Cambridge Film Festival 2014 Day 5: Frozen Singalong, How I Came To Hate Maths, The Japanese Dog, The Canal

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I mentioned yesterday one of the key reasons for me watching so many films in cinemas, being forced to watch films in one sitting as an antidote to my short attention span. I also collect audience reactions, from massive gasps in thrillers to stunned silence at dramatic twists (see here for more examples of my favourites). Monday threw up a host of opportunities to add to my collection.

Frozen Sing Along

Frozen sing along

While I saw Frozen twice in cinemas last year, once for Bums On Seats and once with Mrs Evangelist, I wanted to get to something at the Family Film Festival and not having any children of my own, this seemed the best option to get Mrs Evangelist back to. Also, being a singer it’s a great way to combine two of my favourite passions. As a film, I’m still as much of a fan as I was when I saw it last year – it comfortably made my top 40 last year – although the problems become more pronounced, including the odd structural deficiency and the fact that all the central female characters have the bodily characteristics of aggressively sexual Barbie dolls. Despite that, I stand by it being my favourite Disney animation (excluding Pixar) since the heyday of the Nineties. (The Score: still 9/10.)

Audience reaction: was a joy to behold, mainly because the number of unaccompanied adults in the screening was in single figures. I was a little concerned that the kids weren’t into it, as they didn’t start singing – but then how many kids are going to wander round the house singing Frozen Heart (The Ice Workers’ Song)? As soon as we got to Do You Want To Build A Snowman? the choir of 200 young voices kicked in, and not only did they sing the songs, they said the words in the songs and they even made the sounds effects in the songs. What became apparent was that Mrs Evangelist and I didn’t know the songs anywhere near well enough – she gave it her all in Let It Go (which I also sang in my best falsetto so as to blend in; apologies to anyone in the rows in front who thought they were being haunted by a Bee Gee) and I also managed Olaf’s song In Summer, but a full purchase of the soundtrack is clearly required before we attempt to make it to one of the grown-up sing alongs at somewhere like the Prince Charles in London. And yes, we will clearly be doing that, judge me all you like.

How I Came To Hate Maths (Comment j’ai détesté les maths)

How I Came To Hate Maths

Or, how I came to not really like How I Came To Hate Maths. It’s nominally a French documentary, although given that around 49.4% of the mathematicians featured are English, there’s certainly an international flavour. I’m a mathematician by training, having done it at GCSE, A Level and degree level, so I approach any scientific documentary with a keen interest. In theory this documentary should have been a no-brainer; mathematics is divided into those people like me who are good at it and enjoy it, and normal people who hate it. However, there were two major flaws: firstly, in setting out to prove any mathematical theorem you should clearly show your workings, and there was no consistent flow of ideas.

This is almost an anthology documentary, which covers chapters on problems with the curriculum being taught in French schools, issues with the subprime mortgage market, the fields of advanced mathematical research and so on, and the underlying purpose is muddied at best. More critically, the documentary never manages to come close to helping those in the “normal person, hate maths” understand why maths is so cool to those of us in the other camp. A few interesting insights in the individual sections, but a missed opportunity.

The Score: 5/10

Audience reaction: this one was a sell-out, but the general shuffling and coughing throughout gave clear indication that I wasn’t the only one truly gripped. As soon as the credits began to roll, so did the stampede for the exit.

The Japanese Dog (Câniele Japonez)

Japanese Dog

I’ll be honest, my thoughts on picking this out of the programme were that the single frame looked more cheerful than anything from any Romanian film I’d previously seen. I would say that’s not an entirely bad reflection on Romanian cinema, as the films I have seen, especially those from Christian Mungiu, have been of the highest quality, but mostly they’re about as cheerful as a wet weekend at the end of the pier eating congealed fish and chips, and that’s the upbeat moments. All this, though, does a disservice to The Japanese Dog, which while slight, peaceful and about as eventful as a trip to the shops to buy a stamp, still wove a certain spell over me on a Monday night.

Costache (Victor Rebengiuc) is a man who’s lost almost everything in a flood in his village, including his wife. He mopes around and begrudgingly accepts offers of help, but dawdles over selling his now worthless plot of land. A visit by his estranged son and his family gently thaws his demeanour, as he bonds with the grandson he’s never met. At an hour and a quarter and barely two acts in terms of narrative structure, The Japanese Dog is unlikely to offend but it’s also equally likely to not linger terribly long in your memory. It is beautifully acted, the camera work is minimal with a richness to the cinematography and the script suggests beats and moments rather than bogging itself down in exposition. It’s a lovely character study that purrs rather than barks, as long as that’s your thing.

