country mouse in blogging terms, stuck up here in the Fens with good quality cinemas all around but missing out on the advanced previews and shiny, star-laden premieres of Leicester Square and the like. Even in the West End, though, there’s a difference between the mainstream and the art house, and if you’re looking for something more thought provoking and stimulating then you could do worse than seek out the Institute of Contemporary Arts, tucked away from the bright lights, stale popcorn and over-inflated prices of Leicester Square as it is on The Mall. But it’s also been the occasional home for the past couple of years to Ultra Culture’s imaginatively-titled Ultra Culture Cinema series.
Ultra Culture, or Charlie Lyne as he is known to people who don’t call each other by their Twitter usernames, might be a well known face to those who watch Film 2012 (or, more precisely, watched Film 2011 when he was actually on it), but sadly the format of the revamped programme has never given its contributors the chance to be themselves, so the better outlet for Charlie’s brand of insight and humour is undoubtedly his own show, and how better to do that in London with a stage show? Events like this are also a great opportunity to see films before their general release for plebs like me, so I can, on this occasion, get one over on Mr Joe Public. (Apart from all the people who saw it at the raft of other free public screenings earlier this week. Balls.)
This is the first time I’ve managed to venture down to London for one of these nights, but reviews of previous evenings seemed to suggest that we’d be treated to more than just a film. What I was treated to first was the the company of a familiar face from my visits to Empire’s Movie-Con / Big Screen events, so I didn’t have to spend the evening sipping my orange juice alone in the ICA’s trendy white cafe, which feels like it’s been decorated upstairs in the IKEA Clockwork Orange range. Which was nice. (Both the company and the decor, that is.) Said friend Marie also seemed to know about half the people in the bar, so it really did feel like a home away from home.
The other thing that also made me feel right at home was the preponderance of gingers. Almost as if some sort of subliminal redhead Pied Piper effect was at play, the presence of the nation’s premier red top film blogger, in the more literal sense, seemed to have been a rallying call for the auburn and the strawberry blond across the capital. If you don’t believe me, here’s the photographic evidence:
Given that the average proportion of those with a copper-coloured top in the general populace is 2 – 6%, it was clear that this was the hot ticket for those with hot hair. As a redhead myself, it was comforting to be surrounded by so many of my kind. If that wasn’t great enough, someone then moved through the crowd handing out Mini Eggs. Sometimes it’s the little things, y’know?
However, the one ginger that mattered was the one on stage, and at around the scheduled start time we were ushered in to take our seats. There was then a flurry of activity, as prizes were rapidly handed out for drawing on walls and other random achievements, but the core of the pre-movie entertainment was a short play, penned by Charlie himself. This might be misleading for two reasons: to suggest it was a play would suggest there were actual actors, rather than punters conscripted out of the audience to read the other parts from their scripts, and to suggest it was short might be based on Charlie’s original estimate of its duration (about 15 minutes) rather than its actual duration (nearer 40 minutes).
Four volunteers were brought up on stage to enact the story, a tale of how writer and director Rolfe Kanefsky made a self-referential horror movie called There’s Nothing Out There, featuring a character who knows that they’re in a horror movie, so has watched other horror movies so he knows “The Rules”. The play featured “Kanefsky”, as well as “Wes Craven” and a number of other characters, some with indecipherable accents, as well as live musical accompaniment played on the supplied instruments, including a saxoflute, a playmonica and a tambourine. Eat your heart out, Mark Kermode and the Dodge Brothers.
The highlights of the the “play” included some malfunctioning flame effects on the Keynote presentation which caused much disappointment in our host, but much cheering in our audience when it started working on the next slide, one of the male actors who appeared to start on the improv when it became apparent that one of the chosen actors would win the rest of the prizes, and the supporting actress taking the narration line “And now, Scream” far too literally and eliciting a high-pitched scream with impeccable comic timing, thus enabling her to walk off with that bag of prizes.
We were also treated to, as part of the play (which, thanks to its combination of Keynote speech, Charlie’s narration and the scandal of how Wes Craven may have ripped off Kanefsky, felt like the An Inconvenient Truth of self-referential horror movies) a run-down of Rolfe Kanefsky’s other works, including Sex Files: Alien Erotica, Jacqueline Hyde (say it out loud and it makes sense) and Emmanuelle in Wonderland, and we were also presented with the epic trailer for the high point of Rolfe’s career, The Erotic Misadventures Of The Invisible Man. Sadly, as this is a PG blog I can’t share the trailer for that with you – I’m also fearful of the level of spam that linking its trailer might generate from the kind of sites hosting it – but I can share the tralier for Kanefsky’s original meisterwerk, There’s Nothing Out There. (Yes, it’s not really PG either, but whatever.)
After all that, we got to watch a film, which for many people was the point of being there. There was also possibly the most shambolic intro from the talent ever witnessed, as Drew Goddard and star Jesse Williams bore a contorted look of confusion on their face as they attempted to understand what an “Ultra… Culture Cinema?” actually was, while in the middle of introducing it. My full review of the film is available here, but let me just say for now that The Cabin In The Woods is magnificent, and while it may not be totally the revolutionary deconstruction of the horror genre that some are claiming, it is both hysterically funny (my face is still aching 24 hours later from the laughing) and on occasion, properly scary. If you’ve seen the trailer and think you know what you’re in for, then you may well still be pleasantly surprised, and you’ll get nothing more out of me. The genuinely appreciative audience screamed, whooped and hollered at all the appropriate points, and made their appreciation known at the end.
We then all decamped to the bar again on the promise of a late licence, what people as old as me would call a disco and “Easter Presents”, although given that I had to have just one quick drink and head for the Tube back to my car, I didn’t see any presents. There is always the possibility that I misheard and it was actually an “Easter Presence” in the bar; if Jesus was around, I hope he enjoyed the evening as much as I did.
But would it not have been better just to have the film without all of titting around before and after? Frankly, no. The cinema experience is becoming lost and diluted, and in this age of 3D cinema and vibrating cinema seats attempting to keep punters putting our bums on their seats, actually a little bit of showmanship, an education and a right good laugh were the perfect warm up, got everyone in just the right mood for Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s epic and actually made the film itself even more enjoyable, if such a thing is possible. For anyone doubting what the cinema experience has to offer, or just hoping to eat Mini Eggs and draw pictures of horror movies in a room packed with gingers, then I strongly recommend giving the next Ultra Culture Cinema a try.