Tag Archives: Whine On You Crazy Diamond

Whine On You Crazy Diamond: The Electric Cinema

Firstly, I want to apologise for this week’s blog being a few days late. Well, a week and a few days late. I know it’s an absolute no-no to blog about how you’ve been too busy in your ‘real life’ to blog, but that’s probably on the same list of rules that include “don’t name a column after a weak pun about an album that’s older than most of your readers” so I’m clearly a serial rule-breaker.

So yeah, I’ve been busy. Thankfully, I’ve also had time to watch some films and write up some reviews for the site, which along with some brilliant pieces from some of my favourite contributors has led to the most successful week in the site’s very short history. So thanks!

This week’s blog is a nice and easy one to write. It’s a simple recommendation based on the most delightful experience I had at the cinema yesterday. Sadly the film I watched was very disappointing, and if I had seen it in a bog-standard multiplex, or even the lovely, but familiar surroundings of my local arts centre I would have written an even angrier review. Luckily for my sanity I had chosen to watch it at The Electric Cinema in Birmingham, the UK’s oldest working cinema.

The Electric is located just a couple of minutes’ walk from New Street, and houses two screens (with the largest of the two accessible to wheelchair users). The old-school ticket booth on your right as you enter took me back to a time I probably never really experienced. I wasn’t visiting a cinema from my youth; I was visiting a cinema that I had seen on-screen in my youth. Even my ticket was one of those tiny little stubs that sadly these days are reserved for booths exchanging them for tacky gifts on a seaside pier.

My standard seating ticket was a reasonable £7, although I was very tempted by the fantastic-looking sofa seating with waiter service for £12.80. If I hadn’t been on my own, I’m sure I would have splashed out. Concessions are priced at a budget £4.80 (including evenings and weekends), and in a nice touch the unwaged are also eligible for this price. The person who served me was friendly, polite, and seemed to genuinely care that I enjoyed the film. Good customer service costs nothing, and can make such a difference.

One inside the screen, and after being allowed to take my gin and tonic (Bombay Sapphire at just £2.50 a measure!) in a real glass with me, I settled in to a slightly rickety chair, with worn armrests, and not too much in the way of legroom. And I didn’t care – in fact loved it. It just felt like a cinema should. The projection was also perfectly handled. In short, I wish I could watch every film for the rest of my life here.

I’m even tempted to make the one hour journey from Leicester for one of their special events in the future. For example, earlier this month they hosted an evening of wine and film with a showing of Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, and hosted by The Wine Tasting Company – who paused the film “at opportune moments to take audience members through six excellent red and white wines from different regions of Italy”. Now that is the kind of interruption and consumption of drinks I can get on board with.

If you’re ever stuck for a few hours in Birmingham with time to kill, I cannot recommend visiting this cinema highly enough. Even if you see a poor film, you’l still have a great time.

Please note – I was not asked to write about The Electric Cinema, and I paid for my ticket and refreshments.

www.theelectric.co.uk

This week’s viewing:

DVD – There’s a number of big releases out on DVD this week, but the best of them in my humble opinion is Brave – Pixar’s first ever film with a female lead. It’s not as out-and-out funny as some of the studio’s other releases, but it is the perfect marriage of Pixar’s wonderful visuals and a classic Disney fairytale-style narrative.

TV – The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Sunday 2nd Dec, 3.05pm, Film4. The perfect film to have on as you dig out old decorations, untangle what feels like three miles of fairy lights, and deck your halls with bowls of holly etc. A retelling of Dickens’ classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) and his bah humbug approach to the festive season. May contain loveable puppets.

Lovefilm Instant  – Easy A (2010). Brand new to Lovefilm Instant, Emma Stone stars as a high school girl who sees her life echoing Hester Prynne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and decides to manipulate the school’s rumour mill to improve her lot in life. Clever teen comedy also starring Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kurow, and Malcolm McDowell.

Netflix UK – 21 Jump Street (2012). One of the biggest surprises this year was not how genuinely funny this reboot of a long-forgotten 80s TV show was (it really is), but that Channing Tatum had a performance like this in him – out-funnying Jonah Hill no less.

