Secret Cinema

GOOD LogoDon’t tell anyone.

No, seriously.

It says so on the tickets. In big sensible writing it says TELL NO ONE.

Of course, I’m going to tell you though. I mean, keeping secrets is what you’re great at huh, Internet?

Secret Cinema is a new, different, immersive way to watch movies. Have you ever seen a film and loved it so much that you just wanted to live in that world? Secret Cinema, for one night, lets you do that. Have you ever thought about just booking a ticket for a movie, not knowing what you’ll see, but knowing that you’ll meet fantastic people and have a great time, no matter if you like the film or not? Secret Cinema gives you that too.

Last weekend Gabby and I travelled down to our fair (?) capital to attend Secret Cinema 20. After having a thoroughly good, if abjectly scary time at Secret Cinema 19, we decided to go again this year. Am I glad we did!

I’m not going to tell you what film we saw, but I will tell you that after we bought our tickets, we were sent a link to the intranet site for an organisation called G.O.O.D. and told that we’d been given new jobs and had to visit the intranet site every day. Closer to the opening day of SC20 a huge meet up happened in London, bringing with it news of a popup shop for G.O.O.D. Careers and a music video featuring Thom Yorke dancing. Closer to the day of our visit we were given our new jobs at G.O.O.D. I was to be in the Committee for Credit Creation, and was advised to bring a solution to the financial crisis and a penny (to help us get out of debt, you see). Gabby was given a different job and we both queued up at different entrances.

For the first hour we both went and did our own, odd tasks which included pointing, shouting, throwing, headdesking, drinking booze and chatting to folks. We finally met up and explored the rest of the huge Croydon office that Future Cinema (confusingly, the company that runs Secret Cinema) had rented out for the event.

I’m not going to tell you anything more, save that there were brilliant improv performances by so many actors, and you get much more out of the experience the more you put in. Going in costume is only the start. If you’re willing to engage with the actors, make a fool of yourself and get into the spirit of the thing, you’ll have an even better time.

In that way it’s a bit like D&D.

You should probably try it.

‘t i’n’t in’t’ Tintin

Having just returned from watching the new CGI, motion capture, animated movie “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”, I must say I had a rather fun, if slightly unfulfilling, time. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s certainly a film worth seeing, however it left me feeling a little like the characters on screen, pretty good on the surface but hollow on the inside.

French Live-Action Tintin
At a glance you'd think these were real people, but they're actually French.

As a child I was a fan of the Tintin cartoons and I enjoyed the occasional Hergé comic too, it was the adventure of it all that I loved. Ever since I’d heard of it’s inception I’d been looking forward to this movie. The knowledge that Spielberg and Jackson were on board only served to heighten my anticipation that this could be a classic. The trailers helped too but also made me a little fearful as, it must be said, the characters do look a bit odd. They’re right on the line between real and stylised, sinking to the deepest depths of the Uncanny Valley and freaking the willies out of you at a glance. As a disclaimer I’ll just say; This does fade during the action but every now and then your brain realises and does a little “Urgh!!” in your head to remind you.

I’d also like to state, for the record, that we were forced to watch the movie in 3D*. None of our party wanted to see the movie in any more than the usual two dimensions but the final 2D showing anywhere in driving distance was at 18:30 and that’s just a touch too early for us working folks.

So, with mixed feelings but high hopes (and 3D premium paid), I made my way in and settled down, wearing two pairs of glasses on my face.

The movie starts quickly, with a nice in joke and some incidental crime. We’re then immediately introduced to the plot’s MacGuffin, the titular “Unicorn”, and, seconds later and unmistakably, the villain of the piece. This is a good start and the breathless pace continues throughout the whole movie. Clues are presented, people appear, that piece of the puzzle is put together, action happens and it’s all done extremely slickly, with great style and flare. Some of the “one shot**” action sequences are especially well accomplished, flowing from one set-piece to the next with only the briefest of time to digest what you’ve seen before the next section of  beautifully rendered CGI slaps you around the chops and shouts “Boo!!”. It really is an irreverent adventure movie from start to finish, punctuated with some good jokes and a standout performance from Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock. (When will they give that man an Oscar??)

