Monday, 26 September 2011

'What's Your Number?' (Mark Mylod, 2011) Review and Anna Faris Q&A

Do you looooooove Rom-Coms? Do you looooooove Anna Faris? If the answer is yes to either, then you can add at least another star to this rating.

For me, rom-coms are just too damn predictable and therefore never going to get above a three star rating (unless you're talking unconventional genre spasms like 500 Days of Summer).

However taking into account I don't like rom-coms, this is the highest rating one of these films will get from me. Anna Faris is extremely likeable as ever and Chris Evans is very funny and probably a perfect specimen of man in the eyes of many an audience member.

Watch the trailer and you'll know how it ends but the journey provides the kind of rude laughs and romantic moments in iconic locations that are becoming ever more familiar in the modern rom-com.

Like the recent Friends With Benefits (not bad) and the hilarious Bridesmaids, What's Your Number? is ruder and funnier than many older rom-coms with hand-job jokes, potty-mouthed dialogue and a female character who is liberated, crude and played by a star who is definitely not too shy or vain to embarrass herself.

As Faris' character searches for the perfect man among her twenty ex-lovers, cameos from Martin Freeman and Andy Samberg maintain interest but it's Faris and Evans that provide the real laughs and chemistry.

Nothing new if you're not a rom-com fan but ticks all the boxes for the target audience and keeps the genre headed in a dirtier direction. It's out 30th September 2011.

And for the record Anna Faris attended a Q&A after the screening I was at and seemed like a lovely, humble, self-effacing lady. She was very funny and down-to-earth and a pleasure to be in the presence of.

I asked her about 'The Dictator' and working with Sacha Baron Cohen. She could not say much about the film but said that the shoot was 'wild' and that the film will offend 'everybody'. She also mentioned that there was a lot of opportunities for improvisation. So no surprises there but still great to hear her enthusiasm for the film. I can't wait!

Analysis of the opening of The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003)

Like Man Bites Dog (Belvaux, Bonzel and Poelvoorde, 1992), Zero Day (Coccio, 2003) and The Magician (Ryan, 2005), The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003) gives the impression of being filmed by an accomplice to murder. The film is presented as being recorded by a diegetic camera; it is held by a character within the diegesis and is sometimes seen by the audience of the film (in a mirror for example). These films are supposedly documentaries filmed and edited by murderers or their accomplices. In all of the above films except for Zero Day (Coccio, 2003), the murderer has an assistant or assistants to help capture the killings on camera. In the case of The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003) the film has then been recorded onto a VHS tape of a slasher film available to rent in a video store.

The film is also similar in its formal strategies to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Glosserman, 2006) which also features a charismatic murderer trailed by a camera operator. However the crew are not as easily described as accomplices in this film as they eventually fight against, and become the victims of, their murderous subject. All these films juxtapose the ordinary with the extraordinary by using the formal strategy of documentary or home video modes and killers who are human and realistic in terms of motivations and appearance with their extraordinary actions (rape and serial murders).

Like other films in the found footage/diegetic camera/mock-documentary horror sub-genre, The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003) uses a very brief moment of black and white static accompanied by the familiar buzz of noise to signal the disruption of normality and to indicate to the audience that they are watching something that has been recorded on tape. The filmmakers often use this technique to indicate that there has been a jump in the tape. This could be caused by a number of factors that audiences will be familiar with if they ever owned a VCR or are familiar with video recording technologies. Sometimes the moment of static can mean the camera was dropped or knocked and the recording mechanism stopped working for a moment. In the case of The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003), it represents the moment that Max, the killer in the film, decided to start taping his own ‘home-made’ film over the teen slasher film that was originally on the tape (apparently called ‘The Last Horror Movie’ and available to rent from Max’s local video store).

To emphasise that everything after the moment of static must now be read by the audience as ‘real’, the preceding few minutes of the film (the real VHS of the The Last Horror Film) are very stylised and recognisable as a stereotypical, conventional slasher film. The credits appear professional in terms of font, style and visual effects accompanied by a radio news report detailing the escape of convicted murderers and a typical film soundtrack, orchestral and dramatic, with a suspenseful tone that would clearly suggest to the audience the genre of the film they have rented. A woman in an extremely well-lit diner answers a call from a scared child. The dialogue is easily recognised as exposition that has been jammed into a script that cares more about killing than character. The camera moves are smooth and conventional (tracking close behind the woman as she walks around the diner), the set brilliantly bright and the acting seem just a little fake before a mask appears on the ground followed by the conventional reveal of the killer as he attacks the woman from behind. The actress’ accent is American and the diner’s neon lights help to connote an American film.

