Wednesday, May 25, 2011

For the Love of...Bad Movie Trailers

I've blogged once or twice about film trailers before. It's a dying art alas - there was a time when a trailer could really get you excited about a film, but no one seems to know how to make anything that doesn't seem formuliac*.

Back in the 60s and 70s if you had a terrible cheapo horror movie you could make up for it all by making an amazing trailer that made it sound like the most horrifying, bloodlusting, mutilating, cannibal rape f**k ever made.

Some films, however, can never be saved. Here is a tribute to some of the worst movie trailers ever made.

House on the Edge of the Park

You know you’re on to a loser when the trailer can’t even get the title of the film right. Still, as home invasions by rapacious thugs go, this one sure as hell is funky. So suspenseful... I particularly enjoyed the gratuitous boob and fanny shots.

C Me Dance

I wish God punished stupid spelling. I’m not convinced they made this trailer after they made the film, it sort of looks like they got the actors to say a bunch of random lines and poorly shot them. She’s a dying dancer and she’s the new saviour or something. And the devil's a bad Steven Seagal impersonator who's out to get her. If this movie isn't pure blasphemy I don’t know what is.


When even the trailer can’t decide whether the tone is comic or melodramatic, then it doesn’t really speak to well of the film itself. Do we laugh at the small people, or feel for them and their plight? Oh poor Gary Oldman, he really thought playing a midget would get him that Oscar. Better find a better disability next time Gary.


Jesus Christ if Gooby came within 50ft of me I’d beat him to death with a steel pipe. Why the hell did anyone think letting this monstrosity near children would make a good movie? Did they make up their own film festivals to promote the movie? Robbie Coltrane, what have you done?! And Eugene Levy, haven’t you done enough terrible films already, can even your judgement be this warped!

The Incredible Melting Man

Nothing grabs the attention like a fat nurse running through a glass door. I’ve actually seen this film, and it’s not lying, he really does melt an awful lot. I’m just not entirely behind the concept that he’s going to get stronger as he melts. That makes no sense, right?

The Mighty Gorga

I’m not even sure this is a trailer; it’s basically just a clip. But if this is the best bit of the film, the bit the makers thought would make you want to rush and see it, then, wow, this has got to be one hell of a movie.

Truck Turner

The big brother is coming, and he’s coming on badly dubbed. Isaac Hayes is Truck Turner (definitely not Shaft) and he can talk with a woman’s voice at one point. Not sure what he had in his grocery bag, but it was a tough enough to stop a bullet. Damn processed food.

Godmonster of Indian Flats

Let’s be honest, if you looked out of your window and saw that coming at your kids, you’d pretty much sh*t your pants. Better hope they can stroll away fast enough.

Praise Band

The stakes are so high, if he takes this job - he’s going to have to move!!! I don’t think the praise band needs a John, it need a Judas. I can see why the old man doesn’t like the idea of a Praise band, he must be the only one there who doesn’t have a hearing aid that he can just turn off.

Embedding not allowed. Boooooo, how dare they! It’s as if they thought someone might poke fun at their video. The very thought of it. Catch it here.

The Minis

This can’t be a real film. It’s a p*ss take, right? I’m glad they soundtracked it to Soldier Girl by the Polyphonic Spree, cos that makes lots of sense...

The Gingerdead Man

Well the title alone has got me excited. It’s hard to know how to judge a film which is clearly meant to be no masterpiece, and is probably quite deliberate in its crass crapness. I mean, how can you possibly make a monster 8 inches high scary? In a struggle, it would be really hard not to tear him to pieces. Look out for the sequel: Gingerdead Man 2: The Passion of the Crust.

*Spoke too soon, this one has rather a nice surprise.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Finally, a fashion label I can get behind...

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Horror of Sleeping Beauty

This year the British Film Institute is showing all 50 films in Disney’s official animation canon. It’s a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the quality of the animation on the big screen, and to catch some of the more seldom seen pictures in the Disney collection.

Not every one is a complete masterpiece, indeed, some of more obscure pictures are obscure for a reason. But there was one film I was particularly keen on seeing, and that was Sleeping Beauty. Why? Because Sleeping Beauty was to be Walt’s big attempt at a full length epic – something that would prove that animation could be taken seriously as art.

