Saturday, 30 June 2012

I Love That Blog Post #9

 Welcome to the weekend!  Here's what you should be reading before you go out to play!

The Warning Sign calls Requiem for a Dream a Future Classic Movie.  Here’s why:

Go vote at Duke & The Movies on which director you rate higher, Noah Baumbach or Greg Mottola?

 Go and cheer Jaina at Time Well Spent on as she attempts to get through a list of brilliant films she needs to see

Inspired by Chernobyl Diaries, The Movie Blog takes a look at films that exploit real life tragedies

Cinematic Corner gives a very detailed look at Prometheus

The Focused Filmographer chastises bad movie parenting

Please enjoy!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Inbetweeners Remake: Big Mistake?

Fans of British comedy, do you despair at the news of the US remaking The Inbetweeners?

Check out these new photos of the cast.  Looks like Will the briefcase wanker just got a whole lot more tall, dark and handsome.  Jay's gotten podgy but at least still has a goofy grin.  And Neil has turned into a hairy hippy.  Well at least they still have that crazy yellow car?

Will this be as good as the US version of The Office?  Or is this a disaster waiting to happen?

Sound of My Voice (Zal Batmanglij, 2012) Review

WARNING: This trailer gives way too many plot details away for my liking.  However my review below does not!  So please read on.

The Sound of My Voice will keep you guessing.
The Sound of My Voice will hypnotise you.
The Sound of My Voice will leave you wanting more.

Indie sci-fi is all over the place at the moment.  Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia imagines the end of the world.  Another Earth features another Earth.  Even Terence Malick’s Tree of Life has big themes like a slightly less trippy 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s no surprise then that the writer/star Brit Marling conquered Sundance with not one but two science fiction flavoured low budget success stories in 2011.  On screen, Marling is a blonde beauty with no shortage of acting ability.  Behind the scenes, she is a producer and writer taking smart ideas and coupling them with believable characters and strained romances.

Sound of My Voice is about a cult.  It quickly flips expectations by introducing a character who fits the cult leader stereotype and then revealing him to be second-in-command to Marling’s Maggie who claims to be from the future.  The rituals, tests and routines of the cult are seen from the perspective of newcomers Peter and Lorna as they are initiated.

Beginning with the investigative journalist couple gaining access to the cult, their relationship with each other is tested as well as their belief and scepticism in the enigmatic Maggie.  Is she or isn’t she from the future?  Are her intentions good or evil?  Will Peter (Christopher Denham) be able to resist Maggie’s coercion tactics?   

This is a slow-burn thriller minus many real thrills.  The tension does mount and questions do arise to keep you guessing but unfortunately the film fails to fully fulfil the potential of the intriguing setup.  Towards the end, the introduction of a new character and a suspenseful upping of the stakes threaten to take the film into an action-packed climax.  But alas the climax is a little rushed, a little underwhelming.

The ending is simultaneously closed with no real room for differing interpretations and also abrupt enough to leave the audience gasping for more.  At less than 90 minutes, the film certainly does not outstay its welcome and actually leaves a feeling of being slightly underdeveloped.  A fundamental question is answered convincingly but there are elements that have been left tantalisingly unexplored.

However as an example of what can be achieved with a low budget, interesting characters, very strong acting and a neat narrative enigma, this is inspiring and entertaining independent filmmaking. 

Definitely see this if you liked Another Earth.  Or even the other recent cult-centric indie Martha Marcy May Marlene.  And watch out for Brit Marling.   Whether she’s a time traveller or not, this lady has a bright, bright future.

7 out of 10

Released in the UK on 3rd August 2012 

Seen it?  What did you think?  Anyone desperate to see this?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Why I Love That Film: Aliens

Ladies and gentlemen!  May I present to you I Love That Film's very first guest post from a fellow writer and teacher, David Jackson.  Here's why David Jackson loves Aliens:

In all honesty I feel that this review is moot; why I love Aliens and therefore why everyone else should love it is self-evident and can be summed up in the following three words:

It’s fucking great.

Though every last letter of that pronouncement is wholly true, the horrible realisation has dawned upon me that there are people on this Earth who have not seen Aliens. Those who have an excuse – the absence of running water, let alone DVD players – notwithstanding, this situation is unforgivable. It is a situation almost as unforgivable as the fact that there are people alive on the verge of adulthood who are younger than that other great James Cameron movie – Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Before I get into highlighting the fact that only three of my students have seen any of the Back to the Future trilogy and one of them claimed they ‘were rubbish’ (and has since been committed to psychiatric care), I should resume reviewing Aliens. The topic of the death of culture itself can wait.