These moments help to contrast the ‘movie’ with the ‘home video’ that follows the static. Max’s face stares in close up directly into the camera and at the audience. He directly addresses the camera and audience and says (with a British accent) that what he has filmed will be ‘much more interesting’ than the film that was previously on this tape. The lighting is naturalistic (Max is lit by a visible desk lamp) and Max appears casual in front of decor that suggests a bedroom. Tapes are also visible in the background of the shot which highlights Max’s use of video technology in the making of ‘his’ film. He begins by criticising the characterisation and script of the original film on the tape, again reinforcing the idea that he is real and not in a fictional film. The camera’s static shot suggests the use of a tripod but Max’s hushed tones and intimate dialogue suggest the camera is not being operated by anybody. His black shirt suggests a normal man (though black could be connoting evil) and his handsome face (in full view and not hidden by a mask or conspicuous by a grotesque deformity) suggest this killer is more real and recognisable from the news media than the slashers of so many fiction films.

As Max speaks about his film, footage of one of his murders is very briefly intercut into the video diary style shot of his face. This emphasises Max is the creator and editor of this footage. He comments on the footage, implying his control over the viewer’s experience. In the footage of the murder (in a grubby, natural lit bathroom), a camera and its operator are visible in the mirror. The camera operator has to move as the victim falls to the floor as a wall obscures the view of Max bashing the victim’s head. This gives the footage an unstaged, ‘realistic’ style and accompanied with the reflexive nature of Max’s dialogue suggest to the audience that it is a home-made documentary now being watched rather than a polished film production. Max questions the audience after the footage of the murder; ‘you’re interested now aren’t you?’ He implies he knows the horror film fans’ taste and interest and he knows the conventions of a horror film so he entices the viewer with a glimpse of violence early in the film (as did the opening of the slasher previously on the tape). Assuming his audience is now confused with the juxtaposing of fictional feature film with homemade confessional video diary; Max offers to explain, again indicating his knowledge of film convention and the need for exposition.

Cutting to an ordinary street as Max pays for parking, the footage appears like a participatory documentary as Max talks to the camera. Including this mundane action (paying for parking) works to emphasise the reality and the normality of what is being recorded. It also suggests Max is not a total lunatic, too mad or unconcerned with the law to avoid the attention of the authorities. The footage is slightly shaky suggesting the camera is handheld and there is now a camera operator present who is following Max and helping to make this documentary. Max’s dialogue (delivered direct to camera) fills in how he got started at murder and takes the viewer to the scene. The locations are real (no brightly lit sets here) and include a lift and the top of a tower block. The view is recognisably English with grey skies and an urban landscape that looks run down and grim. His admittance of murder is delivered in a casual, calm voice with no hint at remorse. He stares into the camera (never breaking ‘eye contact’) with no sense of shame. The matter-of-fact way he talks adds to the sense of realism being created. Max then immediately directs the camera operator to film over the edge of the building. His eyes glance to left of camera suggesting he is now addressing the operator not the viewing audience at home (‘do you just want to get a shot pointing down over the edge?’). The inclusion of this direction either suggests that Max is not the best at editing out unwanted footage or (as viewers know from earlier that he is aware of film conventions) that he wants the audience to be conscious that this is unedited reality.

What follows is the quick killing of a parking inspector as he is issuing a ticket. This can be read as a reaction to the frustration of the modern world as Max has visibly paid for parking earlier in the scene and perhaps just missed his time limit. The camera looking up at Max and the wobbly tracking suggests this is spontaneous and the camera operator is just going along with Max as he attacks. Max again addresses the audience/camera operator but this time implicates both in the murder by demanding silence. Placing his finger to his lips and saying ‘sssh’ implies the camera operator/audience member is now an accomplice to the killing. We must behave accordingly if we want the film to continue and to witness Max commit more murders. This idea is repeated and expanded numerous times as the film continues.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

'Baghead' (Duplass Brothers, 2008) Review

So this is 'mumblecore'? This is the first 'mumblecore' film I've watched and on this evidence, it's unlikely I'll watch anymore.

I was hoping for a silly horror film parody, something similar to the recent and infinitely better Rubber featuring a nasty rubber tyre that likes to blow peoples head ups with the power of its little rubber mind.

