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.
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.
The Pitch: Journey To The Surface Of The Earth.
The Review: Space. The final frontier, more so now than ever, with man’s fanciful dreams of space exploration feeling more of the pipe variety than ever as a lack of immediately achievable goals and a number of fatal accidents have served to put space travel well down the agenda. But despite the increasing reluctance to break out of our own atmosphere, the allure of space hasn’t diminished for most of mankind and for something so temptingly close – but for the unfortunate restrictions of gravitational pull – the thought of going into space remains a dream. Space is the same distance away as Edinburgh for me, but the addition of the third dimension will make it unlikely any of us will visit in my lifetime. It’s the nature of that difficulty which turns it into a nightmare, with a catalogue of thousands of problems waiting to spring onto astronauts at any moment, and Sandra Bullock seems to face most of them in what could be the most realistic depiction of space travel yet committed to film.
I can’t speak from personal experience, of course, but along with advances in space travel over the last fifty years have come advances in cinema projection as well. Film creatives have long been attempting to immerse audiences in their product and developments such as IMAX and 3D have brought audiences closer to the action on screen than ever before. It takes someone of true creativity to use those tools correctly, but Alfonso Cuaron is now attempting to push the boundaries of those tools further than ever before. A production that’s taken him and his team several years and involved the development of new techniques and methods has resulted in a film which will give most people the closest experience they will ever come to being in space. Some of Cuaron’s earlier films have been technical marvels, but Gravity genuinely feels like nothing seen before and shots such as the opening sequence – constructed to appear as a seventeen minute unbroken shot without an edit – will leave all but the most lacking in imagination struggling for breath. There is no debate to be had: Gravity is the most visually impressive film of the year.
Once you’ve adapted to the reality of what Cuaron’s presented, the immediate question becomes: is this enough? The story is simplicity itself: when veteran George Clooney and rookie Sandra Bullock are completing work on the Hubble telescope, they get word from ground control (Ed Harris) that a Russian satellite is breaking up and about to cover them in a shower of lethal debris. With no time to react, their shuttle is destroyed and Bullock and Clooney find themselves fighting for their very lives with limited resources and almost no hope of survival. And, er, that’s it. With a compact ninety minute running time and a certain amount of repetition in the storyline as the astronauts move from one return option to another, it’s not going to win any awards for complexity, but that’s not what Gravity’s about.
There’s a certain amount of myth-making at work, but Gravity can be seen as allegory for a spiritual rebirth. It’s interesting that advocates of the film fall into both pro- and anti-religious groups, and both interpretations can be feasibly read into Bullock’s journey. For those who put any weight into the seven stories theory that any film boils down to one of seven basic types, Gravity ticks not only the rebirth box but also the voyage and return element, with a journey and obstacles that would have been familiar to Odysseus had he been born two millennia later. That works to Gravity’s favour, as the grandeur of the imagery is supported, rather than inhibited, by the storytelling at work in the script from Cuaron and his son Jonas. There is the odd flourish, with the Cuarons dropping in subtle (and not so subtle) homages to a host of sci-fi classics, but they complement rather than detracting and Gravity stands up well in comparison with those lofty peers.
As bold and simple as the narrative is, it wouldn’t work if it weren’t grounded in performances and Cuaron had to find actors who could work within the strict technical limitations but also deliver the story in an engaging manner. While George Clooney is as effortlessly charismatic as ever, all of the script’s heavy lifting is done by Sandra Bullock. As one of a select band of actors to win both an Oscar and a Razzie, you might be forgiven for not being sure which Sandra Bullock’s going to turn up but she’s carried everything from romantic comedies to action movies over the years and you underestimate her at your peril. If Cuaron’s imagery draws you in, then Sandra Bullock is the beating heart of Gravity and her performance will resonate in your mind for just as long as the breathtaking space scenes. It might have taken him seven years to follow up on Children Of Men, but Gravity is truly worth the wait.
Why see it at the cinema: I’m struggling to think of a film which is more suited to the cinema screen that’s been released in the three and a half years since this blog started. It’s a film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible to truly emphasise the sense of actually being in space. At the time of writing, the film’s been on general release in the UK for five weeks but is still showing fairly widely; catch it on the big screen before it falls out of orbit.
Why see it in 3D: There are two main problems with 3D: normal editing doesn’t give the eyes time to focus when shots are in 3D, and wearing sunglasses indoors diminishes the brightness of the image. Here, the mainly black background allows the brightness of the rest of the image to be ramped up and the long continuous takes allow your eyes to fully appreciate the 3D image. Seeing this in 3D is one of a handful of truly immersive 3D experiences I’ve had in the cinema (as good as Avatar and Life Of Pi) and Cuaron succeeds in making the viewer a participant in every shot. Essential.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for sustained moderate threat, disturbing images and strong language. It’s at the softer end of 12A apart from one rather graphic image showing the fate of a character who came off worse with the debris; as long as that doesn’t give the kiddies nightmares, this one should be reasonable to take children to.
