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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Kermode’

Michael Bay is a director obsessed with spectacle, critic Mark Kermode has described him as having pornographic sensibilities.  His films have a certain leering quality that is sure to appeal to fourteen year old boys.  As a filmmaker this could be forgiven if not for the fact that he appears to have forgotten how to tell a story.  The perfect case in point is his latest opus Transformers: The Last Knight. Transformers The Last Knight poster

The set-up: In Dark Ages England, Merlin (Stanley Tucci) has been keeping a crashed alien spaceship secret.  As King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) faces defeat from a hoard (I think they called them Saxons), Merlin begs the Alien for help.  He is given a staff and the aliens transform into a three headed dragon and fly to help.  1600 years later Quintessa who may or may not be the creator of the transformers plots to destroy earth to save Cybertron.

The film introduces three new main characters: Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), Izabella (Isabela Moner), Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) who are joined by Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) from the previous movie.  So what do all these new characters do to save the world? Actually not a lot:

  • Cade Yeager: Uses a sword that appears from nowhere (if actually transforms from a MacGuffin) to save Optimus Prime from execution.
  • Vivian Wembley: Pulls the staff (another MacGuffin) out of the ground stopping whatever the fuck is going on.
  • Izabella: tells her transformer sidekick to go and blow up a gun.
  • Sir Edmund Burton: not much, he is basically Basil Exposition.Transformers The Last Knight

To make matters worse it is suggested that Quintessa can only make her dastardly plan work with the staff that only Vivian Wembley can find.  So what do our heroes do? They track the staff down from its secret hiding place and give it to the enemy to set up the obligatory big thing hovering over earth impending doom finale required for this type of movie.  Furthermore, Viviane Wembly’s presence is only required as she is the last living member of the “Witwiccan”, does this mean that Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky (seen in a photograph) is dead. Transformers The Last Knight

So in summation, the plot of the movie is: The big bad has a plan that can’t come to fruition without the help of the heroes finding a MacGuffin.  The heroes only know of the existence of the MacGuffin because the person who is supposed to keep it secret has told them about it.  Not only do they lead the enemy to the MacGuffin but they hand it over then go on a mission to get it back.  For a film that is about two and half hours long it appears they forgot to write a middle act, the film is equal parts set-up, exposition and conclusion.

Please Michael Bay, if you intend to make more movies go away and learn how to tell a story. 

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The initial importance of the opening weekend figures is obvious. Films cost a lot of money to make and almost as much to market. Producers want their movie to make as much money as possible and the opening weekend is the start of that. The box-office returns tend to diminish exponentially over time, so a strong opening is essential. Then you have the cinema/theatre owners, who depend of a packed audience so they can sell their real money maker, refreshments. One thing you can guarantee is that however good or bad a film is, there will always be a handful of new releases the following week to take its place. To add to this, for most people a trip to the cinema is no longer a cheap night out, audiences want the reassurance of a film that other people like.X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Movie-Poster

A little research online tells me: There are two basic ways a cinema pays for the right to show a film. The first and less common way “Bidding” requires the cinema to pay an agreed fee for a set period of time. They then keep the box-office takings making a profit or loss depending on the success of the film. More common, is a percentage of the box office sale. The cinema’s share of the box-office tends to go up each week. But then there are more complicated deals where second, third and future weeks may be decided depending on the success of the opening. A cinema and distributor cannot wait until Thursday night to do this, as by this time the prints (or digital equivalent) will be in place, the listings printed, the schedule published and the posters up in the foyer. So what do they do? They decide based on the opening weekend. Then you have the smaller and independent cinemas that may not get a film in the first week, they have to decide what films to take based on how they have performed in other venues. Or the large cinemas who have a staggered release for some films, how they perform in the opening weekend could decide how many screens the eventually make it into.