He spent 7 years animating it. Had actors perform many of the scenes so they could be rotoscoped. He scored the film with pieces of Tchaikovsky's ballet of the same name. He spent so much time developing the look of the thing, that he, alas, neglected some of the story telling.

The Prince and Princeless are entirely bland, totally pared down to little more than instruments of the story, not real characters at all. And the villainess Maleficent is humourless and colourlessly wicked – although admittedly an impressive looking creation. It’s as if the story is so tried and true, that Walt is going through the motions. Only the good fairies are really memorable.

But still, Sleeping Beauty is worth seeing, and because of the seven good years Walt spent on it. Just admire the beautiful colours and the stunning layered effect of this opening sequence (well as best as you can on YouTube.

Despite it’s duller than average storytelling, Sleeping Beauty is still a worthwhile spectacle. Walt’s excesses are justified. But besides the wonderful opening, the other sequence of note is the climax, which is what stimulated me to write this post.

I went to see Sleeping Beauty on a Saturday, and what had not occurred to me at all, is that the screening would be full of kids. It was packed too, which was good to see. The kids were quite well behaved too. But it was the parents who surprised me. They hadn’t seemed to have expected that the film just might be a bit scary.

Now this is the BFI, where a film is part of a programme, it’s not screened over and over – the parents will have chosen to bring their kids here, they won’t have been badgered by them. Could they really not have known what they were seeing?

In the climax, the handsome Prince escapes from Maleficent’s dark castle (as frightening a dark castle as has appeared in any animation) and having dodged many of her attacks, he rides towards the Princess’s kingdom. Maleficent casts a spell which surrounds the city in a forest of thorns. But the Prince hacks through the thorns with his enchanted sword.

Enraged, Maleficent roars through the sky and lands ahead him. She transforms into a dragon and roars waves of fire at him. He is forced back, protected by only his shield. The forest is set on fire and the ground collapses under the weight of the dragon’s strength. The Prince is pushed to the edge of a cliff; his shield falls from his grip. All is almost lost, but the good fairies bless his sword once more and he plunges his sword into the dragon's heart. It falls dead, almost upon the Prince, who is forced to run up its back to avoid plummeting into the chasm as the ground collapses under it.

It’s a dark sequence and pretty scary. There was a sense of tension in the air, not just because of the drama. Maybe it was just me, but I thought I could feel mumblings of “that’s a bit much”. Judge for yourself:

Then as the sword hits the dragon’s heart, I heard the women sat next to me, I’m guessing a grandmother, with granddad and granddaughter, made a very audible tut. When the film end As I stood to leave, I heard the woman next to me say to her husband “well it says a great deal about the people of that time”.

Now, I can only assume she was talking of the violence and horror, which she had so clearly shown displeasure at. I also heard others claim that it was quite a surprisingly scary sequence. True, it certainly has impact. I noticed at the screening, and confirmed on the YouTube vid, that there’s even a bit of blood.

I must admit to being rather aghast at this bizarre response. Now granted, I am not a parent. But I was a child once, and I saw Sleeping Beauty when I was a child, although perhaps a bit older than those in the screening. I don’t remember being scared by it. I remember it. When the dragon hits the prince with the fire and it knocks him across the ground - I remember that vividly. It made other dragons in other cartoons look pathetic.

So from personal experience, it was not too scary. But what about other children? You know, I don’t think I heard any child cry or scream during the scene. There was some crying earlier, when Maleficent stalked menacingly, but none during the actual sequence.

Just what did the woman mean when she said, “well it says a great deal about the people of that time”. That the audience was less sophisticated? This is Sleeping Beauty, one of the most gorgeous looking animations of all time. Is she seriously suggesting it is less sophisticated than, say, Sammy: A Turtle’s Tale or Rio. And the fact that the cinema is full more than 50 years after its first release says something surely for its credentials. There are no shortage of animated films, even in the Disney canon – we could’ve gone to see something else.

I’m guessing it’s the horror and the violence she objects too. Yet horror and violence have been part of children’s stories for centuries. Have you read a Grimm Fairytale? I have a vivid memory of one where an imp type creature tricks boys into climbing in hollow trees, and then traps them inside and dances off. The End – no happy ending at all.