Unfortunately, though Baghead does feature a guy who stands menacingly outside four friends' cabin in the woods with a bag on his head, it also features no surprises, not much of a script and DV cinematography that just seems downright lazy.

Beginning with a preachy bit about still being able to make good films on a very low budget, it then proceeds to prove that it doesn't matter what size your budget is, you need some likable characters and some interesting plot developments that aren't obvious about 10-20 minutes before they are revealed.

I guess this might be likable if you like 'mumblecore' films like Funny Ha Ha and In Search of a Midnight Kiss but after this I won't be in too much of a hurry to seek them out.

If you fancy an unconventional, silly horror film... go watch Rubber... NOW!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Pointless or Perfection?

David Fincher. Director of classics Fight Club and Seven. Director of multiple academy Award winner The Social Network. Director of great films Zodiac and Panic Room. Director of um... other films, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Alien 3 and The Game.

But now comes Fincher's remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo:

<a href='' target='_new' title='MSN Exclusive: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - trailer' >Video: MSN Exclusive: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - trailer</a>

Why remake a film from 2009? Because it's Swedish, subtitled and you've got to read it! Like Let The Right One In/ Let Me In and Infernal Affairs/ The Departed before it, this is another Hollywood cash-in to piss off fans of the original and delight people who don't read films.

Wierdly, Fincher's even kept Swedish accents in this one. Rooney Mara looks as though she may be as cool as Noomi Rapace when playing icon Lisbeth Salander but still, isn't this completely pointless to people who can read?

This is an outrage! Why must Americans remake anything with foreigners in it? Can they really not stand the sight of the rest of us?

But Fincher's a legend, a genius, a perfectionist. Does this mean he wants to perfect the 2009 Swedish version? Is he going to put his own stamp on it? Is he going back to the source book? It doesn't look like it. It looks beautifully shot (as you'd expect from Fincher and his obssessive and controlling collaborations with cinematographers) and the score sounds like a treat (continuing his collaboration with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). But the original was dark enough and I can't see how much darker Fincher can make it. The poster is sexed up from the original and the cast look great but no better than the original cast.

With all the projects Fincher has circled in the past, including Fertig and Rendevous with Rama, it seems a shame to be wasting all us Fincher fans' time on a pointless remake. I hope this wasn't the biggest pay cheque. I hope this is Fincher trying to bring us something fresh out of a story he thought needed to be told perfectly. I hope this lives up to the promise of the trailers and finally gives us some indication of why it needed to be remade!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What's Your Number? Screening

Thanks again to the wonderful folk at LOVEFiLM, tomorrow I'm going to a screening of the uber-conventional looking rom-com starring Anna Faris, What's Your Number? Check the trailer here:

It will be followed by a Q&A with Anna Faris which is definitely the highlight of the evening. A chance to inquire about the crudest joke in the Scary Movie franchise? Perhaps I could ask about the delights of working with Rob Schneider on The Hot Chick. Her co-stars in this latest film include Martin Freeman (the new Bilbo Baggins!) and Chris Evans (he's only Captain America!). Maybe I could ask about them?

I think Anna Faris is a very talented comic actress and would love to see her tackle a serious role. She's always given it her all in the 'Scary Movies' and was also very likeable in 'Friends' but actors in comedies often have so much more to give than their knack for splitting sides. Perhaps I'll see if she's got any plans to go for awards one day.

But her upcoming project I'm most excited about is The Dictator. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen and apparently loosely based on a book by Saddam Hussein, this should be huge if director Larry Charles can keep the Borat/Bruno magic alive! So I'll probably see if Ms Faris can spill any beans on that. Here's hoping I even get to ask her a question. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Shit Storm!

Rape, torture, sadism? Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll? What gets a film banned in this day and age? The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) has achieved the very difficult task and been rejected a certificate by the paternalistic Godfathers of British cinema, the BBFC.

Refusing to classify a film is the closest you can get to a ban. The film cannot be shown in public cinemas or sold on DVD etc without a certificate. Will this stop the sick little puppies so desperate to watch it getting their dirty paws on it?

With the internet making it easier to obtain anything you damn well want with a few clicks of a button, and Australia releasing the film, it won’t be long before the centipede crawls onto the web for curious eyes to devour.

So what is it that’s convinced the BBFC the rest of us can’t handle such a film? How about “the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, rape and murder of… naked victims”?

