Archive for the FILM Category

Exposition Blvd.

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , on April 16, 2014 by dcairns

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There’s a famous saying that goes something like “Be careful what you want because you won’t get it but something might fall and hit you.” Perhaps it was to test that theory that we went to see the VERONICA MARS movie.

Fiona and I discovered the show on the recommendation of a good friend who discovered binge-watching before us, maybe because he’s American. Possibly all our UK friends were doing it already, but we were too busy watching pre-codes to notice. This was in the early stirrings of the Golden Age of TV when Lost and Battlestar Galactica seemed like a good idea and Breaking Bad probably hadn’t even been thought of. I don’t know, I’m no TV historian. But Veronica Mars had a lot going for it, as we recognized after two or three episodes. True, the actors were a bit uniformly good looking in a Lois & Clark kind of way, only juvenile. Thank heavens for the adults, who were good and schlubby. But the series had a lot of merits, which we looked forward to seeing carried over to the big-screen crowd-sourced version.

1) Plot. This is a major one — usually plot can be downgraded to the status of a series of hooks that keep us watching while the more important stuff is going on, but, to paraphrase Martin Scorsese at the start of THE COLOR OF MONEY, “With some players, plot itself can be an art.” Showrunner Rob Thomas would typically have a main plot and a subplot played out to satisfactory conclusions in each short episode, as well as keeping in the air the overarching series mystery (in series 1, this is the murder of Veronica’s best friend). All this made the show incredibly satisfying to watch — you got a lot — while also keeping you hungry for more. The teasers were irresistible.

2) Nice people. Even the deeply flawed characters, like Logan, were appealing. While we’re used to the Manichean nature of much western drama, it’s rare that I find myself touched by the goodness of a character. It sounds corny just to say it. But Veronica, though comprehensively traumatized before the pilot even starts, and confirmed in her cynicism by her evening job as assistant P.I., was always admirably decent, in a way that was impressive. The series tested her, and found flaws alright, but a good heart.

3) Class. I don’t mean just that the show is classy, I mean that’s about class, in a way that’s surprising and way beyond your basic “girl from the wrong side of the tracks” formulation. Series Two even had a major plotline about zoning. Being a Brit, I didn’t even know what zoning was, but I was fascinated to learn.

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Would the series’ charm survive expansion to feature length and the big screen? It was with a mixture of hope and trepidation that we attended a late night screening at the Cameo along with four friends who are also fans. And would the results please anyone other than fans of the show? Given that fans literally paid for the movie (in advance, rather than the more usual afterwards), the filmmakers (series creator Rob Thomas partnered with regular series screenwriter Diane Ruggiero) would be under more pressure than usual to satisfy their core audience.

We all enjoyed the movie — as fans. Not having watched it since the third series finished, I couldn’t always remember who the minor characters were, but enough of the rest of the audience obviously did to produce laughs of familiarity. The storyline is perfectly comprehensible to anybody, regardless of whether they ever saw the series — the ways in which it renders itself comprehensible are perhaps questionable, though: a big recap at the start and Veronica’s VO (a device used in the show, admittedly). I’d love to have seen the info delivered more in action and dialogue, both of which the film handles well. That show always had sensational zingy talk, and the movie does too — I’d like to see Thomas & Ruggiero write a screwball comedy.

Does it look like a movie? Well, it’s handsomely lit — but then, everything is these Thomas is definitely a TV director though. His modest budget goes on gloss, and his technique is basically coverage. There’s a suggestion of a LONG GOODBYE kind of drifting camera approach to the wide shots, but the editing tends to cut those angles off before they start paying for themselves, interrupting the camera movements just as they open their mouths to speak. It’s a film of fast-cut closeups — some hinky continuity but some very nifty emotion-tweaking storytelling. It’s just that it’s stylistically somewhere between too much and not enough.

But hey — the TV series succeeded on content, and by and large so does the movie.

The plotting is smooth as ever (at one point, an address is humourously given as “Exposition Blvd” but plot info is always successfully integrated into dramatic argument) and one consequence of the movie catching up with its characters after such a gap is a new focus on social media — I can’t recall seeing the cyber-age reflected so clearly in a film since KICK-ASS. Like Sherlock and House of Cards, the movie features onscreen txt msging as a narrational device — the return of the intertitle, or an appropriation of the speech bubble? It’s such a useful method I can see it being here to stay.

The cast are all great. Kristen Bell is adorable as ever, Enrico Colantoni as her dad (that relationship was the heart of the show) is delightful, Krysten Ritter (Pinkman’s tragic girlfriend from Breaking Bad), who I’d forgotten was in the series at all, is fun, all neurotic twitching, and the stand-out is obnoxious ass-hat Ryan Hansen, who was a good heavy in the show but has evolved into a stunning comic relief. The banter with Bell is vintage screwball. Some of the cast has got curvier, some skinnier, but all are great on the big screen. Maybe the movie strains too hard to give all the series’ regular and semi-regular cast bits, but the fan audience appreciated that.

I got worried that the climax was going to swipe TOO much from BLOOD SIMPLE — it borrows just about the maximum allowable dose. In the end, the problem is more that the ending isn’t quite big enough, and the subplot (yay! a subplot!) is left hanging for a potential continuation. The agreement afterwards was that we’d all love to see a continuation — especially on TV.

Written in Blood

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2014 by dcairns

Final poster for Brussels

Trailer for new horror movie, LET US PREY.

The movie was written by Fiona & I and Rae Brunton (OUTPOST). If you like high intensity situations, creative violence and creative swearing, this movie is for you, We disclaim all responsibility for the title — Fiona & I wrote about a dozen drafts over the years, all of which were called CELL 6. But you can’t win every battle.