Whine On You Crazy Diamond: The Cinema

This week’s WOYCD (or “What? I don’t get it. Who the fuck are Pink Floyd?”, as all the cool kids are calling it) is going to be shorter, more confused, and generally less-polished than normal due to the real-life trinity of work, illness, and family celebrations encroaching into my fantasy life as a widely-read opinion columnist.

Not only have I not had time to write about film, I’ve barely had time to watch one. It’s been months since I went a week without visiting the cinema, and it’s affected me so much I’ve accidentally joined a gym. Hopefully normal service resumes this week – I long for the popcorn-stickiness of a neglected carpet; the dull, disconcerting murmur of a patron patiently explaining a film’s intricacies to their partner; the patronising warnings about piracy killing films after I’ve chosen to give the best part of a tenner to the film industry.

I was even watching Orange Film adverts on YouTube last night.

Cinemas are just the perfect places to watch films. Not all cinemas mind, and on this week’s Failed Critics Review we discussed the pros and cons of the cinema chains we happen to frequent.

I’ve watched films on DVD and Blu-ray at home, streamed down the internet to my laptop, and even on my mobile phone this year. I’ve been drunk, half-asleep, keeping an eye on footballs scores, and wrestling with a toddler at various times, and more often than not I have paused a film to make a drink, go to the toilet, or answer the door and have to tell another chugger to LEAVE ME ALONE IN MY OWN HOUSE YOU BASTARDS. It’s really quite difficult to give your full attention to a film unless you take away all other potential distractions.

That’s why I love the cinema. I love the informal agreement between strangers that (in most cases) we will do our very best not to disturb each other. I love that I feel pressure not to get my phone out to check the time, or my Twitter timeline, or just have a quick go on Temple Run because this film’s just got a little boring.

Watching in a cinema forces you to pay attention to a film, and that can only be a good, nay, wonderful thing. I’m so desperate to get back to the cinema I nearly went to see Silent Hill: Revelation 3D. Nearly.

I know it’s not for everyone, and I can sympathise with the thousands of misanthropes out there who would rather grate their own knuckles than risk interacting with the ‘general public’. But if you really want to appreciate a film to its fullest extent, there is no substitute.

This week’s viewing:

DVD – New out this week is the reasonably entertaining Men in Black 3. Josh Brolin joins the cast as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jone’s ‘K’, and his impersonation is the highlight of the film. Some good ideas, executed with varying degrees of success. If you’re after a Blu-ray reissue of a classic, there are a number of options – the best probably being The Evil Dead in steelbook, or the 65th Anniversary Edition of Frank Capra’s peerless It’s a Wonderful Life.

TV – The Gunfighter (1950), Film4, Friday 9 November. I’m not going to apologise for what is a very personal choice. This western, starring Gregory Peck, is a wonderful example of the genre. Like the more highly-regarded High Noon, this is a film that tries to look behind the myths of the legends of the Old West.

Lovefilm Instant – God Bless America (2011). The latest film from Bobcat Goldthwait – known to most of you I’m sure as ‘the guy with the weird voice in Police Academy’. The film stars Joel Murray (Freddie Rumsen in TV’s Mad Men) as an office worker who snaps after being told he has terminal cancer and goes on the run with a schoolgirl – killing anyone who annoys them. Entertaining, but at times comes across as being written by a teenager who thinks they’re cooler than everyone else.

Netflix UK – Be Kind Rewind (2008). From the mind of Michel Gondry, Be Kind Rewind tells the story of Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) who accidentally wipe the videotapes in the video store where Mike works. Instead of coming clean, they recreate the films at the local scrapyard, and the customers love the ‘reimagined’ versions. It’s far from perfect, but worth watching for the recreations alone. Gondry’s visual style has never been better.

Whine On You Crazy Diamond: Don’t fuck up Bond!