Throw in a “strong and sustained focus throughout the work on the link between sexual arousal and sexual violence and a clear association between non-consensual pain and sexual pleasure” and you’ve got a recipe for controversy.

Couldn’t they just have cut the film and released a shorter, sanitised version? Apparently not… “The BBFC considered whether cutting the work might address the issues but concluded that as the unacceptable material featured throughout, cutting was not a viable option and the work was therefore refused a classification.”

Three questions immediately spring to my mind:
  1. Who wants to watch this shit?
  2. Who comes up with this shit?
  3. If the folks at the BBFC watched the film without becoming psychotic, raping, murdering human-centipede-making degenerates, then why can’t anyone else watch this shit?
Firstly, a surprising amount of people want to watch it. People who saw the first film and liked it; people who see anything that gets banned or causes controversy; many gorehounds, horror fans and sickos from all across the globe. Just look at the YouTube comments on the trailers or director Tom Six’s Facebook page for proof.

Secondly, Tom Six is the man responsible. See him here and see what he has to say in the teaser trailer:

Despite his claim of death threats on Facebook, go look at all the love he gets from fans on his wall! People love him and they love his movies. They argue if you don’t like it, don’t watch it!
Have they got a point? Should adults be allowed to watch whatever the hell they want (as long as no one was really harmed in its making)? It’s all make-believe after all. If the BBFC examiners managed to resist urges to harm people after watching the movie, couldn’t the rest of us?

But then there’s the argument that just sort of goes BUT WHY THE HELL WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WATCH OR MAKE THIS SHIT??????? Should people even be allowed to make a film like this? What drives a person to watch a film that features “degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, rape and murder"?

As a horror fan I’m slightly biased. I’ve seen some (for want of better words) f**ked up shit in films. For my dissertation I had to watch formerly banned nasties, such as I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left. I’ve seen the awful 10 minute scene of brutality that caused a storm (but was passed uncut) in Irreversible. I’m afraid I’ve seen a fair few films with plenty of “degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, rape and murder". Please don’t think any worse of me.

For me horror is horror. The more horrific a horror film is, the more impact it has and the more satisfied you are when you leave the cinema. You go to watch horror films to feel horrified and disgusted. You go for a thrill ride; to be terrified, disturbed and to survive a grueling experience (from the safety of your seat). The films make you shake, sweat, grip the seats or the person next to you. They make you jump, scream, look away and thank the higher power that you’re not in the situation the characters are in.

The Human Centipede was horrific; the premise, the script and the film itself. It was also silly and not to be taken seriously. But the sequel sounds altogether nastier. More vicious, sick and twisted than its predecessor and containing a character so corrupted by watching the first film that he has decided to create his own human centipede.

So is this perhaps what’s got the BBFC in rejection mode; a film that features a character affected by a film? Or is it just that the film has reached new depths of depravity? The Australian trailer below even uses the controversy and banning as a unique selling point. So what do you think? ‘Has horror gone too far?’

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Last of the Action Heroes?

A good friend of mine once pondered a delicate question. Tirelessly, he argued for two hours with his own brother to get to the bottom of this thorny issue. Who is the greatest action hero of modern cinema… Schwarzenegger or Stallone?
With The Expendables 2 in pre-production and rumours circulating of bigger roles for Bruce Willis and Big Arnie The Ex-Governator, it’s time to put this debate to rest.

So in the red corner we have the Austrian Oak; Conan, the Terminator, the Commando, Dutch from Predator, the Eraser, and um… Mr Freeze? 
And in the blue corner the Italian Stallion; Rocky, Rambo, Cobra, Tango, the Demolition Man, and um… Judge Dredd?
They’ve both been in some stinkers so let’s just forget most of the attempts at comedy; Junior, Oscar, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot to name a few. Stallone takes the crown for king of crap just by looking at his CV for the early part of the new century. The Get Carter remake? Driven? D-Tox? Hello…. anybody? You’d be forgiven for thinking these were attempts at comedy if they weren’t so f**king boring.
But then there’s the good stuff that so many of us grew up on. The guns, the explosions, the endless dispatching of villains and henchman and the plentiful bloody, beaten faces as our heroes pummeled the next sorry victim to get in their way. Who needs acting lessons when you got muscles and an arsenal like these guys?
So… Arnie's icons: Conan the Barbarian and Destroyer, camp, fun and bloody bloody but not the best action films ever made. Terminator 1 and 2 and even his other collaboration with James Cameron, True Lies, made for some of the best action cinema in history. So many classic moments and the casting of Schwarzenegger was the perfect choice for the emotion-less cyborg from the future. Dutch getting all muddy and declaring the Predator to be ‘one ugly motherfucker’. Even the Kindergarten Cop got some good action and even better lines to play with.
But on the other hand Stallone has Rocky and the Oscar nominations to prove his under dog was a hit with audiences and his Hollywood peers. He also has the inferior sequels to answer for and the same goes for his other icon, Rambo. Classic first entry followed by dodgy Vietnamese and Russian bashing in the follow-ups.
Arnie has a couple of smaller gems that should also be noted; Commando and its genius one liners including ‘he’s dead tired’, ‘I let him go’ and ‘let off some steam Bennet!’. Last Action Hero and the post-modern take on the action film hero. Even The Running Man, Red Heat and Terminator 3 had their moments.