Audience reaction: one of those great moments when not a single member of the audience moved for the exit before the end credits were up, possibly induced into a trance-like state.

The Canal

The Canal

The last film of the day was one of two horror films screening at the festival that I’d managed to miss at the earlier FrightFest. David (Rupert Evans) is a film archivist living with his wife and son – and if you can tell me what his son’s accent is supposed to be, I’d be most grateful – but he’s got two problems. Firstly, his wife (Hannah Hoekstra) is almost certainly having an affair with a dashing looking client, and secondly one of his latest pieces of archive film shows his house being the setting for a brutal murder in 1902. When his wife is found dead in the local canal, the detective on the case (Steve Oram) wades in with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer smashing airhorns and accuses him of the murder, while David is obsessed with both the house and the canal and what haunted secrets they might be keeping.

I really didn’t get on with The Canal; the script recycles a few horror ideas done better elsewhere and it relies heavily on jump scares from overcranked sound. The acting is also dreadful in places, with Rupert Evans reduced to little more than a damsel in distress in trousers and the likes of Antonia Campbell-Hughes (pictured) and Steve Oram misjudging either the tone or their performances – or both – rather horribly. Oram in particular feels like he’s wandered in from a bad parody of The Sweeney, and as a consequence The Canal never resonates and becomes dull long before the final stretch.

The Score: 4/10

Audience reaction: am impressive amount of jumping from a few very nervous rows sat behind me. I will confess to having jumped a couple of times myself, but both were early on before the tedium set in. I couldn’t possibly confirm or deny rumours that festival director Tony Jones was creeping around the back rows in a William Castle-esque attempt to add greater scares, but based on the quality of the film it would only have helped if he had been.

Review of 2013: The Half Dozen Special – 12 Best Trailers Of 2013

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Time to start my fourth annual review of the year, and where better place to start than where most cinema screenings also begin: the trailers. (Yes, technically most cinema screenings start with the adverts, but even I’m not desperate enough to pick out my favourite bits of non-cinematic commercial advertising.) At the start of the year I wrote a post called the Corridor Of Uncertainty, looking fondly at the various ephemera that make up your pre-film entertainment as well as the adverts and trailers and I then tracked that with each review I wrote for three months. The pattern that emerged was that the multiplexes were typically running at around 25 – 30 minutes, where smaller cinemas were coming in at a more leg and bottom-friendly fifteen minutes. It would be nice if what you’re expected to sit through before the film worked on its own terms, but that seems less and less the case.

What has become apparent over the course of the year is that, to quote an old cliché, they don’t make ’em like they used to. Take for example this trailer for The Innocents which is currently in cinemas on re-release.

While there’s certainly an efficiency to modern promos, with their two and a half minute running time, their teaser trailers, their trailer teasers and their ruthless marketing campaigns designed to take no prisoners, I can’t help but feel that something of the character of trailers of years gone by has been lost forever. Finding trailers that I feel make the grade this year feels as if it’s becoming increasingly difficult, but here are what are I consider to be the year’s dozen best films that have been brutally edited down into pocket form for promotional purposes. As always, because this is a cinema blog, some of these trailers may have been on t’internet last year, but you would have been seeing them in cinemas this year.

Best Trailer For A Not Very Good Movie: I Give It A Year

There’s plenty of laughs in this trailer, and often that’s a warning shot to anyone then moving onto the full film that the trailer might contain all of the film’s laughs. What was particularly impressive in this case is that the trailer actually contained more laughs than the film, many of these moments proving less funny in context than they were in isolation and the sour, narcissistic and generally unpleasant tone that permeated the film itself ultimately made it about as enjoyable as hearing a doctor give you a detailed report on the contents of your lower bowel.

Best Trailer Featuring Almost The Last Shot Of The Movie: You’re Next

If you see as many films as I do, then chances are that you’ll end up seeing some of the same trailers over and over again. I still have nightmares about seeing the trailer for Brendan Fraser film Inkheart what must have been over twenty times in the cinema as the release date kept getting pushed back (never did see the film) and consequently I could have played it out word for word. I caught this trailer for You’re Next several times over the summer, and a few moments stuck in my head to the point I was waiting for them to appear in the finished product. I’ll never know if this reduced my overall enjoyment of the film, but there were enough other moments that this was an unnecessary move on the trailer maker’s part.

