Archive for the ‘Comment’ Category

As a film journalist I normally go to several media screenings a week. Which means that I hardly ever actually go to the regular cinema anymore.

You might think this means I get to avoid the sweet-chomping and incessant chattering that is the multiplex. It doesn’t.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year it’s that film hacks are just as capable of being thoughtless during  a film as the rest of the public. Like the time I went to see The Artist and someone sitting two seats away from me talked the whole way through. The characters in the film don’t even talk!

Anyway, since anyone and everyone seems in need of advice on the matter of cinema etiquette, I thought I’d lay it down straight. Actually the ever authoritative Debrett’s has already written some guidelines. You can see those ones here.

But dear Debrett’s, you’ve put it so very nicely, with such restraint.  I, on the other hand, have a few things to add.

If these things sound like things you do, please feel free to stop doing them. Immediately.

Or, indeed, to stop coming to the cinema altogether.


 1)     Adverts are not part of the film. Trailers are. Despite the resourcefulness of YouTube, Apple Trailers etc, which now nab trailers the moment they moment they emerge, I still like seeing trailers on the big screen. Especially when they’re for The Hobbit. So please, lady talking loudly about how selfish Becky from work is. Shush.

2)     Eating food quietly at the cinema is hard. Especially since the Odeons and Vues of the world seem to have decided that classic “Cinema Food” should basically consist of the noisiest eats in the world. Nachos and popcorn? I mean, come on.

But if there’s one thing that’s more annoying than people eating loudly, it’s people opening sweet packets quietly. You know, the kind of quiet where it takes someone 50 minutes to open that packet of minstrels they’re trying so hard to do it quietly. Here’s a thought. Open it before the film starts. Wait for a loud bit. Hell, rip it open if you have to, but don’t torture us with your deafening and protracted attempts at silence.

3)     If you have to arrive late, go to the loo, leave early, please don’t stand at the bottom right in front of the screen. You’re obscuring what is somehow always, always, the most important bit of the film. Yes, you, chatty girls who went to the loo three times during The Hunger Games kiss scene and the build-up to it in the cave. You just should not have drunk the extra large coke.

4)     Glancing at your phone, especially a big light-blasting iPhone, during the film is rude. We like the dark abyss of the cinema. It’s one of the reasons we go there.

5)     Talking on your phone during the film is totally unacceptable.
Get out.


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We’ve all seen it: unremarkable men – unsightly even – walking hand-in-hand with women so beautiful they could launch more ships than Helen of Troy. Usually, of course, the ordinary fellow who manages to bag himself a hotter bit of totty than his peers has something extraordinary to offer: money, power or, occasionally, just a cracking sense of humour.

But there has been a rather odd development of late, in the way this hot girl/plain man dynamic is dealt with in film. Hollywood has taken to pairing up models with Average Joes who have nothing to offerOr not enough to make their relationship credible, anyway. Take Knocked Up, The Holiday or Couples Retreat. OK, so Seth Rogen’s character is, well, quite nice. But seriously, Katherine Heigl could go out with anyone. In Grey’s Anatomy she plays a model who is also a doctor, for God’s sake. And Kate Winslet and Jack Black? Not only is she at least a foot taller than him, but her last beau was Rufus Sewell . RUFUS SEWELL, people.

When did it become normal for sub-part blokes to get super-hot girls? Call me fattist or lookist if you want to, but I’m not sure I like it. I’m all for people favouring personality over looks. But if grumpy old sods like Paul Giamatti’s character in Barney’s Version, in cinemas now, can pull girls like Rosamund Pike, then which men are left for normal women? Morbidly obese criminals?

Hollywood seems intent on presenting us with a parallel universe where men can get anyone no matter what they’re like. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most unlikely onscreen couples of recent years. If I’ve left any off, share away.

Barney’s Version: Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike
She was a Bond girl. He’s made a career out of playing underachievers and weirdos. And he’s not even a likeable weirdo in this film (most of the time). We can only imagine that, since the story is supposed to be Barney’s life seen through his own eyes, he’s just embellishing a tad.