Friday saw the release of the much-anticipated new Bond film, Skyfall. You can get the Failed Critics take on it in tomorrow’s Bond Special podcast – but so far critical and commercial consensus is that this is one of the best of the series.

So now that Bond is back on top, I can’t help but worry that Hollywood is going to fuck it all up in the way they did during the later Roger Moore films, and even more unforgivably with the piss-poor Die Another Day.

So here is my advice, gleaned from years of imaginary film production experience, on how not to fuck up the next Bond film.

1. Get a world-class director

Sam Mendes was a very interesting choice for Skyfall. The Oscar-winning director of suburban dramas American Beauty and Revolutionary Road hasn’t exactly got a track-record for the type of ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ action required and expected from a Bond film (although Road to Perdition and Jarhead had their moments). It didn’t matter though, as Mendes (with cinematographer Roger Deakins) produced a sensational-looking film, and coaxed brilliant performances from the entire cast. Skyfall’s quiet moments definitely benefited from having someone like Mendes at the helm.

But with Mendes unlikely to direct the next Bond film, who should the producers turn to? Whoever it is, please don’t return to the days of the jobbing director whose role is more managerial than artistic. Bond is a premium brand once more, and it should be a job for the best directors currently working.

My choice would be one of Christopher Nolan (unlikely), Paul Greengrass (whose future with the Bourne series seems to be over), or Matthew Vaughn (currently one of the most talented directors working, and has shown he can handle a big studio film with X-Men: First Class).

2. Set the tone, don’t respond to it

What was so refreshing about Skyfall is that it had something to say about the way intelligence agencies operate in this new era of counter-terrorism. It offered us a camp, maniacal villain – but made it clear that ‘we’ created him. This was blurring-the-lines stuff, with moral ambiguity everywhere.

Bond needs to continue in this vein to remain relevant. A modern Bond should be dealing with issues like drone killings and illegal rendition – not returning to the dark days of ‘one-off man mentals’ (© Chris Morris) conjuring plans to destroy the entire world from their underwater bases.

3. Get the theme tune right

I know this might seem silly, but a Bond film can live or die by its theme. Die Another Day had a promising pre-credit sequence, but the moment the Madonna snoozefest of a tune kicked in you just knew the film was going to go downhill quicker than Roger Moore on skis chased by Russians.

Adele was a safe, yet credible choice for Skyfall – and the tune itself is as much homage to Bond tunes gone by as the film is to its predecessors. But please stay away from any future attempts to modernise the Bond theme. It should be classy, orchestral, and above all keep it well out of the hands of anyone who has appeared on a TV talent show.

This week’s suggested viewing:

DVD – This is a recommendation for those doing their best to avoid Halloween. Although I was more charmed by it than my Failed Critics colleagues, we all agreed that The Five-Year Engagement (out on DVD today) was a thoroughly decent modern rom-com, with some lovely chemistry between stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt.

TV – Let the Right One In (2008), Film4, Wednesday 31October. I cannot recommend staying up for Tomas Alfredson’s debut highly enough. This Swedish horror is more than a blood and guts vampire film, it is a fine study of the alienation of a young boy growing up in a Stockholm suburb in the 1980s. This film will stay with you.

Lovefilm Instant  – Who Saw Her Die (1972). The story of an estranged English couple in Venice recovering from the death of their daughter, and who get dragged into a murky underworld when they investigate the circumstances surrounding her death. No, this isn’t Don’t Look Now – in fact, this Italian giallo film was released a year before Nic Roeg’s horror classic, and is clearly (alongside other giallo films) a big influence on it. Ennio Morricone’s score is probably the scariest thing you will hear all Halloween

Netflix UKTucker and Dale vs Evil (2010). Those who enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods’ deconstruction of the horror genre will surely enjoy this reworking of the classic ‘teenagers murdered by weird hillbillies’ theme. Tucker and Dale are two quite lovable hicks who are planning to enjoy a weekend away at their new cabin, but some smart-mouth teens nearby get the wrong idea and, well – chaos and hilarity ensues.

