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.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: The following blog is rated 18 for strong language, imagery, and a discussion that’s probably not going to interest anyone much under 17. Seriously, if you’re even the slightest bit squeamish and haven’t seen David Cronenberg’s The Fly, read on with care.
Forget your Harry Potters and your Twilights, they’re old news. The latest tweenage sensation, the young adult novel The Hunger Games, will be unleashed on us all in just a week. Well, strictly speaking, 99.92% of The Hunger Games will be released on the UK in just a week, for the distributor has taken the decision to take out seven seconds to receive a 12A rating instead of a 15. This isn’t the first time that this has happened this year, with The Woman In Black similarly cut for its release last month, this time losing six seconds of its run time. Should we care that we’re losing an amount of time that isn’t really practical enough to do anything with?
It’s not with us until June, but in December the wonderful folks at 20th Century Fox shared with us a teaser trailer, preceded by a series of teases for that teaser trailer. Well now, the full trailer will be released this week, and once again we have a teaser trailer for the trailer. Yes, you can watch 20 seconds of the trailer which is coming soon, and that 20 seconds is absolutely, positively, in no way just like the teaser trailer that was already released.
In tribute to this precisely constructed marketing campaign, may I present to you my own teaser for my review of the film itself. Now of course I’ve not actually seen Prometheus yet, but you can be sure that when my review does appear, in the first week in June, it will contain the following words:
So, hopefully that’s whetted your appetite. Join me again in a couple of months when I might tell you the first sentence.
The Review: If ever there were two genres guilty of falling back on high concepts, then it’s the rom-com and the action movie. Die Hard On A… movies and Four Weddings knock-offs are two a penny, and This Means War is not the first time that the action movie and the rom-com have been made into strange bedfellows. But This Means War is also the melding of two high concepts into one vertigo-inducing idea: what if James Bond and Jason Bourne went head to head. Who would win? But what if they weren’t just competing in the field, but in the bedroom as well? It does require the two concepts to be merged in such a way that’s not only fair to both, but also allows room for each to breathe. Can you make a film that’s both a good rom-com and a good action movie?
No; at least, not if This Means War is anything to go by. There are three main elements to This Means War, and considering each in tone it’s the com of rom-com that comes off by far the best. Reese Witherspoon is an old hand at this kind of thing, and has a light touch for the material, even if the film does it’s best to make her look as if she’s an international-class trollop. It’s her lightness of touch that makes long sequences watchable, but also her pairing with Chelsea Handler makes much of the film more tolerable. Handler gets the majority of the best lines, and isn’t in the slightest hindered by the fact that she plainly can’t act (early scenes have the feeling of her reading from an autocue – bady – before she hits her stride later on), but her spunky energy keeps the film afloat during the com elements. Hardy and Pine get lots of banter, but only the occasional opportunity for out and out comedy, and it’s a shame there’s not more scenes allowing them to riff.
The rom, however, is where things start to go pear-shaped. This Means War wants to have its cake, eat it and have sex with it, so we’re left with two competing rom-coms as Tom and Chris both attempt to woo Reese for themselves. Sadly, the way that the competing romances are structured, neither comes off as even remotely believable, full of people reading lines from a script that would just about pass for drama students in an improv but would never be said by real people (or even characters in a good rom-com). Consequently it’s impossible to root for either protagonist; the shouting and recriminations that normally sit in the second act of the rom-com are so predicable, you could set your watch by them. Worse than that, though, is that the set-up of the first fifteen minutes means that there’s only one way this is ever going to play out, and despite rumours of multiple endings, the one which panders to all of the lowest common denominators is the one you’ll get to see.
Then there’s the action element, which is nothing short of disastrous. Just three action sequences, at beginning, middle and end; the first is so badly shot it’s impossible to discern anything that’s happening, the second is edited so choppily that any excitement is drained out of it, and the last actually shamelessly rips off other, better action movies before simply giving up and resolving all of the obvious plot threads from earlier on. Put simply, This Means War is an insult to your intelligence on a number of levels, presenting a film where two characters need to get together that has such a random view of basic morality that the inevitable and predictable outcome is actually the last one you’ll want, but also spoonfeeding you action scenes so utterly unwatchable and lacking in originality that if being asked to sit through them doesn’t make you angry, I might politely suggest that you need higher standards. Director McG and writers such as Simon Kinberg have all worked in these genres before, and everything from the hyper-kinetic Charlie’s Angels films to the disturbingly similar in concept and execution Mr and Mrs Smith make this feel nothing more than a sequel subject to the law of diminishing returns. Hardy and Pine are both on an upward career trajectory after years of hard graft in the business, but let’s hope this is a blip and nothing more.
