Screen Addict 2: Back in the Habit

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Bill Duke, 1993)

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Bill Duke, 1993)


Okay, so despite rejigging things on here a while back (in a vague attempt to make it look slightly more ‘professional’), I haven’t actually added any new blog posts in approximately forever. But hark! That’s all about to change!

I’m now a fair way into my PhD, and what little energy outside of that (and other bits and bobs of offline writing) is spent on my Australian cinema blog The Far Paradise. Much as I love Aussie films, however, I’ve also realised that it’s also nice to write about films from other climes, or even maybe about things other than films. In that spirit (and not at all because a Twitter friend I recently met in the flesh for the first time tentatively asked ‘you don’t only watch Australian films, right?’), I hearby declare this blog reactivated.

Let’s see how long this lasts, shall we?


At The Drive-In @ Brixton Academy (28/08/12)

Let it be said from the outset that At The Drive-In are not really a band that should have ever reformed. It was good – I enjoyed it, but it was mostly a nostalgia trip – getting to sing along to songs I never got to sing along to live. Like most people my age, I got into them when One Armed Scissor blasted out of the radio speakers and blew my head clean off. After that, I tracked down everything they ever did – even the crazy side projects – they were, without doubt, my favourite band. New found fame brought them to Australia, once, as part of the Big Day Out but, as many bands do, they skipped the Adelaide leg. I was gutted, but I figured they were on the up and I’d get to see them next time. And then they split. Anyway, The Stool Pigeon have just posted a review that is more or less spot-on, but I felt like I needed to share a few things about the time I finally got to see one of my favourite bands. Ever.

For starters, the usually ebullient Omar looked bored out of his wits and the typically cryptic or reticent banter of Cedric (at least the Mars Volta model I’ve seen live) was replaced with some of the worst between song banter I’ve heard in some time – all Facebook and Coronation Street. Who knows, maybe he was being ‘ironic’? And then Jim did a strange speech towards the end of the encore talking about how much he ‘loves these guys’ and (half-jokingly) how he saw the show as the final gig of the Relationship of Command tour. It actually felt a little like Dave Grohl’s recent spiel at Reading, to be honest, and did make me wonder if I was witnessing their last show ever.

Aside from all that weirdness on stage, the sound mix was muddy at best, which didn’t help. And most of the crowd had very clearly only ever really listened to Relationship of Command, which meant that when you got into the real stompers from In/Casino/Out (which I think is a far superior album in some ways, with Napoleon Solo a clear highlight of the show) much of the crowd just stood rigid. It was quite strange, almost like a festival gig where the majority only want to ‘mosh’ to the songs they already know.

It was an odd gig. I enjoyed it, but mostly because I got to go nuts to some of my all-time favourite songs, not because it was actually a good performance. Put it this way, I spent a good minute or so thinking, at one point, how I much preferred seeing Unsane a while back. A band I similarly had always wanted to see, playing a tiny room (Camden Underworld) to a wildly appreciative, non-capacity crowd. Instead, I was stood in the cavernous Brixton Academy, watching a band I used to love with all my heart, standing amidst a sold out crowd for many of whom ATDI were seemingly just a band it was cool to like when they were younger.


Oh, and I know, I know – this has nothing to do with films. I just needed to get it off my chest.


Two or Three Short Films About Killing

With The Hunger Games causing global box office mayhem and the attendant squeals from fanboys and film nerds about how it’s ‘not as good as Battle Royale‘, I started to think about some other films – most of which have hardly rated a mention – that feature individuals partaking in homicide as a form of sport and/or survival. Most are hardly suitable for the kind of crowds flocking to see The Hunger Games, but here’s something of a primer nonetheless…

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game posterAs far back as the 1930s, commercial filmmakers have liked a good bit of sporting homicide. This Joel McCrea starring pre-coder was the first film adaptation of Richard Connell’s much anthologized short story, and features a big-game hunter who finds himself shipwrecked and marooned on a mysterious island, the owner of which has taken trophy hunting to its ultimate ends. Cheap production costs were achieved by sharing sets with another project by the same team – the classic 1933 version of King Kong – and a healthy box office meant a substantial profit for the RKO studio. Two further adaptations of the Connell story have also appeared: Robert Wise’s post-WWII set remake A Game of Death (1945), which utilized footage recycled from the original, and Roy Boulting’s Superscope version for United Artists, Run for the Sun (1956).
[ Watch Online ]

Bloodlust! (1961)

One of the many unofficial adaptations of Richard Connell’s short story was this schlocker, released in the US by Crown International and later reissued on a double-bill with Robert Vincent O’Neil’s Blood Mania (1970). It relates the tale of two couples who stumble across an uncharted island where they are captured by a sadistic, homicidal hunter and forced to hunt each other.
[ Trailer ]