So what’s so harmful about this particular film? The violence? Is the killing of the dragon with a sword condoning violence? Should the Prince have tried to reason with it, a monster who literally delights in evil? Where would the excitement be in that, do we not view fairy tales, not just for the romance, but for the excitement? They are never without adventure – why else would boys even give them a look.

Do they really think that children are going to pick up swords and start trying to stab each other? I don’t think in the last 50 years there’s been a huge rise in sword related violence. Knife crime perhaps, but again, I don’t somehow think the gang lads from East London and the council estates where brought up on a diet of Disney. And they’re not children are they?

Disney, the company, is not without its panics as regards violence. Another film I saw, Make Mine Music, features a hillbilly sequence, which was removed from the DVD release because of the constant gunplay. I can sort of sympathise with this, guns can look like a toy, but then again, it’s the parent’s responsibility to store them safely. And again, I don’t think gun deaths in America are likely to have risen between kids after watching Disney – I doubt there was any rise at the time, and the movie came out during WW2!

Why do parents feel the need to patronise their children in this way? Do they not think they can tell the difference between reality and unreality? Do children not understand that an animation is an animation? That there are no Dragons or Witches or talking animals.

I watched cartoons with absolute obsession when I was a child. I knew the difference between truth and reality. I never thought that if I shot my brother (and believe me, we did not get on), in the way that say Elmer Fudd shot Daffy Duck, that he would be fine in 5 seconds time. Kids can believe what they know really isn’t true, and while every so often a story appears where a child had been hurt does appear, are these not very isolated incidents?

I just can’t believe that people honestly feel these things need censoring. Or that children today find this material too strong. There’s a bizarre lack of retrospection – if it was fine for you to watch as a child, why wouldn’t it be fine for children now? You know, there were no screams in the cinema, no crying during the big climax. Only adults were frightened.

Who knows what scares kids? When I was a child I screamed when, in an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, he was covered black in coal*. I once babysitted a girl frightened by the appearance of Santa in an episode of Barney. Yet I turned out reasonably normal; I can honestly say I've hardly shot anyone in ages.

Is it possible, just possible, that kids knew it would turn out ok? Will they have now deduced by now that maybe it will turn out ok despite the horror? Maybe, just maybe, Walt knew what he was doing, and maybe that’s why Sleeping Beauty has lasted, while Sammy: A Turtle’s Tale and Rio will be forgotten quickly.

And I wonder whether some of the others there who were surprised by the scariness, where surprised because their memory had played tricks on them? Was it that scary when they were kids? Well yes it was, and is that the power of the happy ending – that it clouds out all the nightmares on the way?

It just worries me that such an engaging piece of art can be devalued by the wet-prejudices of people who would seek to protect children from scary things, unreal violent things. That they should think them so simple that they can’t determine truth from fiction. That they could be patronised so, and as result, deprived of such character.

We are depriving our children if we do not treat them to art, and fob them off with committee made CGI talking animal blandities. There’s a reason that the cinema was full, and that’s because generations have enjoyed this film, and wanted to share the movie with their kids. You are not different from your children, they are like you were when you were a child. They cannot take less than you can. And if they’re scared, well, they’ll get over it. Children are resilient too.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the tutting women, disgusted with Walt’s violent narrative, is happy with her granddaughter hearing the story of outspoken man who was betrayed by his friend, stoned, beaten and then nailed to a cross until dead.

Now that’s a story that’s had long-standing violent repercussions.

*I was put off by the idea of black-face even then.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Watching the National Theatre's Production of Frankenstein Live at the BFI IMAX

I’m a fan of the story of Frankenstein, and many of the adaptations inspired by the tale. So when the National Theatre production, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberpatch and Johnny Lee Miller was announced, I was pretty excited.

I was very keen to go, and waited patiently for when tickets for the show would be available to the public; they had already been on sale to members for a while. Unfortunately, by the time this date had rolled by, all the tickets had been gobbled up by members, leaving absolutely none left to the general public.

I can't help but feel that this is pretty shameful. When a high profile performance is staged, it’s an opportunity to encourage and entice those who might not normally go to the theatre to visit. By allowing members to walk off with all the tickets, this opportunity is totally wasted.