Why see it at the cinema: Not for the action sequences, which are a shameful affront to at least two of your senses, but for the comedy; at least if other people are laughing, there’s a chance you might feel like joining in.
The Score: 4/10
The Pitch: Die Hard On A Ledge.
Review Tick-List (contains very mild, generic spoilers):
Why see it at the cinema: It’s just about passable Friday night entertainment, which won’t tax a single one of your brain cells or spring any nasty surprises. It is more enjoyable than it has any right to be given the total lack of effort involved in its conception; put in a similar amount of effort and you might just find yourself enjoying Friday night at the flicks.
The Score: 5/10
Well, Mr Oscar has put away his shiny bald head polish for another year, and we’re in the potential quality vacuum that is March. Coming after the vast majority of gongs have been given away and before we get into the avalanche of blockbusters and Hollywood hype that will start with The Avengers in late April, it’s a certain type of film that normally gets released in March. Behold the top 15 opening weekends at the US box office for March, courtesy of statistics trove Box Office Mojo:
Slightly depressing list, isn’t it? Yes, there are typically two types of film that make an appearance in March: big animations looking to get small bums on seats without the congestion of summer, and large scale films of moderate to low quality also looking to avoid other attention. Once upon a time, it was the month of the sleeper hit: Pretty Woman, Police Academy and Lethal Weapon all started out in March in the US, but now if you’re even a moderately sized film with good potential, you’ll be pitching in for a bigger month and more attention.
And, thanks to the often lengthy wait for animated films to cross the pond, the big new entry on that list, The Lorax, doesn’t reach UK audiences until the summer. So for scale this month we have John Carter (and I’m sorry, just because George Lucas ripped off Edgar Rice Burroughs, doesn’t mean you have to make your adaptation look creepily like Attack Of The Clones, crossed with new Conan The Barbarian) but there is one potential blockbuster and one UK animation lurking in this month’s list that could make March at least vaguely memorable this year.
Based on the look I got when seeing Shame at my local multiplex, where the ticket usher looked at me with such disgust it was as if I’d turned up in a full length brown mackintosh and started drooling and rubbing my thighs, I’m just glad that this look at the life of a paedophile and his young prisoner is playing to the art house crowd only, where they understand these things a little better and don’t judge. I am a huge fan of Michael Haneke, if you can be such a thing without contradiction given the deliberately off-putting nature of some of his works, so this piece in a similar vein from his former casting director was bound to interest me; so nice to see a trailer which isn’t just a montage of clips spoiling the plot as well.
To show how difficult it is for foreign films to get much love, this thriller with the star of The Secret In Their Eyes, Ricardo Darin, is currently playing in approximately three cinemas in London, so the likes of you and I probably won’t see it. Secrets itself was unjustly marginalised to the art houses despite picking up the big foreign Oscar and being just the kind of material that would appeal to big crowds if it didn’t have words along the bottom, and it didn’t generate enough cachet for its star to get any other films into cinemas. Sigh.
On that basis, no prizes for guessing where you’ll be watching one of this year’s nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. If you’re lucky. Repeated sigh.
The Hunger Games
But remember what March is about? Looking to get product out there in a crowded field? Have an adaptation of a young adult novel that could be the next Potter or Twilight, but don’t fancy your chances in the middle of a summer meltdown? Why then certainly, do release your film in March! Currently tracking at a level which suggests it might even have an outside chance of dethroning Alice In Wonderland from the top of that list earlier, the combination of well-loved material and an exciting cast that includes the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Elizabeth Banks has even got me planning a trip for this one. (Still never watching Twilight, though.)
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists
I’d also mentioned animation, and frankly who needs American CGI when you can have Aardman, working in good old fashioned Plasticine (or whatever it is that they actually use these days). If you’re not a fan of Wallace and Gromit, then you must have taken leave of your senses, and with a track record in the medium that also includes Chicken Run, this can’t be anything except great. Probably. It’s a shame that the leprosy controversy cost the film a joke and a bit of credibility, though; I thought it was fairly armless. (Disclaimer: The Movie Evangelist knows that leprosy isn’t about limbs falling off and is genuinely sympathetic towards the plight of sufferers, but I just can’t resist a bad pun.)
Into The Abyss
It’s Werner Herzog, with a documentary on prisoners and the death penalty. After 2011 featured a fascinating documentary about the world’s oldest cave and a memorable guest appearance in The Simpsons, it looks like 2012 is warming up to be another intriguing year for Werner Herzog. He’s the kind of person that deserves to only have interesting things written about him; I feel that this paragraph hasn’t done him justice. Sorry, Werner Herzog. (I do like saying Werner Herzog, though. Werner Herzog.)