As a film fan and regular cinema goer, I used to check the press for preview screenings of films I really wanted to see. They were normally two or three days before general release, sometimes they were ten days before. There would only be one screening. Then things started to change. The preview would be the weekend (That’s Saturday and Sunday – as we will come onto later a weekend is something different in cinema) before release, or the two or three days leading up to the official release date. When this happened the one off screening became a whole day, or several days of screenings.bad neighbours

The all important opening weekend runs from Friday to Sunday. But here, is the catch. If a film previews before the opening weekend, the box-office from the preview is added to the opening weekend take. An extra midweek date will certainly help but how much difference will it really make? If you want to guarantee your film will be a “number one box-office smash” you may want more than one extra day. That is exactly what happened last month. Neighbours (know as Bad Neighbours here in the UK) opened on Friday 9th May, it previewed from Saturday 3rd May, giving it a nine day opening weekend. It came as no surprise that it topped the box-office that week, as described by Mark Kermode.

In an interesting twist on the story. When on Friday 23rd May Picturehouse Cinemas compiled their top five films for the week ending on Thursday 22nd X-Men: Days of Future Past came sixth, only narrowly missed out on a place in the top five despite only being open for one day.  Does it matter? To be honest I’m not sure. I watch films because I like the sound of them or because they are made by filmmakers I like. I don’t pick a film because it is successful, I haven’t actually seen Bad Neighbours yet and like Mark Kermode, I actually like Transcendence. But where will all this end? will Thursday or Wednesday become the normal opening day for films? Will we see a nine day weekend become the norm? Does it need to be stamped out? I’m not sure that it does but if the list makers want to stop it and level the playing field it would be an easy fix. Only take the Friday to Sunday take into account when calculating the box-office take.

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The long playing record better know as the LP is the definition of restraint. Limited to around twenty two and half minutes on each side there is no room for fillers and no opportunity add a few more minutes on a whim.  Film does not have an equivalent, whether digital or film there is no limit to the potential length, Modern Times Forever (Stora Enso Building, Helsinki) (2011) runs for ten days, yes I di say days. The term epic seems to be tagged onto films simply because they are long. Even the longest of movies can not compete with television for length and yet television until recently was always the poor relation to the cinema. When talking about two movies that came out around the same time the critic Mark Kermode made a very salient point; Killing Them Softly benefits for it relatively short 97 minute run time but within the 131 minute Savages there is probably a good 90 minute movie trying to get out.mark kermode

I had carried this thought around in the back of my mind for over a year without thinking too much about it until Christmas. I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy over two days, in the case of the final film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King it was the first time I had seen the film since seeing it at the cinema on release. Despite coming in at a whopping 201 minutes (that’s more than three hours) it never felt that long. Even the bizarre sense that the film doesn’t want to end doesn’t drag out as much as I remember it. However, I wasn’t watching a 201 minute version, I was watching the a 251 minute extended edition. I understand there is an even longer version on Blu-Ray clocking in an arse-numbing 263 minutes, that’s the best part of four and half hours. To be perfectly honest I can’t remember how it differs from the original cut, but know I enjoyed watching both.The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King

This leads to the big question, what is the point of extended versions of movies? I kind of understand directors cuts where a film maker who didn’t have final cut returning to a movie to re-cut it in line with his original vision. However extended cuts are a very different beast, but what is the reason for it? A vanity project of a director who believes his movie is so great and so important that it deserves a longer version. A cynical money making exercise of a studio who promise extra footage or a more explicit cut to temp people to buy the DVD/Blue-Ray.The Godfather Part II

It would be understandable if length equated to quality, but it very often does not. Many films would benefit from a trim not an extended edition. King Kong (2005) is a perfect example, sorry to pick on Peter Jackson, I do like his movies. The original film is 187 minutes long and to be honest too long, so what did Jackson do? He added another fifteen minutes to the special extended DVD edition. The original 1933 movie directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack (both uncredited) is less than a hundred minutes and is a far better film. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a campaign for short movies, I don’t think there is a wasted second in the 200 minutes of The Godfather: Part II (1974). Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) is actually too short, running through the 95 years of Nelson Mandela’s life in 141 minutes. It plays life a movie version of CliffsNotes. On the other hand Steven Soderbergh’s Che (2008) splits its four and half hours into to distinct movies.Che

