Friday, 29 June 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Viral Campaign Continues

The Dark Knight Rises, expected to be this summer’s biggest scoring blockbuster, turned its viral marketing campaign up a notch this week with the release of three pages from the Gotham Observer, Gotham City’s daily newspaper (priced at a very reasonable one dollar). Fans of Christopher Nolan’s iconic Batman films have been avidly scanning the pages for any and all clues to the plot of the movie, in which Christian Bale will return as the disgraced superhero vigilante tasked with facing down new arch-enemy Bane (Tom Hardy).

To read my breakdown of the Gotham Observer (and find out what Batman's star sign might be) head over to Movie Farm...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Sex, Lies and Censorship: Last Tango in Paris

Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, Last Tango in Paris, 1972

Bernardo Bertolucci’s most infamous film, Last Tango In Paris, was premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 14th, 1972. With its explicit portrayals of violent sex and emotional turbulence, the film instigated a critical uproar. Beginning with walkouts and denunciations, escalating into boycotts and bans, and climaxing in an obscenity trial, the backlash seemed to know no bounds. And yet, even in its earliest reviews, Last Tango In Paris was recognised and commended as a work of cinematic genius. Forty years later, questions are still being asked about the film’s true nature; is it a brilliant psychosexual exploration, or simply a glorified piece of pornography?

You can find the rest of this article at Subtitled Online...

Monday, 25 June 2012

30th Anniversary: Blade Runner

Long before Ridley Scott was making confusing and badly scripted prequels, he was conjuring up one of my favourite films of all time; Blade Runner. Based on the Philip K Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner was first released in the USA exactly thirty years ago today on the 25th of June, 1982 (in the UK, it was released on the 9th of September, 1982). In honour of this auspicious occasion, I'm going to take a quick look at a few of the things that make it so good.


Blade Runner is set in 2019, a mere seven years into our own future. Billed as both a science fiction and an action film, it is in fact (like Scott's Alien) a chilling combination of the two. However, what made the film so unique was the added genre ingredient of neo-noir. Neo-noir draws inspiration from the classic 40s/50s film noir genre, famous for hardboiled detectives, femme fatales, chiaroscuro lighting and lots of booze, sex and cigarette smoke. Blade Runner has all of these and more, adding a glossy yet gritty layer of cinematic goodness to what would otherwise have been a rather different style of sci-fi.

Swirling cigarette smoke and shadowy Venetians are just a
couple of the neo-noir touches to be found in Blade Runner

More Human than Human

Androids are robots that look like humans. Whole books have been written about why we are fixated on building exact machine replicas of ourselves, and they are full of intriguing and complex psychological concepts - but we don't have the time to go into all that here. Cinema is replete with 'human-looking robots' - mostly because they are very easy to construct and film, what with them looking exactly like normal humans and all. Ridley Scott explored the idea of the indistinguishable android in 1979's Alien; in Blade Runner he takes it to the next level. Replicants, as they are known, are so close to being human that it is impossible to tell the difference without strenuous testing. The Nexus 6 Replicants, which our anti-hero Deckard (Harrison Ford) is hired to 'retire', have begun to think for themselves. On a mission to extend their four year life spans, they team up to kill their way to the answer using their enviable strength and fighting skills. Forget the Terminator; never have androids been so cool, or so deadly.

Pris, 'your basic pleasure model'

Roy Batty

"If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes."

"Quite an experience to live in fear isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die."

Roy Batty - machine, murderer, madman and philosopher

Played by Rutger Hauer, Roy Batty is the leader of the Nexus 6 Replicants. Technically, he's the bad guy - but even though he's a machine, a murderer, and deranged, we find ourselves starting to sympathise with his cause; all Roy wants to do is to keep himself and his friends alive. Rather than blaming Roy for his crimes, we start to blame ourselves - after all, we were the ones who created Roy; we gave him the ability to think and feel (or at least, to 'think' that he is 'feeling'), and then slapped him with a four year year life span. That's why he goes around breaking fingers, crushing skulls, and philosophising while he's at it.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Review: Daughters of Darkness

Daughters Of Darkness is a classic of 1970s horror, fusing together vampires, lesbianism and gender issues. It is strongly reminiscent of other vivid horror from the same era, such as Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. The film stars Delphine Seyrig, an actress best known for her role in Alan Resnais’ surreal Last Year In Marienbad.

Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Daniel Ouimet) are a young, attractive, newly-married couple on their way to a seaside resort in Belgium. They stay at a deserted luxury hotel in the off-season. Reading the newspaper, they discover that a series of murders have taken place nearby – three young women have been found with their throats slashed...

...The film opens on a train speeding through the night. The couple’s carriage is drenched with an eerie purple light, and the screeching electronic soundtrack mirrors the screeching of the train. The stage is set for the almost invasively lurid colour scheme and unusual music which saturate the entirety of the film. Accompanied by cleverly timed synthesized sounds, almost every scene is awash with vibrant colours...

For the whole review, head over to Subtitled Online...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Review: Titanic (Blu-Ray)

Apologies for the lack of posts this week; I've been a bit preoccupied with other projects (more news on this later). However, here is a review I wrote for Movie Farm of Titanic, which is to receive a rather grand Blu-Ray/Special Edition DVD release later on this year (I'm pretty proud of the intentionally awful pun in the third paragraph).

If, after fifteen years, eleven academy awards, a worldwide gross of over $2 billion, multiple DVD editions and one 3D re-release, you still haven’t had enough of James Cameron’s epic disaster film Titanic, then consider yourself lucky – the Blu-ray release of the watery romance is set for September 14th, 2012. Taking this auspicious occasion into account, here is our review of a movie that was, for twelve years (until Cameron’s other epic romance Avatar knocked it off its pedestal), the highest grossing film in the history of cinema.

For the rest of the review, head over to Movie Farm...

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Birth of British Cinema

Cinema, in the form we would recognise today, was born in France in the 1880s. That makes it well over a century old. In the years since, cinema has changed many times. Practically every decade has brought a new and exciting upheaval; the switch from silent to sound, and from black and white to colour; the advent of 3D, CGI, digital and motion capture. Film is an art form that, although it stays essentially the same, is constantly evolving alongside new trends, new ideas and new technology. But what about the way that viewers actually watch films? Has how we experience films evolved too? Or, when we purchase our cinema tickets and sit in a movie theatre in the 21st century, is the whole experience still pretty much the same as it was one hundred years ago?

For the rest of the article, head over to Movie Farm

Friday, 15 June 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson's latest quirky masterpiece is set in 1965 on a small island off the coast of New England. A young orphan scout named Sam, and a strange, isolated girl named Suzy fall in love and deside to run away together. Their trip across the island causes havoc in the small community; Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and Suzy's lawyer parents Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), as well as the rest of Sam's scouting troop, all get involved in the search with hilarious, disastrous and delightful consequences.

As always with Wes Anderson films (other examples include The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited) what is actually happening in the film takes a massive backseat to how it is happening, and what it looks like. While making sure that the mise en scene is recognisably 'sixties', Anderson has also given everything an incredibly clean-cut, stylised and almost cartoonish aesthetic. The central position of the camera in relation to objects often gives scenes a surreal symmetry that is both jarring and pleasing to the human eye; we are unused to seeing such balance of proportion, and yet it carries a certain visual satisfaction. Anderson is certainly a director who knows better than most how to make use of space to convey meaning.

Moonrise Kingdom is also funny, but not the sort of funny that is easy to describe to someone later on. There are no recognisable 'jokes' in the film, but every scene has the potential for laughter. Most of the film's meaning is to be found in the visuals, and this is also true of the comedy; understated visual gags abound. However, it's the deadpan delivery and slightly militarised acting style (more Anderson signatures) that saturate every line with just the right amount of pithy brevity. The two main child actors, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, lead the way with remarkable restraint, but still manage to retain the all-important childlike attitude needed to make their romance the charming centrepiece it is meant to be. The rest of the ensemble function delightfully together under the deadpan banner; Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray make for amusingly angsty adults attempting to deal with the fallout of the children's actions.

Whether it was intentional or not, there was something about this film that kept reminding me of Anthony Schaffer's The Wicker Man. Ostensibly, the two films couldn't be more different, but similarities do exist which make them comparable: they are both set on small islands in enclosed communities where everybody knows each other; they both revolve around a missing child or children; they are both full of the repeated image of humans dressed as animals, and there is a vague, uneasy sense of being an outsider looking in at a society which we will never understand or be a part of. However, you will be pleased to know that, unlike The Wicker Man, the denouement of Moonrise Kingdom involves no grisly ritual murder whatsoever (in fact, it borders on the rather charmingly quaint).