For the uninitiated, Aliens  is the 1986 follow-up to Ridley Scott’s uninventive but flawlessly executed Alien, and concerns the PTSD-afflicted Ellen Ripley’s ill-fated attempts to investigate (with the assistance of gum-chewing soldiers) the disappearance of an entire colony of humans on the planet where the titular phallus-bonced xenomorphs were originally found.

There are so many reasons to love this film from an aesthetic and technical point of view. Aside from the despicable haircuts, it’s hard to place it as a 1986 movie – a testament to the excellence of a production put together on (even then) a mediocre budget of eighteen million dollars. The academy award winning practical and special effects still equal those of any CGI-driven blockbuster of today, and even the slightly phony rear-projection face-offs with the Queen in her nest towards the end of the movie are more convincing than watching Ryan Reynold’s head floating against a background of pixellated green mush. The central character of Ripley is portrayed within a believable Feminist framework that is rare today. It is an action movie. It is a horror movie. It is a cyberpunk commentary on the dangers of unlimited corporate power. It’s even a serviceable Vietnam War allegory. To cover it all would require an entire book.

I remember seeing snippets of Aliens at a young age and finally saw the director’s cut in full aged fourteen when the boxset was released on VHS in 1997 before Alien Resurrection came out and ran head-first into a brick wall. What impressed me most was the design of the Colonial Marines’ military hardware – it was both futuristic and grounded within a recognisable practical reality. The designs are so cemented in the collective geek imagination that it they have been knowingly and smirkingly assimilated into other media. The UNSC troops and vehicles in the legendary Halo videogame franchise are the clearest example. Even Sergeant Apone makes an appearance in them under the guise of Sergeant Johnson.

One thing that is brilliant about the use of military hardware from a narrative point of view is that it underlines the menace of the xenomorph threat itself. The Colonial Marines are over-equipped to the point of complacence. Their weaponry is in fact overpowered to the point of liability – it indirectly results in the destruction of the colony they set out to save. One message of the movie is clear – flesh is stronger than steel. As an allegory for the trials of the US during the Vietnam War, it serves to illustrate how the superior numbers, guerrilla stealth and almost fearless nature of the North Vietnamese were more important than all the high-explosives at the Americans’ disposal.

Characterisation is a strength of this film – oddly because it doesn’t try too hard. The heavily-armed ready-meals who populate this film are painted with broad but memorable strokes. Sometimes, the best icons are the simplest. What really matters is the character of Ripley herself and how she is used to deftly handle second-wave Feminist issues in the script by Cameron (and some extent Alien screenwriters Giler and Hill).

Summary of powerful female characters in a modern film: take the recent Salt or maybe Tomb Raider (Jolie coincidence? I think not) or even the horrendously overrated marathon pop-video wank-fests known as Kill-Bill parts 1 & 2. Their approach is ‘because I am sexy, I am powerful’. Supermodel physiques that in reality can barely pull back the bed-sheets in the morning pull off feats of superhuman strength and speed far outclassing the obviously physically-fit male counterparts of these movies. I see this and I’m immediately bored. Why is it that their power has to be linked to their attractiveness in the most conventional terms? Why do we need to define female characters by their sexuality at all?

Aliens eschews all this and gives us in Ripley a character with powerful biological drive in terms of mothering instincts,  and assets that are universally praise-worthy in anyone. She is pragmatic, determined and cool-headed. She isn’t given any super-strength or inexplicable martial arts skills and the justification of her place in a masculine hierarchy certainly isn’t centred on her appearance. Surrounded by gung-go troops, an incompetent combat-virginal Lieutenant and a slimy corporate executive, she uses her experience and ingenuity to help the group survive. Some people might criticise Ripley, in her leather jacket and blue overalls, as being a character that’s essentially neutered. They might also argue that the loss of her own child and subsequent near-suicidal attachment to the orphan Rebecca (also known as Newt) are simply concessions made to give her a traditional female grounding. 

What is important here is that is we are dealing with the female not the feminine. Her biological leanings are inescapable and provide drive without defining her means of success. Other characters in the films mentioned above are defined in terms of the feminine – the artificial, socially contrived characteristics associated with females but which (though we get confused in our culture) have nothing to do with the essence of being female or even human. In short, the abilities that Ripley displays can be believed. There is a clear relation between her outward presentation and behaviour and what she achieves. She’s not even the ever-pouting super-bitch that is commonly portrayed as being the kind of woman who excels in a ‘male’ environment. Ripley is tough, but sensitive in quite a straightforward, undecorated manner. In other words, a great leader.