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Turkey Shoot posterBrian Trenchard-Smith’s queasy Ozploitation romp is an underrated gore classic, and was reviewed on this very blog many moons ago. In a parallel dystopia, social deviants are sent to behaviour modification camps, the most notorious of which is run by the maniacal Camp Master Charles Thatcher. (Crafted, no doubt, with one eye on the British market – already in the midst of a ‘video nasty’ panic and ruled by the Conservatives under Maggie Thatcher – where the film was cunningly released as Blood Camp Thatcher.) In the hope of spicing things up, Thatcher offers some of his inmates a chance for freedom, should they ‘choose’ to participate in a game of ‘turkey shoot’, in which they face certain death unless they can evade capture until sundown.
[ Trailer ]

The Running Man (1987)

A true classic of the ‘kill or be killed’ genre, The Running Man features Arnold Schwarzenegger as a convicted criminal in the midst of a 2019 dystopia, where he joins a group of ‘runners’ forced to outwit contract killers for the pleasure of TV audiences. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser – that’s right folks, TV’s Starsky – and based loosely on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, this is pure cult cinema cheese heaven. Don’t walk…RUN…to your local video store/torrent site and rent/steal it now!
[ Trailer ]

Hard Target (1993) / Surviving the Game (1994)

In a typical case of Hollywood idio-synchronicity – the latest being 2012’s glut of Snow White features – these two films each featured a homeless man drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse for the amusement of wealthy businessmen out for a bit of fun. Hong Kong action legend John Woo’s first Hollywood feature, Hard Target features the inimitable Jean-Claude Van Damme – best known these days for frozen jeans and talking nipples – as an out-of-work merchant sailor who helps a girl search for her homeless father, who has been inveigled into becoming the subject of a human death-hunt. In Surviving the Game, rapper-cum-actor Ice-T portrays a homeless man pulled from the brink of suicide and offered employment as a hunt guide, only to find himself as the object of similar human hunt.
[ Hard Target trailer ] [ Surviving the Game trailer ]

Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale logoKinji Fukasaku’s adaptation of Koushun Takami’s novel caused a real stir on its release at the turn of the millennium, sparking equal parts praise and revulsion for a film that pits teen against teen in a fight to the death, all at the behest of a crazed government intent on punishing unruly teens for disobeying authority and disrespecting their elders. As briefly covered elsewhere on these pages, subtext is rife throughout, but not at the expense of fun: the film’s bleak humour rivaled only by the remarkable ingenuity of each successive kill.
[ Trailer ]

Series 7: The Contenders (2001)

Marketed with the (no doubt apocryphal) backstory that writer-director Daniel Minahan had originally pitched the idea as a real life reality TV show (only to be met with executive requests to make it ‘more sexy and less violent’), Series 7: The Contenders is an ultraviolent mockumentary spoof in which citizens are selected for a deathmatch via a random lottery. Almost universally slated on release, it’s pitch-black satirical take on reality television does have a peculiarly enthralling charm, if you’re into that kind of thing.
[ Trailer ]

So there you have it, plenty of recommended viewing to keep your sadistic urges at bay…

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They Came From The Walls

Poster display in the foyer of Barbican Cinema 1

What’s in a poster? Standing in the foyer of Cinema 1 at the Barbican last weekend, waiting for the audience to stumble out of the 2pm session of Agnieszka Holland’s Nazi escape drama In Darkness, I couldn’t help wondering as I noticed the starkly contrasting styles adopted to promote that film and this week’s title, the latest film from Belgium’s Brothers Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike.

UK Quad for 'The Kid with a Bike'

In marketing The Kid with a Bike, UK distributor Artificial Eye has stuck pretty close to its trademark brand of cool, unaffected (and slightly vague) minimalism, opting for a basic, lower-case typeface and a subtle main image that says more about the mood of the film than the action contained within. An extreme close up of the central character holds his long eyelashes in sharp focus, letting the rest of his downcast face blend into a loose-fitting red t-shirt. Aside from a row of four-star reviews, the text is plan, clean and unadorned, perfectly in keeping with Artificial Eye’s usual house style.

In Darkness - UK Quad

In Darkness is in UK cinemas courtesy of Metrodome, a medium-sized distributor who furrow a relatively solid mix of middlebrow arthouse and low budget genre pieces. Their speciality, in some senses, is mining the grey area between the two, particularly when maximising the broad appeal of European films by bringing out their genre elements via shrewd marketing. The Oscar nominated In Darkness certainly sits comfortably within this terrain, the grueling story of a group of Polish Jews who escaped the Nazis by hiding in the sewers of Lvov.

For In Darkness, Metrodome have once again stuck largely to their genre base, eschewing the vague minimalism of firms like Artificial Eye with another poster that tells you more or less all you need to know about the film. A bold title cuts the poster in two, the upper image bathed in light and featuring the central character and his colleague scrambling into a sewer – one holding a pistol which is pointed squarely at a swastika banner in the background. (Curiously, unless I missed something, guns are largely absent from these scenes and the swastika banners are nowhere to be seen.) The top image leads directly down to the lower one, which features the group huddled in a dark, dank sewer, led by a man in with a Star of David armband. (Coincidentally, the second man in the bottom image is remarkably reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones and if you squint, the man in front looks a little like Harrison Ford – the sight of the two of them clambering down a tunnel bringing to mind a pivotal scene from The Fugitive!)