Sly has even more little nuggets of gold in amongst the sea of stinking shite he’s been a part of. Tango and Cash is ridiculously fun and makes the most of teaming serious Sly with silly Kurt Russell in the mis-matched buddy cop genre. Cliffhanger is pretty much Die Hard on a mountain and gets by on some awesome stunts and mountain-top fights. Cop Land is an under-rated and under-seen semi-classic with a great performance but not much action from the aging Stallone. Demolition Man is stolen from Stallone by Wesley Snipes and Denis Leary but is still great action/sci-fi. Daylight and Assassins aren’t too shabby either.

But who comes out on top? Both Arnie and Sly have undisputed icons in classic films. Arnie may only have the Terminator compared to Sly’s Rambo and Rocky but for me this all comes down to Terminator VS Rambo. The quality of the sequels of Sly’s films dips dramatically whereas the Terminator films are all impressive. It boils down to this:

Top 5 Schwarzenegger
The Terminator
Terminator 2
True Lies
Top 5 Stallone
Rambo: First Blood
Demolition Man
Tango and Cash
It’s time to put this to rest. Schwarzenegger or Stallone? Arnie or Sly? Oak or Stallion? The greatest action film star of our generation is….
Bruce Willis.
The Die Hard series … Last Boy Scout… Armageddon… The Fifth Element, … ‘nuff said.

Next time: Van Damme VS Seagal

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Rise of the Prequels

Finally a truly decent prequel! Rise of the Planet of the Apes has risen to the challenge and begun the long process of eradicating the memories of all those nasty, disappointing, pointless cash-in prequels that have littered multiplexes, particularly since the Star Wars prequels crushed the childhood dreams of so many.

With a number of cool nods to the original and an origin story that feels like it needed telling, ROTPOTA does not disappoint in starting the story of how Planet Earth became the Planet of the Apes. In fact, the story is set up so carefully and with such a brilliant and engaging character in Caesar, the revolution only begins in the last half hour of the prequel.

Hopefully this means there can be a sequel to this prequel that deals with the war between apes and humans and furthers the story of how humans were crushed. However it could be that the writers of ROTPOTA decided to end the film where they did because they realized that it would get further and further into ridiculousness as they tried to keep showing apes battling and beating humans armed with machine guns, helicopters and tanks.

Anyway, no matter whether the story is too far-fetched for you, the character of Caesar has to go down as one of the most sympathetic antiheroes of all time. Never have I wanted the ‘villain’ to win so much in a film before! Never have I wanted to see us humans crushed by an enemy this badly!

Thanks again to another stunning bit of captured performance from Andy Serkis and the effects people at WETA (following Gollum and King Kong), Caesar is brilliant; filled with recognizable emotions, intelligence and finally, understandably raging against the machine.

Prequels have a bad name for a good reason. Try and come up with a list of 10 good prequels! It’s not easy and many would say impossible. Godfather Part 2 had elements of a prequel but is also a sequel. Temple of Doom is a prequel but is a completely different story to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Revenge of the Sith had it’s moments; the burning of Anakin, the rise of Vader and The Phantom Menace had the pod-race but really I’m clutching at straws.

On the other hand you have Hannibal Rising, Leatherface: The Beginning and Attack of the Clones. I shiver at the mention of their names.

So maybe with ROTPOTA and X-Men: First Class, a change is coming. Perhaps this is the dawn of the quality prequel. Or am I being unfair? What have I missed? Are there other great prequels out there? Do the reboots of Star Trek and Batman count as prequels? You tell me…