Unsurprisingly, another area in which Aliens excels is in its action ... or should we be surprised? If you added together all the action sequences from the 137-minute director’s cut, you probably only get about 35 minutes of action. In these scenes, the xenomorphs themselves are seldom in the same frame as the Colonial Marines and there are long moments of fighting where the aliens aren’t shown at all. Far from being simple cost-cutting exercises, these are strategies that make the action work. Marines blast away at middle-distance off-camera threats because they are in a confused situation and attacked by almost invisible enemies from all sides. Constant cuts to their out-of-depth Lieutenant watching their decimation from camera feeds enhance the sense of helplessness. Snap-cuts to creatures being mown down by sentry guns in a dark corridor give the impression of the beasts being innumerable even though we are only shown a few being involved at any time.

The sense of action, in short, relies on atmosphere for its thrill and menace. This is not a ‘literal’ action film that shows you everything in candid, realistic detail. The lighting in particular plays a crucial role. In one set-piece, the aliens make their way around the Marines’ barricade and into the Operations Centre by crawling under the floor and over the ceiling grates – but not before cutting the power. Cutting the power of course results in the engagement of emergency lighting which saturates the scene with murky blood-red tones that underline the primal horror of the moment, create a tantalising half-light which makes the creatures more threatening and serves as pathetic fallacy for the turning point wherein there is no hope for survival. During Ripley’s rescue of Newt and her final duel with the Queen, strobing hazard-lights create a tense visual heart-beat.

Aliens is fantastic not only as a stand-alone film but as a sequel. It isn’t the simple ‘more expensive version of the original’ approach taken by many films (though it did cost more). It operates on an entirely different dynamic and unravels some of the more mysterious elements of the original in a logical way. The nature of the xenomorph is expanded upon with the exposition of a hive hierarchy, and their survival strategies adapt when the conditions of their human enemies change. Expectations set up by the original – such as that all androids are untrustworthy tools of the evil Weyland Yutani Corporation – are toyed with and then smashed.

In summation, Aliens is a movie that has aged well. It has clever direction, sympathetic and believable spins on classic stereotypes, and stunning production design. It is a movie-geek’s dream as well as a satisfying mainstream action-horror. The more you know about this film, the more you appreciate it, mainly because so much was achieved with such limited resources. Despite having relatively little action, what there is happens to be well-paced and hits harder because of the dramatic tension that develops between.

... and plus, Bill Paxton makes this face:

What more could you want?


 DAVID M. JACKSON is the semi-fictitious construct of a crazed Language and Literature lecturer born in Essex and working in Berkshire.

He has loved Science-Fiction all his life and regards it as the ultimate means of developing complex hypotheses regarding how technological development catalyses social change.
He is pretentious and precocious enough to have been writing Science-Fiction since the age of fourteen, though most of those ideas are in quarantine. When cleansed of their impurities, he will rebuild them faster, stronger and better than before.

His corporeal avatar currently occupies a position in real-space approximately 1.6 meters in height, 0.6 meters in width, 0.35 meters at its deepest point and 98 kilograms in weight according to the metric increments employed by homo-sapiens in the industrialised territories of Earth (Solar System).

If you want to read more from David M. Jackson, look for his new novel Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity on Amazon – due out as an eBook from 1st July 2012.

Set in the near future, Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity sees cybernetically augmented police officer Jennifer Carter fighting to avenge her father’s death, evade arrest by her former colleagues and hold on to the last remnants of her humanity as Britain explodes into civil war.
Our real enemies are closer to home than you think …

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Big Blogging Question

Hi everybody, I trust you all had splendid weekends?  If you are Italian, congratulations, if you are a Brit, commiserations.  If you couldn't care less about football or come from somewhere you call it soccer, then please ignore all this!

Anyway I have one big question today...

Blogger or Wordpress?

Please bare in mind I'm useless with computers so I need simplicity.  As much as I love the look of many Wordpress sites, is it harder to use?

And if I don't have the design skills of say Sati at Cinematic Corner, then should I just forget a good looking blog?

Does anyone know the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Will I lose traffic by switching?  Will you stick with me? 

Should I change my bloody silly simple name while I'm at it?

Are there downsides to Wordpress?

How do most people subscribe to blogs?  I do by email but I'm sure there are other better ways like RSS and all that sort of stuff? 