The Holiday: Kate Winslet and Jack Black
We’re not such heartless curmudgeons that we don’t understand the need for the nice guy after having your heart broken. But even the director doesn’t seem to believe in this unlikely pairing, giving the couple a chummy kiss rather than the lustful embraces of Jude Law and Cameron Diaz across the pond.

Couples Retreat: Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis
Favreau – and Vince Vaughn too for that matter – have fallen hard since the glory days of Swingers. Not only are they less funny, they are also less fit. It might have been conceivable that Heather Graham would take a shine to Favreau in 1996. But in this 2009 film he is bloated, boring and a bit of a sex pest.

Hitch: Kevin James and Amber Valetta
She is a model from Manhattan. He made his name as  The King of Queens, an overweight delivery man from, er, Queens.  Apparently she finds his dancing and mustard-spilling skills irresistible.


Zack and Miri make a porno: Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks
We get that this film is in tongue in cheek. We even get that its premise is meant to be absurd (broke flatmates make porn movies to pay the bills, all good clean fun). But we cannot get past the fact that Miri originally fancies Brandon Routh (that’s Superman, by the way) but eventually falls for Seth Rogen.

Knocked up: Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen
She’s a gorgeous, successful TV presenter. He’s an unemployed, unkempt man-child creating a soft-porn website. Really?   


Sideways: Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen
Sorry Giamatti. We know Madsen is marginally less unattainable than Rosamund Pike  but to a depressed, awkward, failed author we reckon she’s still unattainable. 


Cyrus: John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei
John C. Reilly has made quite a lot of money out of playing pathetic losers who are left by their wives- only here his similarity to Shrek, as he puts it, gets him the girl. A very sweet and beautifully-acted film but we still don’t know any women who actually seek out plug-ugly guys peeing into bushes at cocktail parties.

As Good As it Gets: Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt
Jack Nicholson is mean, neurotic and pretty old. Helen Hunt, is beautiful and kind but oh, hang on, she’s a single mother. Well then, no wonder. She probably would have married a bigamous midget now, wouldn’t she?


And a few  in reverse…

Bridget Jones’ Diary: Hugh Grant/Colin Firth and Renee Zellweger
In real life this is a bit more likely – after all thin Zellweger  is going out with Bradley Cooper (whom she allegedly stole from Jennifer Aniston). But the movie Zellweger is about 100 times less attractive than normal Zellweger, and we’re not just talking about her weight. Apparently, Mr Darcy, who is handsome, loaded and surrounded by attractive women, is smitten by her knowledge of British soap operas. 

Muriel’s Wedding: Toni Colette and Daniel Lapaine
What a sheila lacks in the looks department she can make up for in confidence, or at least she can Down Under, where Muriel Heslop, an ugly duckling who has never been on a date,  wins the admiration of an Olympic hopeful. Streuth!

My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Nia Vardalos and John Corbett
Every girl dreams of a makeover that would increase her level of attractiveness ten-fold. Of course, it helps if you start off with specs because in Hollywood taking off your glasses results in an instant transformation. It’s not really that we don’t believe Corbett would fancy her. It’s more that he seems instantly attracted to her just because she’s got some Frizz Ease.

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After a bit of rummaging around the internet and some helpful reader emails (who knew people were so interested in the fate of the abandoned arm?!) I believe I have the answers to the  key questions from my review of 127 Hours – and some extra.

1)   The real-life footage of Aron Ralston trapped in the canyon still exists. Ralston has shown it to his family, and to James Franco to help him prepare for the role, as Franco explains in an interview here, describing the experience as “very intense, very moving… he doesn’t know there’s a happy ending.” You can actually see a teensy snippet of the actual footage in this interview as well.

2)   So, LOTS of you wanted to know about the arm’s whereabouts…  The arm is actually no more. It was retrieved following Ralston’s escape and cremated. Ralston then returned to the boulder six months later  to scatter the ashes.