My only real criticism would be that everything just seems to happen. I realise this is Tintin and, to a point, the only remarkable thing about him is that things just seem to happen to him all the time but we really could have done with a little more explanation or thought on the part of our protagonist before things dawn on him. Simply pointing skyward and connecting A to E without the intermediary steps of B,C and D comes off as far too convenient. Unfortunately this extraordinary instinctive ability to put clues together in an instant and then give the most cursory of explanations persists throughout the film. This does wane as the story progresses, but that’s more because action is thundering along with no need for connecting the dots than any conscious attempt to fill in the blanks.

Another point I’d like to raise before rounding off is that some things did literally just happen. Two examples that immediately spring to mind; The first being when Tintin, for no appreciable reason, goes to a “deserted mansion” that just happens to be the Haddock family home and where the main villain, unbeknown to our hero, is in residence. The second is when a tank chases Tintin, Haddock et al though a Middle Eastern city. It just happens to appear right behind them half way down the hill and, bizarrely, encase in a hotel’s entrance hall. Both of these glaring examples lead me to believe that an extended cut (similar to those of the Lord of The Rings movies) may be on the cards for the DVD/BluRay release. Jackson at least has a history of such things and it might help resolve my earlier criticism too…

In conclusion then, this movie is bags of fun and visually spectacular. Just let the pace of the film to you, don’t think about things too much and you’ll love it. Score = 7/12.

*Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 3D added nothing but a few pounds to the cost of our evening’s entertainment.
**These are presented as “one shot” but, due to the nature of the movie, are simply effects shots without cuts, so don’t really count. They look very nice though…


I’m Still Here

I'm Still Here
I'm Still Here Poster
I’m Still Here is the directorial debut of Casey Affleck, star of the ill-timed Gone, Baby, Gone and controversial The Killer Insisde Me. As a first move from actor to filmmaker, I’m Still Here is both incredibly brave and shockingly misjudged.

The film is ostensibly a cinema verite take on the retirement of Joaquin Phoenix, picking up after the huge success of Walk the Line. We see Phoenix’s hedonistic lifestyle, his failing attempts to start a hip hop career, his alienation from his friends and finally a supposed catharsis.

The film is supposed to be a documentary account of Phoenix’s real life, but after watching the movie it becomes apparent that the whole thing is an act, Albeit one played out on a public stage. A fact confirmed by Affleck soon after the film’s release.

I think I’m Still Here was supposed to be a grand experiment. Phoenix created a character to act as his stand in, and played that role in public throughout the course of the film. As a piece of character acting it’s astounding, even taking his pretend persona onto the Letterman show and press appearances. This approach makes us question the role of actors, as well as taking a swipe at celbrity culture, but falls short of its lofty visions of holding the mirror up to us.

Despite whatever artistic merit it might want to posess, the end result is a hard to watch mess which just seems self indulgent. Rather than setting out to make a film with a point, it feels like the brothers-in-law are playing a joke on you and looking to make a quick buck out of filming it. I can only see two intentions behind making this movie, either as a serious film about actors and their private lives, or as a comedy.

The film fails on both fronts. Phoenix’s assumed persona is little more than an idiot, he plays a role which wouldn’t be outside of the ouvre of Jack Black. There are no moments of humanity to relate to, no tender beats to endear this invented version of Joaquin Phoenix to us. All we are left with is a fool acting up on camera, which would be fine if this was a comedy. It’s not. There are no laughs here, there’s no cringeworthy moments, in fact I can’t think of a time during the film when I felt anything but bewildered and bored.

All this leads to one final scene, without dialogue, of Phoenix walking up a stream until submerged, all the while scored by a lonely piano. At this point I was done with the film, and adding a faux meanignful moment at the end just smacked of a desperation to be taken seriously. We can’t be expected to feel empathy with a character suddenly, just because the film tells us to.

If this film had worked it could have been a game changer, instead it ends up being a character study of an unlikeable twerp, a high-concept Borat. Maybe this film could have had something to say about ‘real-life’ celebrity but it burns that bridge with sheer bloody-minded silliness. Doubtless Phoenix is a great actor, but this project was simply a waste of his time and yours.

-7 R-S

Wrestle Jam

A couple of weeks ago I managed to spend every night of the week at the cinema catching up with the Oscar nominations. While I didn’t get to see the Oscars, as subscribing to Sky movies is daylight robbery, I did manage to see some excellent films such as Frost/Nixon (my movie of the year) and Darren Aronofsky,‘s The Wrestler, otherwise known as Mickey Rourke Strikes Back.