I’m not sure there is any right answer, Martin Scorsese films are often long but never too long. Films should be the length they need to be, I just can’t help thinking that they often should be shorter than they are. I would also go as far as to say they should also always be the same cut whether they are being shown in cinemas, on DVD or on TV. I know this won’t happen, as long as filmmakers believe their own bullshit the length of films will be dictated by directors ego’s and producers wallets and not the way they should be, by the art.

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Anyone who has seen Contagion (2011) will know that “Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation”. but what is film criticism? The most notable difference between a critic and a blogger is what they watch. As a film fan I watch a lot of movies (over 100 a year at the cinema) but the difference between me and a critic is that I only see what I choose to. While we may all love a Kermodian rant the fact of the matter is that Mark Kermode had to sit through all 146minutes of Sex and the City 2 (2010).  Although I have seen some truly terrible movies (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)) but, I have seen them by choice, not obligation.mark kermode

It would be foolish to think professional film criticism has no place in the world of the internet but what is that place? When I first started blogging I saw it as an outlet for my ramblings, I didn’t expect to become part of a community. But that is what has happened, I have become part of a community, as such when I want to know about a film I am more likely to visit the blog of someone whose opinion I have grown to trust than a professional critic. I accept that what I am reading is the opinion of an individual, I understand this and treat the information accordingly. However if the uninitiated wants to know about a film and choose to read the words of a professional critic on a website or in a magazine they expect it to be gospel.  But ultimately, whether it be a blog or a professional critic it is all just opinion. A perfect example of this is Ender’s Game (2013). As reported in my October movie of the month list I kind of liked the movie despite its faults. However two of the nations most respected magazines; Total Film and Empire had greatly apposing views .ENDER'S GAME

Total Film stated that Enders Game: “aims to marry The Hunger Games’ adrenaline rush with brain-teasing philosophical inquiry” its verdict of the film was “Like its hero, Ender’s Game relies on brains more than brute force. An absorbing portrait of Lord Of The Flies-style morality housed in imaginative sci-fi casing” they gave it four stars out of five and suggested: “whatever the icky personal politics of its creator, makes you hope it isn’t game over for Ender after this first round”. Empire on the other hand started by saying of the source novel: “Ender’s Game is a very odd novel” and “barely cinematic” they describes Asa Butterfield’s performance as “generally effective”. Their verdict: “It admirably avoids many of the pitfalls of adapting this book, but seems to have lost some of the life and pace as well”. they gave it a mere two stars out of five.

It isn’t that Matt Mueller from Total Film and Helen O’Hara from Empire are wrong, it is just that their opinion is just that, their opinion.

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Any British film fan of a certain age will have fond memories of Moviedrome. For those who don’t, it was a film series shown on BBC2 between 1988 and 2000 dedicated to cult movies. More than just series of films, Moviedrome featured an introduction originally by director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Walker) and later by Mark Cousins.

In the first two years, as an impressionable 12/13 year old I had my first experience of: The Wicker Man, Big Wednesday, The Last Picture Show, Barbarella, Johnny Guitar, The Parallax View, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Fly (1958), The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, D.O.A. (1950), The Thing From Another World, The Incredible Shrinking Man, THX 1138, Night of the Comet, The Big Carnival aka Ace in the Hole, Alphaville, Two-Lane Blacktop, Trancers, Five Easy Pieces, Sweet Smell of Success, Sunset Boulevard.moviedrome_web-large

Then in the third year something interesting happened. Alongside movies I had never seen – Yojimbo (my first Kurosawa movie), Something Wild, Carnival of Souls, Manhunter (the first and still the best Hannibal Lecktor movie), Badlands (my first Terrence Malick movie) and Performance – they started showing movies I had already seen and loved such as: Assault on Precinct 13, Brazil, Get Carter, The Terminator, An American Werewolf in London, The Beguiled, Rumble Fish and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Many of the films shown are well known if not that well seen. But then others really blindsided me: despite being 27 years old at the time, Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western Django had never been shown in UK cinema’s or on UK network television until its premier on Moviedrome in 1993.