3)      Another question that readers have asked is how long it actually took Ralston to cut his arm off (morbid, anyone?). The answer, according to an interview with Ralston, is 40 minutes, although Boyle shows it in about five.

4)      For those of you who want to know more about the real Ralston, there is a fascinating video of his return to the boulder here. If you thought the film was shocking, prepare to be revolted and moved in equal measure (the phrase “like sliding it into a pat of warm butter” will stick in my mind forever).

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Apologies for the lack of new posts recently but I have been scribbling away on pieces for The Independent. The first of two this week – which was inspired by my post below, Harry Potter and the Americanisation of British Film – begins below. Please click through to the Indy website to read the whole piece.

And look here on Friday for my second piece, on Birdemic, a remake of The Birds, and other terrible films inspired by Hitchcock…

Robin Hood is the latest British movie made with US money. Can our film industry survive without help from Hollywood?

Robin of Locksley, an Englishman through and through, has been brought to life on screen by more than 30 different men. Some Robins have been brooding, some dashing, and some dressed in unnervingly snug tights. But fewer than half have been British.

Today, Russell Crowe reprises the role in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. The film, marketed as grittier than its predecessors, boasts a British director, a British producer and was filmed in the UK. But it also has two Australian stars, an American backer (Universal) and a script penned by an American, although this is understood to have been given an extensive polish by Tom Stoppard.

So is it really a British film? And what do we mean by that?
Click here to keep reading.

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Last week, HandMade Films, a struggling – and quintessentially British – film production company announced it had received a possible takeover approach by a mysterious company known as Almorah Services. Now, HandMade, which was set up by George Harrison, who, so the story goes, remortgaged his home to fund the Life of Brian in 1978, has so far refused to reveal just who or what this Almorah is. (It seems unlikely to be Almorah, the industrial services provider based in Merseyside, but who knows?) But the real question is: where is it from? The UK? Or overseas?

The British film industry has struggled for years with an identity crisis, unable to sustain itself without accepting foreign cash, forced to adapt for foreign (usually American) audiences when it does. What’s more, big profits from films made in the UK often end up elsewhere.

Why? Partly because Britain offers tax breaks on any film of which 25 per cent of the production cost is spent on UK soil. That’s right – to be a British film you only have to spend 25 per cent of your budget within the UK, on anything from set costs to Kate Winslet’s bagel. Which obviously makes it rather attractive to US studios.

The film does also have to pass a “cultural test” (you can see the test’s points system for yourself here)  or be part of a co-production that benefits from a treaty with the UK.

Of course, all this doesn’t mean that there are no successful British films, or that no one’s managing to capture Britishness. Shane Meadows, Ken Loach and Danny Boyle have done a pretty good job in recent years. Slumdog Millionaire, highly lauded as the great British success of recent years and Boyle’s tour de force, made $377 million (£245 million) on a budget of just $15 million, and won eight Oscars.

But Slumdog was funded by a combination  of UK production companies, European grants and US distributors – and a large proportion of its profits have gone straight back into Fox’s pocket.

Similarly, Harry Potter, the most successful film franchise of all time was distributed by Warner Bros – who benefit from the tax breaks but don’t feed their portion of the takings back into the UK.

There’s another issue at play here too, and one that’s perhaps more worrying: the Americanisation of the  films themselves. A lack of distributors (who actually get the films into the cinemas, as well as often providing finance) is a really big problem in the UK (one of our most successful distributors, Redbus, named fastest growing private UK company in 2004, was bought by US giant Lionsgate in 2005).

Producers have to work really hard to persuade American distributors that their films are worth showing. Last year, Creation, the Paul Bettany film about Darwin’s loss of faith failed for a long time to find a distributor Stateside because it was believed to be too controversial in a country where just 39 per cent of the population reportedly believes in evolution (seriously).