The overall style of an Anderson film is far from being everbody's cup of tea. Anderson has been around for long enough now that those who enjoy his style of filmmaking know that they enjoy it and will accordingly turn up at the theatres for it; those who do not share his sense of humour, or appreciate his particular visual style, know to simply stay away from his films (and, of course, there are still many out there who have never even come across him at all). Even among those who love his films, it's a very rare Anderson fan who has good words to say for them all - most have at least one they dislike, or that they feel doesn't quite sit well alongside the others (most of this is usually directed at The Darjeeling Limited which, perversely, happens to be my favourite of his films), but this never boils over into outright hatred or hostility. It's very hard to work up any real hatred for a film by a director who can put a rug and a table-lamp in a tent.

And, there's a very cute kitten in it as well.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Green Light for Snow White Sequel

Fans of the recent fairy tale renaissance will be glad to hear that the wait for their next instalment of magical mayhem will not be a long one. Universal Studios have opted to fast-track the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, which is quickly becoming one of this summer’s biggest blockbusting hits.

With a US opening weekend gross of over $55 million, it’s hardly surprising that the studio have been so quick to green light a follow-up. Stars Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth have both been optioned for a further two films and it looks as though the story of Snow White and her Huntsman is far from over...

For the rest of the article, head over to Movie Farm...

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: Carancho

This is the first Monday for a month and a half which will not include a Game of Thrones related post - at first I was glad, because writing at length about Game of Thrones every week was getting a bit exhausting. But now that it comes down to it, I think I'm going to miss it. Still, we only have to wait until next Spring for series three (hopefully), when the whole nail biting cycle will start all over again.

Meanwhile, here is a review of Pablo Trapero's Carancho I wrote for Subtitled Online.

Carancho, or The Vulture, is a crime thriller from award-winning Argentine director Pablo Trapero. Trapero’s debut feature, Crane World, an examination of a man dealing with life after losing his job, was acclaimed throughout Europe and sparked a regeneration of Argentine cinema. Carancho was Argentina’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 83rd Academy Awards, but it failed to make the shortlist...

For the rest of the review, head over to Subtitled Online 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Amy Grimehouse Presents... Tod Browning's Freaks

On Wednesday night I went to Amy Grimehouse Presents... Tod Browning's Freaks at the Book Club in Shoreditch. Having never seen the wonderfully sickening Freaks (1932) before, I think this was the best possible way to be introduced to it. The screening was held in the basement bar of the Book Club, a great little hole which has lightbulbs stuck on every inch of the ceiling, and was preceded by a Design-Your-Own Freak competition (our team's effort is below) and a Freaks based pub quiz (we came second and got a free drink each).

Before the film actually began, we were treated to the classic Drive-in movie countdown, which American readers might remember from their younger days (video below) and a couple of Betty Boop cartoons, one of which she blacked up in (!).

Then came the feature presentation - Freaks is a pre-code horror film which tells the story of a group of sideshow performers. A beautiful trapeze artist tricks the leader of the sideshow into marrying her - she's actually after his substantial inheritance. When the rest of the sideshow performers find out, they hatch a plot to get revenge on the 'normals'. Freaks is an enthralling, controversial and spine-chilling film, banned in the UK for 30 years and effectively ruining Browning's career. He probably thought it was worth it, though.

Amy Grimehouse Presents... are also going to be hosting special screenings of Showgirls and a double bill of Carrie and The Shining in the near future.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Review: Prometheus

The wait is finally over; Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus (and it is a prequel, no matter what he says) hit UK cinemas last Friday. The film isn't nearly as terrifying as the trailers made it seem, but it is certainly an interesting and well executed re-imagining of the origins of the Alien, and of the human race...

A group of archaelogists, geologists, astronauts and corporate types head off into space aboard the good ship Prometheus, bound for an obscure and far away solar system, drawings of which have mysteriously cropped up in ancient cave paintings on Earth. They have no idea what they will find, but the theory is that the human race did not evolve from apes, nor were we created by God, but in fact, we were 'engineered' by an Alien species and then dumped onto planet Earth.