 This continued into the fourth season with one of my all time favourite genre/B movies Mad Max II shared a double bill with Orson Welles’ bizarre documentary about fraud and fakery, F for Fake. It was around this time that they started showing more themed double bills including The Day of the Locust / The Big Knife, Alligator / Q – The Winged Serpent, Wise Blood / The Witchfinder General, but the one that stood out for me was the David Cronenberg double feature Dead Ringers and Rabid. To the best of my memory, this was the first time I had seen a Cronenberg movie, I quickly looked out all the other s and have been a fan ever since. The real appeal of the series isn’t just the movies I got to see, it was the introductions by Cox. A man passionate and knowledgeable about movies, particularly genre movies. This you must remember was at a time before the internet as we know it. A time when information about older movies wasn’t as freely available and copy of Halliwell’s Film Guide was as close to IMDB as existed at the time. Listening to Cox talk about Cronenberg’s body of work and in comparison to other horror directors and revelling in its wideness and the “vicious horror lurking behind the most mundane things” certainly gave me a greater understanding of what made certain horror movies disturbing.

Alex Cox’s final season of Moviedrome came in 1994 after a seventeen week run, many of them including double features, Cox ended with Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich’s seminal noir thriller adapted from Mickey Spillane’s novel of the same name. the movie features an interesting maguffin that Cox borrowed for his 1984 movie Repo Man. The interesting thing about the timing of this movie on Moviedrome, was that it was still fresh in my memory a few months later when I saw another movie that also borrowed the idea, Pulp Fiction. It was around this time that I started studying film at university as part of my degree course, many of the films on the watch list had been movidrome films.  The series seemed to have come to an end in 1994 but was resurrected in 1997 with Mark Cousins introducing and choosing the movies. His choices often seemed more recognisable or mainstream, or was it that I was so immersed in film by this time a had already come across them? None the less the choices were always interesting and as Cousins promised they were “movies you won’t forget”.Alex_Cox_Mark_Cousins_Mark_Ker_original (2)

Since its cancellation in 2000 there has not been anything like Moviedrome on British television. Nothing, including film courses at university has ever introduced me to such a breadth and depth of weird and wonderful movies. Mark Kermode has dabbled with the formula providing movie introductions on his blog and to Film4’s Extreme Cinema season, but this is far from the scope and impact of Moviedrome. All I can do is that Alex Cox, Mark Cousins and BBC2, and appeal to BBC or any other channel to do something similar.

You can see a list of all films shown on Moviedrome HERE

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With just a week to go until the 84th Academy Awards Britain’s foremost film critic, self confessed Luddite and 3D hater Mark Kermode has announced his own awards The Kermode’s. For someone who prides himself on being opinionated he actually talks a lot of sense and as often as not his opinions tend to be spot on. The only hard and fast rule of the awards is you can’t win a Kermode in a category for which you have been nominated for an Oscar. Here are the winners of the statuette that appears to be modelled in equal parts after Mark Kermode, “Oscar” and Richard Nixon!

Best Musical: Directors Renaud Barret, Florent de La Tullaye for Benda Bilili!

Best Documentary: Director: Asif Kapadia for Senna.

Best Actor: Michael Fassbender for Shame.

Best Actress: Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin & Olivia Colman for Tyrannosaur.

Best Movie & Best Director: Lynne Ramsay for We Need to Talk About Kevin.

I haven’t seen Benda Bilili! so can’t comment on that one. As for the others, it is hard to believe they aren’t nominated for Oscars. Check back tomorrow for the first ever Groovers Movie Awards.