Far too many British films take on American stars to draw American audiences (Bridget Jones, Shakespeare in Love, Emma, Becoming Jane etc) and films/books are often transported across the Atlantic to make them more palatable to American audiences: take Nick Hornby (a British author if ever there was one) whose High Fidelity and Fever Pitch were both set in the US for the big screen. Or  P.S. I Love you, which was originally a novel set in Ireland, not New York.

These are just a few examples of a problem that has persisted for a long time. The UK Film council continues to search for solutions  but with a funding pot that’s small anyway and currently being squeezed by the expanding Olympics budget, the whole thing seems doomed to an eternal balancing act: trying to attract American money without losing too much of the UK’s sense of identity – or all the profits.

If only there were more friendly Beatles to stump up all the cash.

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Hold the front page: Snoop Dogg has admitted that he doesn’t like films in 3D. Defying the latest Hollywood trend, the rapper told MTV: “I’m way too up in the sky to watch a movie in 3D”. He explained: “I don’t want that stuff coming right in my face. The last movie I saw in 3D, I’m gonna be honest with ya, is Friday the 13th Part III. Jason threw that spear, man. That spear hit me right in the eye.”

Now, Snoop may not have seen the latest developments in three-dimensional cinema (Friday the 13th Part III was released in 1982), but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a point. That stuff does hit you right in the eye, whether it’s a giant, flying Toruk from Pandora or a grinning cat from Alice in Wonderland.  

3D is everywhere. This week, Clash of the Titans and How to Train Your Dragon, both in 3D, are opening in UK cinemas. The former looks extraordinary, with a gargantuan Kraken (Perseus’s oceanic adversary) and electrifying action sequences that seem ideal for the format.

The final two Harry Potter films are also set for a 3D release and their predecessors mooted to be in line for a 3D makeover. In fact, ninety-nine films are expected to be released in 3D before 2012, including Batman, Tintin and Superman. This weekend Sky will even release its new channel, Sky 3D, with live coverage of the Premiere League clash between Chelsea and Manchester United.

But is it all worth it? I went to see Alice in Wonderland a few days ago. I’m not a massive Tim Burton fan generally, but I actually rather liked the film itself. It’s a bit more measured (odd, given the fantastical subject matter) than some of Burton’s previous efforts. Perhaps because the question of whether it’s all a dream or not is regularly addressed, the off-the-wall stuff doesn’t feel quite as silly or self-indulgent as it does in, say, Batman.

But the 3D effects I did not like. I quite enjoyed them at the IMAX, where I saw my first 3D film, Avatar, a few months ago. But at the IMAX the screen is so monstrously large that you almost feel like you are actually in the film yourself. Watching Alice at a regular cinema from ten rows back, the effort of trying to perceive an artificial sense of depth from a distance just made me dizzy.

I suspect the type of film also had something to do with it. In Avatar, the 3D allows you to better appreciate the size of the landscapes and the textures of the flora and fauna of the new world, whereas in Alice, the technology isn’t used as effectively. Sure, there are curious plants and creatures in Wonderland, but sometimes Burton seems in such a rush to get us through the story he doesn’t linger the way James Cameron does.

But 3D seems here to stay, in part because it is so lucrative. A 3D conversion may cost studios an extra $5 million (£3.3 million), but with DVD sales still plummeting, many would do anything to make a bit of extra cash – and, as well as 3D having a novelty effect that lures bigger audiences back to theatres, it can also be used to charge more at the box office. My Alice ticket cost an extra £2 at the Clapham Picturehouse in London, although I did get to keep the glasses.

3D has actually been around since the 19th century in one form or another and went through a couple of so-called “golden eras” in the fifties and later the eighties, as technology – and appetite – improved. Jaws III, for instance, was originally released in 3D . But the bulky cameras, the expensive technology, and shoddy production that sometimes failed to properly sinc two images, leaving the audience with a headache, prevented many studios – and viewers – from taking the movement seriously (there’s a great little potted history of 3D here).