We have seen an edit of the movie and, though as writers (especially ones who have directed), we were always going to have quibbles, we can attest that Brian O’Malley has directed the hell out of it, and his cast, including Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones), Pollyanna Mackintosh (THE WOMAN) and Niall Greig Fulton (NATAN) have all done excellent work. It’s scary, intense, funny in places, and looks massive. (It wasn’t.) And the cinematography by Piers McGrail is stunning.

It’s also EXTREMELY violent and so persons of a squeamish disposition are advised not to look at the following trailer AT ALL. I give it a Force Ten Gore Warning. We wrote a sensationally horrific script, then were told to make it approximately three times more horrific, then Rae made it horrificer still, then it was filmed and I think got a bit viler yet again. Niall, after acting in it, said “This might be not just the nastiest thing I’ve been in, but the nastiest thing I’ve SEEN.” And Niall has seen everything.

Also — the trailer contains what could be described as heavy spoilers — you can’t tell what the film’s about, but you’ll see the death scenes of major characters. Since you don’t know any of the characters yet arguably they’re not quite spoilers — they only spoil things if you remember all these images of mayhem when you watch the film, which may not happen for months. Viewer discretion.

OK, if there’ anyone left, proceed. But… well… we warned you!

The movie has its premiere tomorrow at Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival. Mr O’Malley and Mr Cunningham will be in attendance.

The Monday Intertitle: Stroike a Light

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-04-12-16h18m02s142Thanks to Christine of Ann Harding’s Treasures for recommending STELLA MARIS, a Mary Pickford vehicle from her favourite director, Marshall Neilan. This time, Pickford doubles the winsomeness in a dual role, which might cause the more ringlet-averse Shadowplayers out there to fear diabetic complications, but needlessly –

In the titular role, Pickford plays a rich, paralysed girl who dreams of a fairy-tale world beyond the bedroom to which she is confined. Her aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Blount (ever wonder what the B. in Cecil B. DeMille stands for? No, no one ever does, but it’s Blount) have protected her from the world’s wickedness. Bruno Bettelheim may speak of the Uses of Enchantment, but the fairy tales Stella has been weaned on are devoid of poor people, suffering, jeopardy, and any hint of want. As a result, Stella is a fantastic drag to have around for her first few minutes of screen time, playing like Pickford to the power of infinity, a one-woman apocalypse of goodness and innocence annihilating all in her path.

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BUT — balancing this sickly tsunami of sweetness is little Unity, a cockney “orfant” raising by chubby nuns but handed over to a vicious alcoholic to act as skivvy and whipping girl. Her life is as great a  torment as the limpid Stella’s is bliss (being paralysed doesn’t dampen our Stella’s spirits, not one jot) and Pickford rises to the challenge of transforming herself out of all recognition: it’s as if playing the uber-Pickford in one half of the film absolved her of the burden of prettiness elsewhere. Unity is lipless, shapeless, with one shoulder higher than the other, and her every movement is painstakingly constructed from minute pieces of cringing and cowering. If she had a forelock to tug, she’d tug it till her head came off.Stella will learn something of life and Unity will attain some happiness, but brilliantly the film doesn’t exactly do this. First, Stella gets an operation to restore the use of her legs, which threatens to remove the one interesting cloud in her otherwise tediously sunny existence.

“That’s Gustav Von Seyffertitz,” I say, recognizing the chief surgeon.

“Is she in safe hands?” asks Fiona.

“She’s in Seyffertitz’s hands.”

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The prospect of America’s Canada’s Sweetheart running about on fully functional legs, dispensing sunshine in all directions has me nervous.

Meanwhile, Unity is beaten unconscious by her adoptive mother, then rescued by the woman’s husband who takes her to live with the Blounts. But (1) Stella and Unity barely meet, saving on splitscreen and relieving us of a predictable plot turn and (2) Unity’s life gets WORSE — ignored by the Blounts, pushed around by the servants, and in love with her adoptive father.

I would defy even a modern audience to predict exactly where this one goes.

Meanwhile there’s a gripping subplot involving Teddy the Wonder Dog, who appears courtesy of Mack Sennett. Teddy plays Teddy, Stella’s faithful hound, forever discomfited by the arrival of fresh pets — bunnies, kittens, what have you — at his mistress’s bedside. The final straw is the delivery of a tiny, frou-frou pooch, who Teddy clearly views as a diabolical usurper. One morning, spying the intruder at Stella’s garden table, he leads the canine co-respondent out of the garden and turns it loose in the street. Then he calmly resumes his place at Stella’s ankle.

Later: Stella is sunk in gloom because now that she can walk, she’s discovered that the world isn’t such a pretty place. She’s read a newspaper, met a poor person, and discovered that her beau has a drunken wife. But Teddy doesn’t know this. He presumes her distress is caused by the missing doggie, and Neilan brilliantly lets us know this with an effects shot literally illustrating what’s on Teddy’s mind. As he always does in the Mack Sennett shorts he’s famed for, Teddy the Wonder Dog must Save the Day.

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Fiona is very impressed by this. “That’s exactly what a dog WOULD think. ‘This is something I’ve done.’” Dogs may not recognize themselves in mirrors, as chimpanzees do, or play video games with skill and focus, as pigs do, but they do feel shame and guilt. We taught them that. We’re brilliant.

“That’s the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Fiona concluded. She then suggested I write this review entirely in cockney, but I haven’t, swelp me guv’nor.

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