Upon arrival at their destination planet, which has been given the snappy name of LV-426 (those of you who are fans of the franchise will of course be familiar with that name - that planet should have a flashing neon sign on it) they discover a vast cavernous complex built by the Engineers, who are the 'space jockey' species from the first film - although underneath their weird helmets they look almost human and, as scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers, they share our DNA. However, they all appear to have been wiped out by something - and nobody knows what. Luckily, none of our space adventurers is a chronic geek and/or film fan - if they had been, they would have left LV-426 immediately at this point, and we would have had no movie.

While exploring the complex, our heroes discover a bunch of metal, egg-like objects containing some intriguing-looking goo. David (Michael Fassbender), your friendly neighbourhood android, helpfully collects one of the 'eggs' and brings it back to the ship (flashing neon sign). Meanwhile, two other crew members have got themselves lost in the complex, and one of their probes starts to malfunction - it begins to pick up a life form, but that's impossible, seeing as the planet is deserted apart from the human crew (FLASHING NEON SIGN). From then on, gloriously sickening slimy CGI hell breaks loose on LV-426...

Prometheus is most certainly an Alien film. All the classic pieces are there: the tough, spunky heroine; the mysterious alien planet; the cold, clinical robot; the evil corporation stirring things up; the invasive, infectious, penetrative nature of the danger, and some true body-horror that makes everyone in the audience (especially the women) want to spend the rest of their lives gritting their teeth while crunched into the tightest foetal position humanly possible. Combining the origins of the Alien with the quest for the origins of our own species is a stroke of genius, and I'll try not to spoil it for you, but once the true beginning of the Alien species is revealed, it seems horrifying - yet expected.

The CGI is very good, but not too spectacular - this seems intentional, and is perhaps an attempt to continue the 'truckers in space' look from the first film (which was also directed by Scott). Even so, the Alien films were never really meant to be huge action blockbusters - they were meant to be what Alfred Hitchcock would have come up with if he'd ever got around to setting a film in space, or gritty war films full of grunts fighting for their lives. Even 'not too spectacular' CGI seems like overkill, and overshadows characterisation and drama. Only a few of the characters in the group are given any true depth - and even then some of it misfires (we could have done without Shaw's possible Christianity, for instance).

One character who really stands out is Michael Fassbender's David. He makes for a truly unsettling android, with no moral qualms and some heartless research methods - he's also obsessed with the film Lawrence of Arabia, a wonderfully clever touch of humanity. Guy pearce also deserves an honourable mention for his great performance as Peter Weyland, even though he is hampered by some ridiculous facial putty to make him look about a billion years old.

People expecting a homage to Alien will be disappointed by Prometheus, as will people expecting a terrifying horror film, and probably most hardcore fans of the franchise who were hoping that Prometheus would save the series from itself. However, if you go into the cinema expecting to see what is probably the best film that Ridley Scott has directed since Gladiator, along with some spine-chilling body horror, some interesting philosophical concepts and a few juicy references to a film you may have enjoyed in the past, you will come out again without feeling that you have wasted your Odeon Premiere points.

*UPDATE* After some thought, several strange discrepancies present in Prometheus have forced me to revise my opinion of the film somewhat. Apparently the planet they are on is not LV-426, but LV-223, which completely passed me by. This clears up some plot-holes, but creates a whole load more. Basically, the script of Prometheus is so complex and badly written that a single viewing is not nearly enough to be able to comprehend it.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Game of Thrones | Season Two, Episode Ten: Valar Morghulis


So, we've finally come to end of the second season of Game of Thrones - and, in keeping with the style of the first series, they've taken it all away from us just when it was starting to get really, really good. Last week's episode, The Battle of the Blackwater, may well have been the massive showdown that this entire series was leading up to, but as far as tension, excitement and pure visceral terror goes, Valar Morghulis trounces the Blackwater every time.

Following the battle, Tyrion is very badly wounded and languishing helpless in a cramped room in the Red Keep. He has been shunted aside by his father Tywin, who has shown up to take his place as King's Hand. Although he is badly hurt, has an ugly scar across his face, and is in pretty much the most dire situation he's been in since his arrival in King's Landing (even though it was his smart thinking that basically saved the city), he refuses Shae's offer to run away to Pentos, saying that he wants to stay in King's Landing because he belongs there - and for the love of the Game.