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During a review film critic Mark Kermode has suggested the cinematic nostalgia of Hugo and The Artist would make a great double bill. With this in mind here are a weeks worth of double bills from last years movies (UK release):

Monday: Psychological Thrillers

Thematically very different but stylistically similar: Black Swan and The Skin I live in, two great psychological thrillers that both owe a debt to 70’s European horror.

Tuesday: Female assassins

Two very different takes on an idea. Hanna is the better movie but I don’t think it is as good as the reviews have suggested. On the other hand Colombiana isn’t a great movie but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

Wednesday: Kooky Teens

Take a teenager who doesn’t quite fit in to school and society in general and throw into the mix a first relationship and you have a kooky teen movie. There have been two great examples one British and one American: Submarine and The Art of Getting By

Thursday: Girls in asylums

Although they look very different Sucker Punch and John Carpenter’s The Ward are actually very similar films. The Ward has sadly been overlooked and Sucker Punch unfairly slated, I know I am in a minority but I like both movies.

Friday: Vampires

Vampire movies are still coming out thick and fast, the best of from this year are the surprisingly good Priest (don’t bother with the 3D version) and the original and innovative Stake Land.

Saturday: Rocky for the 21st century

Using fighting robots and cage fighting but Warrior and Real Steel are essentially still sports movies like Rocky with all the same themes and messages and like Rock Both are very watchable.

Sunday: Classic Horror

Hammer is yet to recapture the eerie brilliance of its original gothic horror in its absence comes two brilliant chillers, Julia’s Eyes and The Awakening.

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I have long held a theory about scary movies; although it has always been there in the back of my mind, I hadn’t thought about for a long time or discussed for even longer. They, it all came flooding back to me recently whilst watching the culture show on BBC2. During an interview about her new movie, The Awakening Mark Kermode asked Rebecca Hall “What’s the scariest movie you ever saw?” Her response, Don’t Look Now (1973), she went on to explain why. She had seen it alone, when she was around twelve or thirteen years old. This really struck a chord with me as if asked I would say the same movie and for the same reason. I also watched the movie at around that age, probably too young! I was really disturbed by it and couldn’t get it out of my head and still to this day think of the movie whenever I see a read coat. Directed by Nicolas Roeg’s and based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier the movie is still creepy and disturbing, it will stay with you for days after you watch it (or is that just me?) but it isn’t actually scary.

This is in stark contrast to my experience of The Exorcist (1973). For those who don’t know The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin with a screenplay by William Peter Blatty based on his own novel is regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made. A huge hit at the box-office, adjusted for inflation it took more money than Avatar but this was all before I was born. In my formative years, the 1980’s it had fallen foul of Video Recordings Act 1984 and was considered a “video nasty”. The studio didn’t submit it to the BBFC for classification (it was never actually banned). The long and short of it, the movie was available not available on video after 1984 and I didn’t get to see it. That was until 1994. I was 18 years old and in my first couple of weeks at university. The movie was screened to a packed house in a small independent cinema. Was it the anticipation and reputation, or the packed auditorium that influenced my opinion? I’m not sure but one thing I can say, I enjoyed the movie finding it interesting, entertaining and thought provoking as well as been well made and well acted, but I didn’t find it frightening the way I found Don’t Look Now five years before.

As a child, I remember being scared of King Kong (1933) and later Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) in a way that no modern horror has affected me. I’m yet to have the same experience again, there have been other movies that have been creepy or a bit disturbing like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007) but not like the other movies I have mentioned. Have I been desensitised scary movies by early exposure or is Don’t Look Now just the most frightening movie ever made? Possibly a combination of the two, whatever the reason my early experiences have cemented my love for “genre movies” as they are sometimes (unkindly) referred. By the way if you haven’t already check out The Awakening starring the brilliant Rebecca Hall.