Whine on You Crazy Diamond – Found Wanting

Welcome to another helping of the scooped-out mind-innards of yours truly. This week I want to talk about a style of film-making and, some might say, a genre in its own right – Found Footage.

On Saturday I went to see Paranormal Activity 4 (featured on this week’s Failed Critics Review podcast) and it reaffirmed all of the issues I have with found footage films. They are completely unrealistic, and actually alienate me as a viewer.

First let’s look at the reason people make found footage films. The bottom line is that they are cheap. Very, very cheap. The original Paranormal Activity only cost about $15,000 to make, and The Blair Witch Project was also made for peanuts. Studios love these films because they represent a low-risk green-light decision, especially in the horror genre which, more than any other genre it seems, has an inbuilt audience who are willing to give films a chance.

The reason these films are so cheap to make is not just because they don’t use expensive sets and equipment, but also because the people involved are cheap to hire. From the director, to the screenwriter (especially with a number of these films improvised in nature), to the actors (usually unknowns who are cheap, and this also helps make them seem more realistic. No one is going to believe Brad Pitt in a found footage movie).

So from a business point of view I totally get it. I even admire these films.

But from an artistic point of view?

The other argument I have heard in support of found footage films is that they are ‘more realistic’ and that in the horror genre this makes them scarier. This is where I have to disagree. In my opinion, found footage films are less ‘realistic’ than any stop-motion film, CGI-powered superhero film, or badly dubbed and bloodily violent 1970s kung-fu film.

Let me explain.

Cinema has been around for over 100 years. In that time, as a species we have evolved our perception of cinema as art-form and entertainment, and can now put ourselves in a state of suspended disbelief when watching a well-crafted film. When I watch The Exorcist, or Ringu, I forget that I am watching a film and get drawn into the horror that the characters are facing. This is despite the fact that I am seeing things that I couldn’t possibly see in real life – including camera angles and special effects. A well-directed and shot film feels ‘real’.

So any attempt to consciously make a film appear real has the opposite effect on me. My suspicions are instantly raised. I can’t suspend my disbelief and find myself asking questions – why are they talking about boring things in a film? Who ‘found’ this footage? Why are they recording this seemingly random set of events?

And that’s the killer for me – I spend the majority of every found footage film questioning why a character is filming that particular footage. Once a film sets itself up as being ultra-realistic, the slightest crack in the façade ruins the whole pretence. I have the same issue with 3D films presenting themselves as being more immersive, when in fact the opposite is true – but that’s for another day…

DVD – New out this week is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – and you can hear what we thought of that on the podcast here. Instead, why not treat yourself to one (or both) of the lovely re-releases of classic films available for the first time on Blu-ray. Steven Spielberg’s E.T., or Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

TVLayer Cake. Film 4 on Fri 26 Oct at 9pm. If you’re not going to see Skyfall on Friday night, then why not watch Daniel Craig’s breakthrough performance in Matthew Vaughn’s debut film that is that very rare thing – an excellent, modern British gangster film.

Lovefilm InstantClose Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). If you’ve heeded my advice above and forked out on the Blu-ray release of E.T., then make an extra-terrestrial night of it and watch Spielberg’s other ‘they came from the stars’ classic from the era in which he could do no wrong.

Netflix UKDreams of a Life (2011). Recently discussed on the Failed Critics Review, this fascinating documentary investigates the circumstances around the death of Joyce Vincent who died in her bedsit aged 38, and lay undiscovered for three years.

Whine On You Crazy Diamond – Why ratings are a nonsense

Firstly, welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a regular weekly column. I’m a big fan of delusions of grandeur (especially Nicolas Cage’s acting career), and the opportunity to grant myself a weekly editorial has finally proven too much.

I thoroughly enjoy the weekly recording of the Failed Critics Podcasts (so much so that I have started guesting regularly on the Born Offside podcast as well), but those chats are usually focussed on specific films or genres. Sometimes I just want to talk about the film industry, or film criticism, in a more general fashion. I plan to share these thoughts with you here, rather than boring my poor family any more than I already do.