Furthermore, it’s grossly unfair to more casual theatre goers, who can scarcely afford to pay membership for all of London’s art institutions, just in case something comes along that they absolutely can’t miss.

Having a number of day ticketrs available to queue for in the morning is hardly sufficient. Who of us can realistically take time out of work to go and queue and hope there are tickets left? In a time when arts budgets are being slashed here and there, this sort of thing seems rather short-sited. Why should people accept money going on the arts, when it’s only accessible to the wealthy, while their local services are being cut?

Anyway, there was a chance to see it at the BFI IMAX, broadcast live from less than a 100 metres away, and broadcast around the world. This I do at least give the National Theatre credit for - it's a wonderful idea.

Nick Dear's new adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic has one difference which very quickly sets it apart from all the others. The play begins right at the moment of creation, the monster's birth. Frankenstein's formative years, and the ideas and inspirations that drove him, are all omitted.

Nick Dear has stated that he wanted to give the monster back his voice, which often missing from most adaptations, particularly in cinema. This is because most big screen adaptations derive from the excellent Universal film, in which the monster is mostly mute, though not always. In the book however, the monster learns to speak from listening to others, and is more than eloquant enough to converse fluently with his creator when they meet again, years later.

The play begins with a flash of lightening(some parts of the Universal film are too good not to use).Benedict Cumberpatch then roles out of a cocoon, a new born who’s fully grown. Besides the excellent make-up, his performance is quite staggering. The first few minutes feature nothing but him rolling around the floor, gargling, slobbering and biting. He’s a baby, learning how to use his new body. There’s something quite enchanting, and unsettling, watching as he learns to walk, and to run, stomping uncontrollably around the stage.

Then Frankenstein, in Johnny Lee Miller’s only appearance in the first half, shoos him away, and he retreats into the forest. He begins to watch and imitate a small family, and befriends a blind man, the only one who could not be repulsed by his deformity. But there’s an interesting new consideration in this new version. As the old man teaches him about literature, the monster is taken by the violence inherent in many of the classics, and begins to see acts of revenge as noble and romantic.

He soon puts these notions of revenge into practice. He is spurned by the rest of the blind man's family, who are terrifed by his appearance. In the book he burns down their house, but only after they have left it. In this play, he burns it down while they are still inside it.

When he and Frankenstein meet again, it’s the monster’s quotation from Paradise Lost that startles Frankenstein so. How could this brutish murdersome creature understand the classics? And how could he have such a violent interpretation of such great works.

The second half sticks closer to the book, although it omits Frankenstein’s friend Clerval and execution of the family maid. One interesting change is the expanded role of Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s beloved. In the novel and film adaptations Elizabeth plays the role of saintly heroine, and untouchable who appears fleetingly but whom Frankenstein reveres and the monster destroys.

Frankenstein is never able to settle with Elizabeth. He is distraught at the destruction his creation causes, and feels unworthy. This play takes this angst a step further by suggesting that the creation of the monster is somehow an extension of Frankenstein’s impotence, that his creation provides him with the son he cannot create through procreation. It’s an interesting thought, though the creation of a man from cadavers might be a somewhat extreme reaction.

It culminates in a touching scene, on their wedding night, when Elizabeth approaches her husband, obsessed with the monster’s threat of revenge, and simply asks why he will not touch her. Then, shortly after Frankentein confesses all, Elizabeth finally meets the monster in a scene which seems inexorable, yet does not appear in the book.

Elizabeth treats the monster with a sympathy not yet shown to him, and most importantly, like a mother might. The monster is moved, almost seems to be entirely taken by her willingness to love. But he has given his word to exact revenge, and believes himself honour bound to carry out his threat. He pins her to the bed and strangles her, whilst thrusting in an unsubtle act of simulated rape. In this brief moment, the creature in his primal nature seems much more human than his intellectual, impotent creator.

Danny Boyle’s production really does celebrate what has made Mary Shelley’s story last through the generation – and it’s not the horror or the supernatural. It celebrates the depths of the book, which carries so many interpretations, from playing God to man's evolution, from fatherhood to human nature. The fact that Nick Dear’s script can still find new things in a book approaching its 200th anniversary shows just how forwarding think the novel is.