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Whilst reviewing Warrior earlier this year Mark Kermode described its story as resembling “Gladiator, no not that Gladiator”, he was referring to Rowdy Herrington’s 1992 boxing movie and not Ridley Scott’s sword and sandals epic, see below. This got me thinking of other movies with the same or similar names that you wouldn’t want to mix up.

The Running Man (1963): After faking his own death Rex Black (Laurence Harvey) meets ups with his wife (Lee Remick) in Spain to live off the proceeds of the insurance payout until an insurance investigator (Alan Bates) shows up. Directed by Carol (the third man) Reed.

The Running Man (1987): Based on a Stephen King story and set in a near future totalitarian society; cop Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is framed in the cover-up of a massacre, he escapes but is recaptured and forced to appear on the most popular show on TV “The Running Man” where contestants are chased down and killed for the entertainment of the masses. Surprisingly good and prophetic given the trend for increasingly elaborate reality TV.

Sliver (1993): Taking its name from the New York “sliver” building in which it is set, new resident Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) learns that not only did the previous tenant in her apartment die in mysterious circumstances but that she bore a great resemblance to Carly. A unremarkable thriller best remembered for its controversial portrayal of female masturbation.

Slither (2006): Spelled differently but sounding very similar: A small town is overrun by slithering alien creatures that turn the population into a zombie like hoard. A small group of survivors including the town sheriff (Nathan Fillion) fight back. A lightweight but fun comedy horror.

Priest (1994): Some time in the mid/late 90’s I remember reading a headline on the front of a tabloid newspaper claiming that the then prime ministers son Euan Blair had appeared in a gay porn film. The truth was, he had a bit part in the movie priest (his grandfather Anthony Booth had a larger part) about a catholic priest who lives a conflicted existence thanks to his secret life involving a gay lover.

Priest (2011): Loosely based on Korean comic book priest is an action/horror/western about a vampire hunting priest (Paul Bettany) on the hunt for renegade vampires who have kidnapped his niece. Despite poor reviews, it is actually a decent and original vampire movie.

Crash (1996): David Cronenberg’s misunderstood and underappreciated movie about a man who following a car accident becomes strangely sexually aroused by car crashes victims and the bizarre sub-culture he discovers created by similar minded people.

Crash (2005): I have mixed feelings about Paul Haggis’ interweaving LA based story that explores race and racism in modern society. It doesn’t deserve its Best Picture Oscar, but it also doesn’t deserve the backlash that followed.

Deep Blue Sea (1999): A group of scientists searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s become the prey of the sharks the have genetically enhanced. A bonkers concept actually turns out to be a surprisingly watchable movie and easily the second best man eating shark movie.

The Deep Blue Sea (2011): Terence Davies’ yet to be released (in the UK) 1950’s set movie is based on Terrence Rattigan’s play of the same name, previously made in 1955 (also called The Deep Blue Sea). The wife of a Judge engages in a self-destructive affair with an RAF pilot.

Gladiator (1992): Tommy Riley (James Marshall) moves to a tough Chicago neighborhood before long he is drawn into the illegal world of underground boxing. It soon becomes clear that he is fighting for more than he thought.

Gladiator (2000): After his family is killed by the emperor’s corrupt son (Joaquin Phoenix) a Roman general (Russell Crowe) finds himself enslaved and fighting as a gladiator.

Also see: The Gladiator (1986): After his brother is killed in an accident caused by a crazed motorist, a mechanic (Ken Wahl) customaries his truck and sets himself up as a vigilantly against dangerous drivers. Made for TV and directed by Abel Ferrara.

Sky High (2003): Supernatural Japanese serial-killer movie. A murder victim becomes the guardian of the Gate of Rage, there she has to fight her own murder to prevent him form summoning daemons and darkness falling upon the earth.

Sky High (2005): Disney family fun involving a family of superheroes. (I haven’t seen it so can’t say much more about it)

I’m sure there are lots of others I haven’t thought of.

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