It is also interesting to compare the plaudits offered up on each poster, with Metrodome choosing two four-star reviews and four festival laurels – Dublin, Glasgow, Kinoteka (London Polish) and Toronto Film Festivals – for In Darkness, whereas Artificial Eye only cite The Kid with a Bike‘s Grand Prix at Cannes, but opt for a quartet of four-star reviews. Both posters pick out reviews that highlight key words: The Kid with a Bike simply described as ‘intriguing, exciting, amusing, moving’ by Nick Roddick in the Evening Standard, but Metrodome go one step further for In Darkness, literally picking out key words – ‘incredible’, ‘courage’, ‘humanity’, ‘triumph’, ‘epic’, ‘uplifting’ – and treating them to a larger font size for added emphasis.

Aside from the quotes and Cannes laurel, the UK poster for The Kid with a Bike is largely untouched by the usual marketing adornments (excluding the obligatory listing of director and stars). On the other hand, as well as highlighting genre elements to attract a wider audience, Metrodome choose to highlight a number of key points on their poster for In Darkness, most prominently it’s existence as a 2012 Academy Award Nominee and the veracity-clasping tagline ‘Based on the true World War II Story’.

All this is not to suggest, of course, that either approach to marketing is better or worse, merely to highlight the different tactics and approaches employed by two of Britain’s key independent distributors in marketing European films to local audiences. And a good way to pass the time whilst waiting for the brief flurry of activity that accompanies the emptying of one screening and the seating of another.

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The Medium is Manipulation

Everyone has experienced it. You sit down to watch a film adaptation of a favourite book (or play or, heck, boardgame), full of trepidation but willing to forgive certain sins visited upon the original. Sometimes the results are suprisingly pleasant, others leave you a seething wreck, half angry at the filmmakers and half at yourself for even thinking that anyone could ever make a decent fist of adapting that sublime book/play/boardgame/cereal packet/powerpoint presentation/etc.

Vast tracts have, of course, been written about the act of filmic adaptation, and the inherent problems of translating material into the simultaneously self-contained yet infinite world of the screen, but two recent feature adaptations – one drawn from a stage play, the other a bestselling novel – throw up interesting parallels that serve to highlight how cinema’s limitation on the infinte copes with the inherent freedom in restriction of other mediums.

Poster for Roman Polanski's CarnageIn Yasmine Reza’s play God of Carnage, limitations imposed by the three-walled space of the darkened theatre serve to emphasise the claustrophobic nature of an upper-class couple trapped in middle-class hell, magnifying their desire to leave the apartment but constantly ensuring they are hemmed in. In Roman Polanski’s screen adaptation, however, this central conceit proves a major hurdle, with the limitless potential offered by cinema’s omnipotent rectangle doing Polanski’s Carnage a major disservice, and making the couple’s attempts to leave the apartment seem trite, half-hearted and feeble.

Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly CloseIn contrast to Reza’s multitude of shifting perspectives, Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close offered an intriguing first-person self-portrait of precocious youngster named Oskar Schell, contrasting personal and public loss in the aftermath of 9/11. Told from Oskar’s perspective, the novel is densely narrated and punctuated by typographic experiments that reflect the young boy’s quest to ‘solve’ the final puzzle left behind by his father, who had died in the World Trade Center attacks. Unsurprisingly, Stephen Daldry’s film version (adapted for the screen by Eric Roth) suffers precisely because cinema – especially mainstream, commercial cinema – simply does not lend itself to those kinds of highly internalised narratives. As a novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close draws its impact from this internalisation, delving deep into Oskar’s world and taking the reader along for the ride. And although the book wasn’t immune from similar criticisms, attempts to translate this world onto the screen saw Daldry’s film shouted down (in the UK at least) as ‘annoying’, ‘irritating’ and ‘cloying’.

Poster for Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud & Incredibly CloseLeaving aside the fundamental misunderstandings of most critics – who applied the same terms to the character of Oskar whilst completely disregarding the fact that he almost certainly suffers from Asperger’s or another form of High-Functioning Autism – the film has also been widely discussed as ‘manipulative’ and ‘exploitative’, and even accused of ’emotional blackmail’. And yet it’s hard to see how critics could have expected anything else from a mainstream feature film – a cultural form that is predicated precisely on its ability to manipulate and exploit. This film wasn’t the work of a struggling indie filmmaker, desperate to tell his special story: it was backed by two of Hollywood’s largest studios, both subsidiaries of top-four media conglomerates. At this level, filmmaking has always been (and will always be) about the money. Money drives the medium and – to paraphrase a great cultural theorist – the medium is manipulation.

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