For those not into watching excellent pieces of cinema; The Wrestler is the story of a washed up 1980’s wrestling superstar. Now destitute, Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson is living life the only way he knows, and how that affects the relationship with his daughter and would-be squeeze. A major part of the film is Randy’s ties to his past fame, with one particular scene showing him and a young boy playing Wrestle Jam ’88, a fictional NES game from The Ram’s heyday. Kotaku ran a great article about the making of this piece of game art, I suggest you read it and be enlightened. I also suggest you see The Wrestler, it is not bobbins.

Apparently Aronofsky demanded a playable game, which was provided by brother and sister team Kristyn Hume and Randall Furino. All in all the game was a lightly featured clone of Wrestlemania, and even had it’s own 8-bit theme song (linked below). I adore this kind of commitment to building a film’s versimilitude, sure you could have run a video of any old game, or cobbled together some footage but here the production team seem to have gone one step further and made a work of homage from something many would consider no more than set dressing. Bravo!

Comics to Films

Partially inspired by Ralph’s mini rant about the Dragonball movie, I thought I’d take a post to talk about the current speight of comic (or graphic novel, if you can’t bear to call them comics) to film translations.

First a confession, WE3 is one of my favourite comics. Written by Grant Morrisson, it sympathetically evokes moments of horror and hubris, cruelty and compassion; the book should appeal to anyone who ever felt any kind of emotion for an animal. Helped along by the quite brilliant Frank Quitely providing some of the greatest layouts I can remember the whole thing sticks together in my mind as one of the best examples of what a comic can achieve. I still can’t read the whole thing through without filling up. Just a little, mind.

I’d completely missed the announcement that WE3 was going to be adapted into a film, and I have to admit I have mixed reactions to this news. Part of this trepidation is at the root of a lot of problems I have with comic adaptations in general. Comics are contained within their own world; they seem less constrianed by the necessities of realism that film requires. Let’s look at WE3 as an example, in the book the protagonists are kidnapped household pets plugged into killer mech suits while we are shown the moral of the tale through the actions of the humans. Outlandish, no? It’s because of this freedom to juxtapose the bizarre with the humane that sets comics aside for me. Few live action films successfully make this blend work. Don’t get me wrong, sporadically a film will do so with astounding results such as Pan’s Labyrinth, but I feel that this kind of filmmaking is rare at best.

In fact this proximity of the surreal to the humanistic viewpoint continues through some of my favourite comic books and for my money is the real strength of the graphic novel format. In film a serious message is often overlooked if elements of the storytelling are overtly fantastical, often leading to a dilution of the message either by making it’s goals more abstract (Lord of the Rings) or removing any moral message more complex than a Saturday Special (Transformers et al.) This is not a failing of film, it’s just not the norm nor particualrily welcomed. As mentioned previously Guillermo Del Toro could be the arbiter of a shift in expectations, paving the ground with Pan’s Labyrinth and his adaptions of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics, he has a keen eye for the visual design of a film and can deliver touching and relevant scenes even if his characters are a fish man and a demon.

Other translations are more direct. The recent success of Persepolis, co-directed by Marjane Satrapi; the writer and artist of the original work closely mirrors the visual style of the book version, adding flourishes of hand drawn animation it turns it into more of a living comic than a film. Frank Miller has also been throwing his hat into the ring, overseeing adaptations of his lauded 300 and Sin City books (possibly due to the butchering of his script for Robocop 2) managed to work with directors and staff commited to bringing the visual style of the books to the screen. While these approaches are valid and produce extraordianry results, they seem to be gimmicky to me neither examples giving the emotional response nor depth of character that I see when I read Transmetropolitan, Fluffy or Pride of Baghdad. Maybe it’s just my preference of film, but I can’t see a comic book film ever succeed at being taken as a ‘serious’ movie.

Apparently there’s ongoing effort to translate Preacher to the cinema. Preacher is a book I grew to love comics with, it threw taste to the wind, mixing cowboy themes with a buddy comedy, slapstick and an overarching message about belief. It was huge, sprawling, filled with insane characters, belly laughs and quotable lines aplenty. Successfully making a movie from the wonderful mess of the comic series would be a feat in itself. Making it true to the spirit of the original may be nothing short of a miracle.