Best Trailer Earworm: Stoker

Really enjoyed Stoker, so don’t be surprised when you see it in the Top 40 of the year later this week. I also remember coming out of the cinema with the track from this trailer, Dirge’s “Death In Vegas”, still playing in my head; all the more impressive when you consider that it doesn’t actually feature in the finished film. Not to knock Clint Mansell’s score for Stoker, as it’s one of the best of the year, but Dirge had embedded itself so deeply in my brain that when I started putting this list together, it instantly started playing in my head again on a loop.

Best Trailer Earworm Honourable Mention: Frances Ha

If I was a director, then I’d love to be able to pay such obvious homage to the works of others and be lauded for it, other than being accused of simply ripping off the original. I sat through all of the end credits of Frances Ha simply to listen to David Bowie’s classic Modern Love, but didn’t realise until afterwards that the scene is a direct reference to this scene from Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang.

Excuse me, back in a moment, just off to run jauntily down the street. It’s infectious.

Best WTF Trailer: Only God Forgives

So Drive. You really liked Drive, didn’t you? Yes, I did too, putting it number two in my Top 40 of 2011. So Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film has got Ryan Gosling in again. So yes, you’d expect it to be a lot like Drive again, wouldn’t you? So… ah. Ah right. (Warning: contains violence, karaoke and general weirdness.)

Best Trailer That Actually Contains The Post-Credits Sting: The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology

Having watched this on the last day of the Cambridge Film Festival this year, director Sophie Fiennes was present for a Q & A. On these occasions, often the credits are allowed to play out in the background silently so we can get straight to the discussion; Sophie asked to have the sound back up so we could watch the post-credits sting in all its glory, only to then discover that the whole thing is on the end of this trailer anyway. Still, the trailer does give a flavour of the insight available into Slavoj Zizek’s unique thinking.

Best Trailer That Accurately Represents A Film That No-One Saw: The Kings Of Summer

So, there have been 430 films so far to receive a cinema release in this country, of which I can lay claim to having seen just under a third. Two of them, The Way, Way Back and The Kings Of Summer, felt thematically similar and that’s the only reason I can think of that The Kings Of Summer struggled to find distribution. I caught it at the Prince Charles Cinema in London after a work trip to the capital, and it seemed to be one of the few cinemas showing it. While The Way, Way Back played across the country and took in just under $2.5 million at the UK box office, sandwiched on the list between Sammy’s Adventures 2 and Hitchcock, The Kings Of Summer didn’t fare quite so well.

Top 12 Trailers 2013 1

Yes, that’s $0.024 million dollars. If you’ve seen more than one film on that list, well done you.

Best Editing: Don Jon

Yet another case of the promise of the trailer not being borne out in the film itself, but you feel it’s likely Joseph Gordon-Levitt was probably more hands-on in the process of compiling this trailer than many directors would be. Still don’t get the Scarlett Johansson thing, sorry.

Best Trailer For A Film Not Out Until Next Year: The Wolf Of Wall Street

Stiff competition in this category this year, with many of the later releases including Godzilla having impressive promos, and some of the earlier releases of the season such as American Hustle dazzling with their starry casts. I can also cheer myself up whenever slightly down by watching the Grand Budapest Hotel trailer again. (Card-carrying Wes Anderson fanboy, I guess.) But actually the most interesting promo for a film not due until 2014 is this, the first trailer for Martin Scorcese’s latest; Marty having fun is a none-more-appealing prospect.

Best Trailer Featuring A Scene Not In The Actual Film: Frozen

It’s like a little short film all its own. Sit back and enjoy. (The actual short film that precedes Frozen in cinemas, Get A Horse with Mickey Mouse, is also great, even if it is to actual Mickey Mouse cartoons what The Artist was to silent cinema.)

Best Trailer Of 2013: Gravity

When I saw the film, I spent most of it in terror of dodging debris and of my fear of heights trying to tell me that I was actually 372 miles above the earth and could fall at any moment. However, the trailer manages to capture that feeling of fear in under two minutes. For being able to send me whimpering from the cinema, wanting to scream “Grab the DAMN SPACESHIP!” at Sandra Bullock at the end of the trailer, and for expertly capturing the overall mood of the film without giving too much away, Gravity’s first trailer is my winner for 2013.

Previous years:

Review of 2012: The Half Dozen Special – 12 Best Trailers Of 2012

Review of 2011: The (Half) Dozen Best Trailers of 2011

Review Of The Year 2010: The Half Dozen Best Trailers of 2010