And the stars more than justify the stir that their casting has created. Somehow, one imagines that Benedict Cumberpatch, who besides playing the master detective Holmes is normally scene in costume dramas, would be better as the doctor. Yet in his remarkably physical performance as the creature, one can hardly think of anyone else playing it.

It’s the star role for sure, though Johnny Lee Miller still has plenty to work with as the doctor. Frankenstein is a stronger, more forceful man here than the rather weakly man in the book, yet there are moments when he becomes completely unstuck, particularly when faced with the honest emotions of Elizabeth, Naomie Harris, who deserves mention for her performance.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing these roles, yet those who have seen both versions, have remarked that they are startling in their portrayals of either character.

And of watching the play at the Imax? Well, it provided views of the action that you could not possibly get from any one seat at the play. But it did not feel the same as being there, feeling part of the action as you do when only feet away from everything that occurs. That’s not to say that the audience weren’t enthralled. When digital system messages appeared in big blue boxes on the screen, there were gasps of panic from those present. These disruption, though irritating, were brief.

Alas, the production is now over, not that you would've been able to see it anyway.
But I will say is that had I been able to see it, it may well have been one of the most exciting nights of theatre I have enjoyed thus far.

Monday, May 02, 2011

April Film Highlights

As featured on the 50 Word Film Reviews blog

Howl (2010) James Franco, John Hamm, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban. Dir: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman.

Allen Ginsbourg explains and performs his poem Howl, which leads to an obscenity trial for its publisher. Including the trial was a mistake; it provides a disruptive narrative push to a film about insight and analysis. It screams out for its own full-feature. Interesting nevertheless and Franco does very well.


Rubber (2010) Stephen Spinella, Roxanne Mesquida, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser. Dir: Quentin Dupieux.

A car tire comes to life and goes on a killing spree. Sounds like laugh-a-minute exploitation, but more avant-garde. Has a quirky idea in which the lead actor tries to kill the audience so he won’t have to finish the film. Would be funny if it wasn’t so boring.


Martin (1977) John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Elyane Nadeau, Tom Savini. Dir: George A. Romero.

Martin thinks he’s a vampire, so he preys on women with sedatives and a razor blade. Refreshingly unsentimental interpretation of the vampire myth, showing Martin as little more than a rapist. Romero makes Martin a pathetic figure to be pitied, rather than romanticised. The perfect cure for Twilight nausea.


Oranges & Lemons (2011) Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Richard Dillane. Dir: Jim Loach.

A social worker tries to reunite orphans forcibly migrated from the UK to Australia in 50s – 70s. A true and very moving story, told in a way that avoids melodrama, relying on a more believably human, and arguably English, response to traumatic events. Understated and the better for it.


Manos: The Hands of Fate(1966) Hal Warren, Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Mahree. Dir: Hal P. Warren.

A lost family insist upon staying the night with a jittery satyr who serves a demonic master. A movie made by a fertiliser salesman; someone who makes Ed Wood seem like an auteur. Uneventful, incompetent and downright puzzling, it’s like a badly filmed dream - surreal and utterly stupid.


Mephisto (1981) Klaus Maria Brandauer, Krystyna Janda, Ildikó Bánsági, Rolf Hoppe. Dir: István Szabó.

An actor is reluctant to leave 30s Berlin as his career is peaking, especially when he finds favour with the Nazi government. An engrossing character drama about a weak and naive man without moral courage. We can understand his behaviour, even if we can’t forgive it. Great script, great central performance.


The Kid (1921) Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, Tom Wilson. Dir: Charlie Chaplin.

A tramp finds and raises an orphan, but later the authorities take him away. Sited as the first tragedy and comedy blend. Undeniably moving, with rundown sets and contemporary social commentary that add real substance. There’s even a surreal dream sequence. A unique film – and Coogan is amazing.


The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr Toad (1949) Basil Rathbone, Bing Crosby. Don Bluth, Colin Campbell. Dir: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, James Algar.

Disney’s telling of the Wind of the Willows and Sleepy Hollow. Lesser known Disney, and for good reason. Wind in the Willows is jolly but zips through the plot, and seems like a missed opportunity. Sleepy Hollow is pretty dull; only the finale impresses, and the ambiguous end is odd.