Sansa is happy for about five seconds after it is decided by the council that Joffrey will not marry her after all - instead he will be married to Margaery Tyrell (Renly's widow, and Loras's sister) in order to join the Lannisters (it's pointless to call them the Baratheons, I think we can all agree) to the power of Highgarden. While she may be free of actually having to marry the sadistic inbred munchkin, Littlefinger is quick to remind her that she will still be under Joffrey's power - and Joffrey is a total psycho. Littlefinger offers to help her escape - but come on, this is Littlefinger we're talking about; you just know he's not doing this out of the kindness of his heart.

In various other corners of the realm, Brienne is still dragging an increasingly filthy-looking Jaime Lannister towards King's Landing in the hope of trading him for Sansa and Arya. She is forced to kill three Northmen who make the mistake of recognising Jaime. Against the advice of his mother, Robb marries Talisa, which is sure to piss off Walder Frey no end, as Robb was supposed to be betrothed to one of his daughters - something tells me that one's going to come back to bite him pretty soon. Stannis blames Melisandre and her Fire God for his loss at the battle of the Blackwater, but she convinces him that he is in fact the embodiment of the Fire God on Earth (which surely can't be true - somehow I don't think Stannis Baratheon is Westeros's answer to Jesus Christ) and that the war will eventually be won by him.

Theon is still whining away at Winterfell, surrounded by a force of Northmen. Aemon suggests he joins the Night's Watch, where all his past sins will be forgiven and forgotten (yeah, right), but Theon elects to fight instead. He gives a really quite rousing battle speech - even people that pretty much hate Theon and the Greyjoys will be impressed - even so, his own men knock him out and offer him to the Starks to save their own skins. Winterfell is burned to the ground in the process, and Maester Aemon is mortally wounded. Bran, Rickon, Hodor and Osha emerge from the crypt to find the devastation - Aemon, who they find dying slowly in the Godswood, advises them to head North to find Jon; going South would be too dangerous. Osha puts Aemon out of his misery and, re-united with Summer and Shaggydog, they set off.

Arya is still wandering in the wilderness with Hot Pie and Gendry after escaping from Harrenhal with the help of the mysterious Jaqen. She meets up with Jaqen for one final time, upon which he reveals to her that he is in fact one of the Faceless Men, an order of brilliant assassins. He gives her a coin, and tells her that should she ever need to find him again, she should give it to any man from Braavos and say the words 'Valar Morghulis' - all men must die. Then he cleverly shapeshifts into a completely different man, before going on his merry way. North of the wall, Jon Snow (who is still in the hands of the Wildlings) kills his fellow captive Quorin Halfhand in a clever but fatal ploy to ensure that the Wildlings come to trust him.

In the best scenes of the episode, Dany enters the House of the Undying to get back her dragons. The building is a kind of psychic labyrinth; Dany wanders through the King's Landing throne room, out past the Wall, and into a tent where she meets up with Drogo (her dead husband) and Rhaego (her dead son). It's not clear whether this is a trick on the part of the Warlocks, or whether she is actually communing with her dead family - or maybe a bit of both - but Dany recognises that she can't stay. She chooses her dragons over remaining with Drogo, then burns the place down and Pyat Pree with it. Upon returning to the house of Xaro, she finds him in bed with her supposedly-missing-presumed-dead handmaiden. After discovering that Xaro's vault of riches is actually completely empty, Dany has him and her faithless handmaiden locked inside it to die, while she takes all of his possessions in order to buy a ship to get her to Westeros.

In the spectacular final scene, Sam, Pyp and Grenn are performing their duties at the Fist of the First Men, when suddenly they hear three blasts on a horn. One blast means rangers returning, two blasts mean a Wildling attack - but three blasts mean they're about to be set upon by an army of the undead. And, sure enough, a fair few frozen blue-eyed dead guys turn up to join in the fun.

Something tells me the third season is going to be titled Game of Thrones: You Ain't Seen Nuthin Yet.

Episode Ten Best Moment: Tie - Dany in the House of the Undying/Sam coming face to face with a Wight

Episode Ten Best Line: "I'm a monster as well as a dwarf. You should charge me double." - Tyrion