Seriously, at the moment unless I’m talking to my daughter in a ropey (and I think possibly racist) Sebastian from The Little Mermaid  accent, she’s just not interested.

I must also thank @jook from Twitter for coming up with the name for the column – after my rather piss-poor first efforts (that included ‘Diamond in the Rough Cut’ and ‘Bloody Diamond’).

What I want to talk about this week is ratings. Not the kind of ratings that get fantastic shows like Community or Arrested Development  axed (more about those shows on this week’s Failed Critics Review TV Special) – but the stars, marks out-of-ten, and thumbs-up/down that allow lazy/time-pressed readers to quickly decide which films to spend their hard-earned money/download limits on.

What got me thinking about this is a discussion I had with someone online about Looper. I enjoyed the film, and pressed for time and characters online I said I’d give it 8/10. My friend was stunned, and said he thought it was a 6/10 film, or a 7/10 “at a push”. After a little discussion, it appeared that we actually held very similar views – it’s just that, like my favourite teachers at school, I am a more generous marker.

The fact is ratings are almost useless. Not only will the differ from person to person due to the subjective reaction they’ll have to the film, but each critic is also marking from a completely different set of marking criteria – and this is especially true in the brave new world of free online ‘journalism’ where any old chump (such as yours truly) can set themselves up as a film reviewer.

Having spoken to a few of my online colleagues I have discovered vastly different marking criteria used to rate a film. Personally, I operate on a system of awarding 10 at the start of the film, and taking away marks as things annoy, disappoint, and plain disgust me. Just to add a little more complexity to my system, I will only award a film a maximum of 8 out of 10 for execution – a perfect genre piece like Dredd 3D for example did absolutely everything I hoped it would, but I couldn’t award it any more as there was barely a shred of originality to it (which would have lifted it to a possible 9), or that magic, intangible something that makes a film a 10/10 delight (for example Goodfellas is a classic 9/10 for me, while The Godfather just has that something extra that makes it a 10/10).

Other people I have spoken to would regard 6/10 as a pretty good mark – I would regard that as the mark of an exceedingly average film that added nothing new to the canon of cinema and was just about a pleasant-enough distraction for 2 hours. Someone else I spoke to said that there is no such thing as a 10/10 film, as they could only award 10/10 for perfection.

Basically ratings are useless. Even if you haven’t time to read a full review in a rush, without the context of ‘critical baggage’ the number of stars at the end of their considered thoughts might as well be hieroglyphics, or a picture of a badger. If you’ve not got time to read and compare one or two reviews, you’ll probably have more success if you choose a film at random and watch it without reading anyone else’s opinions beforehand. Try it.

What to watch this week:

DVD – Of this week’s new releases I have only seen Dark Shadows which I would urge everyone to avoid at all costs. You can find out why in more detail here. However after a manufacturing error which resulted in all the Blu-rays suffering from viewing problems, you can now find the self-referencing horror homage Cabin in the Woods back on shelves from today.

TV – The Man Who Knew Too Much. Film 4 on Fri 19 Oct at 4.45pm. James Stewart and Doris Day star in Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of an innocent man (surprise, surprise) on the run from mysterious forces. Lovely stuff.

Lovefilm Instant  – Candyman (1992). Recently added to Lovefilm Instant, this tale of the vengeful spirit of a former slave brutally murdering the residents of a Chicago housing project is the perfect warm-up for the release this week of Paranormal Activity 4, and the slew of horror films that will be filling our screens for the next fortnight. Go on, say Candyman five times in the nearest mirror*

*Failed Critics will not be held responsible for the appearance of supernatural killers, or your subsequent wrongful arrest for their crimes.

Netflix UK – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Relatively new to the UK catalogue, this is the archetypal ‘film of two halves’. Robert Rodriguez directs a ‘fresh-from ER’ George Clooney alongside Harvey Keitel, Julliette Lewis, Salma Hayek, and Quentin Tarantino. One part frontier heist-gone-wrong film, one part blood-soaked Vampire apocalypse film.