There are still issues, such as concerns about inferior conversions (Cameron has criticsied the conversion of Clash of the Titans, which was done in a couple of months, compared with Avatar, which was done over several years). But this time it seems as if 3D is here to stay, with many in the industry calling it as big a development as when sound came along and wiped out silent movies. From May, you will even be able to buy 3D TV sets for your home.

I must admit I feel resistant to the change. While I thought Avatar was truly awsome, I actually like watching a flat screen – there’s something soothing and other wordly about it. But then, I’m sure there were luddites just like me and Snoop Dogg who claimed “the talkies” gave them a headache when they first arrived. Soon, 3D could be so ubiquitous and advanced that 2D will seem as old-fashioned as casette tapes. And as Snoop himself once said: “If the ride is more fly, then you must buy.” For shizzle.

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I went to see The Hurt Locker on Friday. A little late, you might say, given that it came out in September and has since won six Oscars and six Baftas, including best film and director for each. But my tardiness was rather timely in the end, as just a few days earlier I had been to see a very different kind of war film: Green Zone.

Now, timing, aside, Green Zone was never going to win any Oscars. It is too loud, too brash and its conspiratorial plot is at points screamingly simplistic, told from the perspective of a buff, Bourne-like US army officer accompanied by conspicuous special effects. Not generally a winning formula at the Academy.

The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, is everything Green Zone is not. It is wonderfully agenda-less, floating through the daily trials of a bomb disposal team and its reckless adrenalin-addicted team leader, Sergeant James, without constant reference to some crude polemic about the invasion of Iraq or or even the morality of war in general. Its soldiers, too, are everything that Matt Damon’s Officer Miller is not. They don’t care why they are fighting, or about Iraq or even about America. They simply want to survive. Or, in the case of Sergeant James, to smell death close-up and live.

But The Hurt Locker is not, as I was expecting, a small film. Death and mourning are not quiet here but fearsome, angry creatures that prompt definitive actions such as James’s decision to chase enemies into the night despite the protests of his ill-equipped men. The Hurt Locker may not have a point to make about war but it is every bit as cocksure as Green Zone.

So what is it about one of these films that made it an obvious Oscar recipient? Is it simply better? Possibly. But there is something more fundamental at play here. Green Zone has received four-star reviews because it is a terrific romp, with everything that Greengrass is so good at: pace, plot and action. It also satisfies, albeit fictionally, a burning desire for answers about Iraq that has still not been satisfied, not even, in this country, by the Chilcott Inquiry.

By contrast, The Hurt Locker looks at man’s condition: how far can human beings be pushed in the hellfire of war? Can a soldier ever recover from the the thrill of cheating death? Greengrass is, in my opinion, the best director in his field. Marc Forster, Christopher Nolan -they all have their talents – but no one is better than Greengrass at conveying the thrill of the chase.

In fact, Greengrass has been nominated for one Oscar in his life: for United 93, his 2007 portrayal of the final moments inside the “other” 9/11 plane, which crashed in Pennsylvania killing everyone on board. It is much more raw than Green Zone, much closer to the minds and feelings of it characters.

Looking back at Oscar-winners for best film in recent years, it is clear that man’s suffering is a common theme. Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, The Departed: all, in their own way, look at the limits to which a man can be pushed. His surrounding environment is secondary.

This year’s introduction of ten nominees for best picture, rather than five, was supposed to make room for “action films” such as The Dark Knight, or comedy: essentially to broaden the category’s horizons. But it seems that, while the Academy may have altered the system, its mindset is yet to catch up. Now, I’m certainly not saying Green Zone is a more Oscar-worthy candidate than The Hurt Locker (and in any case, it was released too late, as I’ve said), or, indeed, that Avatar should have outdone its main rival after all.

But it is still a little sad to know that you have to make a certain kind of film – rather than just a really, really good one – to win an Oscar. The current trend (and it has not always been thus) is simply not for blockbusters, even when, like Avatar, they break box office records. It will be interesting to see next year whether the expanded best film category will be big enough to reward action heroes and comic relief, whatever else they’re up against.

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