My cinema experience: Unable to make it to an IMAX screening, I camped out in the third row at the Cineworld Bury St. Edmunds. Around two minutes in, the realism of the 3D and the positioning of the camera above earth looking down made me genuinely feel as if I was falling into the screen. If that’s not enough to convince you of the verisimilitude of Gravity’s space scenes, then the fact I was also dodging debris every time it came round hopefully will.
The Score: 10/10
I remember when all this were fields, as far as the eye could see. No, wait, I’m not sure this was ever fields, exactly, but I can remember when it was all film reviews made of graphs and silly poems and obsessing about Christopher Nolan and being freaked out by Catherine Zeta Jones’ face. Somewhere along the line I turned from a little read reviewer of films and loose advocate of the cinema experience into a zealous campaigner for the very fabric of cinema in the face of stubborn intransigence. Oh, and I do very occasionally still write film reviews.
I have no regrets about the ongoing battle with the Competition Commission, and if anything I can see this changing my outlook and my blog forever. I now believe there is a national debate required about cinema distribution and the role of organisations such as the BFI to help ensure cinema can be seen in the right venues by those who hold it dear. In the mean time, I appreciate this might get a bit samey for anyone not living in Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge or Aberdeen reading this blog (and if you are by some freak occurrence living in Aberdeen and your name isn’t Dallas, please do say “Hi!” in the comments section), so this is an effort to get back to just talking about films for a bit. Normal service will never be resumed, ever, because there is no such thing as normal round here, and in a way I hope that’s why people will come back when all of the Competition Commission nonsense is in the past.
So I have seen this one, and a review is imminent, but if you’ve not seen this in a cinema yet, indeed the biggest cinema you can find, then stop reading right now, take a photo of this page on your snazzy camera phone to prove for posterity that you did indeed stop reading right now, and head to your local cinema. If there was an Oscar for the Best Justification For The Existence Of Large Screens, Indoor Sunglasses And Obscenely Loud Surround Sound Systems then this would be as nailed on as Anne Hathaway bawling her lungs out in a charity shop reject dress.
Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt a big enough star to justify putting his name in large font in the credits these days? One of those films you just know has a press pack somewhere with a cast listing of Golden Globe® nominee Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises), Golden Globe® nominee Scarlett Johansson (Marvel’s Avengers Assemble), Academy Award® nominee Julianne Moore (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Jurassic Park: The Lost World), Emmy nominee Glenne Headly (Mr. Holland’s Opus) and Golden Globe® nominee Tony Danza (Cannonball Run II). Sigh.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Because I have the maturity and sophistication of a six year old who’s likely to spend the rest of his school career being held back a year for picking his nose, any time anyone mentions the word “lesbians” this starts playing in my head:
I even have the strange feeling that isn’t the first time that clip’s appeared on this blog. However, lesbians aren’t the most prominent feature of Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Nor are the repeated stories in the press of the travails and tortures that director Abdellatif Kechiche put his cast, or indeed my spell checker, through. No, the feature of this particular film most likely to draw your attention is its running time: 180 minutes. Where I come from, we call that three hours. (Actually, I call that THREE HOURS?!?!?!) Consider this low quality screengrab of the films over two and a half hours I’ve seen in a cinema since The Movie Evangelist bust forth into mewling infancy in April 2010.
The top two had intermissions, so this looks like it could be the longest film I’ve seen in a cinema in one go, at least in The Movie Evangelist’s lifetime. Hopefully surgical stockings will be handed out at the door instead of 3D glasses to prevent DVTs.
This month’s semi-obligatory dry indie comedy. Move along.
I was in a radio debate a couple of weeks ago where the subject of subtitled films came up, as an example of how to tell the difference between a Cineworld-type cinema and a Picturehouse-type one. Proving that there’s an exception to every rule, it seems this Korean film is heading only to Cineworlds, possibly because it looks like Outbreak II: Epidemic Boogaloo.
Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor
You want to know what love is? Love is: having a complete and total obsession about cinema, but not going to a cinema to watch the most important ever episode of your favourite British TV show in 3D because your wife normally watches it with you and she won’t be in from work until it’s finished, then trying desperately to stay off the internet to avoid the torrent of massive spoilers that will now be raining down across the internet like the tears of a million angry toddlers, and hoping that she won’t be too tired to watch it when she gets in from work so you’ll have to barricade yourself in the house to wait until Sunday to watch it. That’s what love is. (Might watch a bit on the iPlayer before she gets in.)