Sorry that's a lot of questions.  Please feel free to answer any you can!  Your advice is appreciated!  Have a nice week!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Great Scott: Meeting Christopher Lloyd

Two of my very good friends in Australia went along to the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Perth yesterday and got the opportunity to meet the absolute legend that is Christopher Lloyd.  Yes that's right Doc Brown from the Back to the Future series.  In the flesh.  And here's the photo to prove it!

Not only that but they did it in grand style.  That's T.A. on the left dressed as Claudia Wells/Elisabeth Shue (I'm guessing she's going for Shue as the 'You're Fired' note is from Part 2) as Jennifer Parker/McFly.  On the right is JJ dressed as Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly.  And in the middle is the Doc, unfortunately not dressed as the Doc.  Shame he didn't make an effort.  Only kidding, what a legend!

Seriously... how freaking awesome is this?  Anyone else met someone as cool as Mr Lloyd and got the photo to prove it?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Johannes Roberts Storage 24 Q&A

Johannes Roberts, director of British ‘hoodie’ horror F visited Bracknell and Wokingham College on Tuesday 12th June to discuss his career and upcoming film, Storage 24, with media students.

Students waiting for screening to start
After a screening of F, Roberts was invited to participate in a Q&A with the students in order for them to gain a vital and exciting insight into what it takes to make it in the modern British film industry.

Johannes tells it how it is
Johannes began by calling his film studies degree a piece of shit.  It’s not quite what us teachers wanted to hear as we encourage many of our students to progress onto a university course.  But he did not dismiss the idea of going to university completely.  Johannes explained to the assembled students that there are really three ways into the industry: 

  1. Go to Soho and get a job as a runner, perhaps in a post-production house and then work very hard and climb the ladder.
  2. Go to university if you can afford it.  He said university can be a chance to make mistakes, to get access to free equipment and to meet like-minded people.
  3.  Do as Johannes did and just start making films with whatever means you have at your disposal.

Here’s the trailer of hoodie horror F:

Johannes talked about the funding of F which started with £30,000 coming from an investment banker and the budget eventually increased to £100,000.  He used many students in the crew and secured the free use of the college that is featured as really the only location in the film.  The director said he is drawn to sterile locations like this and has done features in hospitals, a school and his latest takes place in a storage facility.  The film was deliberately written with a low budget in mind and therefore it is primarily one location and mostly interiors in order to keep costs down. 

The three 16 year olds who played the mysterious, animalistic hoodies were found nearby climbing up walls and were paid nothing for appearing in the film.  Another great way to keep costs low!  Their movements were all choreographed on set.  Johannes mentioned his desire to make a ghost story and this can clearly be seen in his use of the faceless, fleeting glimpses of dark figures that menace his characters.  Another way to keep costs down was to limit the visible gore as it is expensive and time consuming to produce these make-up effects.

Johannes also discussed the need to be conscious of your audience.  Although Studio Canal/Optimum picked the film up for cinema distribution, there were concerns and questions over the protagonist of the horror film being a 65 year man.  Johannes recognised the need when writing the script for a younger pretty girl who would appeal more to the target audience of teens, particularly male.  This resulted in the casting of Eliza Bennett as the daughter of the protagonist played by David Schofield.   He also test screened the film at a college in Peterborough to gain some feedback from the target audience.

The decision to end the film on quite an ambiguous note was also addressed by the director.  He justified the very open ending by stating that the film ends with the protagonist facing the most horrific decision that the character would ever have to make.  He discussed his desire to use unconventional lighting for a horror movie and the decision to make it his first film shot on digital with hired Red Cams.  The filming took three weeks and after a number of changes to the title, it was released on 29 screens.

Johannes also talked about the challenges of filmmaking on low budgets and the difficulties of working in the film industry.  He spoke of his first five features that were made by spending lots on credit cards and how after trying unsuccessfully to sell one at Cannes, he realised the importance of having a star.  He re-cut the film and managed to get Uri Geller to star in it.  He talked of waiting for four years for the phone to ring and how his film F went through 35 drafts before being filmed.  He left the students with no delusions that the film industry is an easy life with guarantees of great riches.  

Johannes and students
It certainly wasn’t all doom and gloom.  Johannes emphasised that drive is everything and that filmmakers must always be conscious of their audience.  He was very motivational, suggesting that especially now, there is no excuse to not just get filming and producing.  He mentioned the fact that feature films are now being shot on cameras like the relatively cheap Canon 5D.  He also talked about his inspirations; books like Lord of the Rings and the work of Stephen King and Terry Pratchett and the films Cujo, Platoon and The Breakfast Club. 

Finally we moved on to the upcoming Noel Clarke starring science fiction, Storage 24, which is produced by Universal.  Both Clarke and Roberts worked on the script originally titled Big Yellow.  Again, Johannes used some students in the film’s production.  He said he is drawn to driven, hard-working people and discussed the popularity of Clarke.  His fan base is huge after films like Kidulthood and Adulthood and when Roberts and Clarke have been to conventions and signings together, Roberts has been astounded by the cues of people waiting to meet Clarke.

It was a fascinating Q&A and incredibly useful for the students to hear not only an inspirational story of how one man has made it in the British film industry but also a very cautionary tale to those students who think that working in film would be an easy life, all glamour and riches.

Storage 24 is out in the UK on 29th June.  I hope you will go and check it out.  Here’s the trailer:

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Battle of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt's

If any of you voted in my previous blockbuster duel that pitted Prometheus VS The Dark Knight Rises, you might remember how this works.  If not, here's the exceptionally simple rules.  If you could only see one of these two films in the cinema, which would it be?

This time it's a battle of the upcoming Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring action-thrillers.

In the red corner: 

Premium Rush: UK Release 14th October

It's written and directed by David Koepp.  He hasn't directed a huge amount but Stor of Echoes was a great film.  However his strength lies more in his writing and though his credits are a bit of a mixed bag, there are some absolutely cracking thrillers; Toy Soldiers, Jurassic Park and Panic Room being most notable in my eyes.  It's also got Michael Shannon on villain duties which is a huge plus.

It's going to make riding bikes extremely exciting!

And in the blue corner:

Looper: UK Release 28th September

This one is written and directed by Rian Johnson and re-teams the star and director of excellent indie high-school neo-noir Brick.  It's also got Bruce Willis and time travel.  Need I say more?

Here's hoping for some smart, fun science fiction!

So there are your choices.  If you could only see Premium Rush or Looper in the cinema, which would it be?  Before I saw the trailer for Premium Rush and found out Michael Shannon was in it, I'd have gone for Looper no competition.  Now I'm quite torn.  I suspect this one might be a bit one sided with a lot of votes for Looper but I'm looking forward to hearing your responses.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Dark Knight Keeps Rising: 10 thoughts on the new trailer

Here's a quick breakdown as I watch the new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises.  I hope no one considers these spoilers but if you aren't going to watch the new trailer then probably best to give this post a miss!

 1. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is good at staring into the distance.  That's a mighty fine stare he has.

2. Why the hell didn't I make sure I saw that Bane and plane prologue in an IMAX cinema?

3.  What's going to happen to those schoolkids?  Are they on or near one of those exploding bridges?  Is this going to get all like that two ferry situation with The Joker?

4. Are we going to witness a Gotham revolution?  Are the ordinary people of Gotham going to rise up and overthrow the bankers of Wall Street?  Will Batman realise that we should be pissed off at the greedy bastards and join Bane?  That would be nice and subversive.

5. What exactly is Batman angry about?

6. I'm guessing they won't kill Batman but seriously, wouldn't that be the BEST ending EVER!?

7. These riot scenes are looking like London last Summer.  But there were less guns here and the police wear brighter clothes.

8. Am I the only one who isn't a fan of the flying Bat thing (and is it still called the Batwing)?  To be honest, I know the vehicles in this trilogy are supposed to be more realistic or military-like but does anyone else miss Keaton and West's Batmobiles?

9. How come there was only about four shots of Catwoman in this whole trailer?

10. Would it make me a bad husband to go and see this on opening night which is also the night before my wedding?  Otherwise I've got to wait until I get back from honeymoon!  Please help!

What do you all think?  Seen enough?  Can't wait! Overhyped?  Spill the beans below....

Monday, 18 June 2012

I Love That Blog Post #8

Bloggers just kept on blogging this week.  Lots about Prometheus!  Here's my highlights:

Hell of a lot of Prometheus reviews out there.  Enjoyed this one a lot.  Fogs’ Movie Reviews had this to say:

I think this is the second in a new series from Sati.  Cinematic Corner continues comparing films visually; this time Amelie and The Artist

Fantastic piece from Top 10 Films on Prometheus theories that certainly answered a few of my questions

Rodney at Front Room Cinema discusses film marketing and audience anticipation

Ruth at Flixchatter has a link to 500 free online movies!

Kristin at All Eyes on Screen casts the movie of her life, you should all definitely give this a try!

Another great one from Sati (now I know this is short for Satine).  Cinematic Corner has a very interesting list of film facts about her

If you haven't come across any of these on your blogging travels, please give them a look!