Archive | August, 2013

From hot tubs to the British Museum: outdoor and out-there screenings in London

29 Aug
Image

Immerse yourself in movies: Hot Tub Cinema in Shoreditch

Growing up in Canada, I loved the drive-in. That’s where, at a tender age, I was shocked to the core when little Bonnie broke her neck in Gone With The Wind. That’s where I watched Laurence of Arabia hold his hand in the flame: “The ‘trick’, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.” The giant screens made these scenes even more indelible. Later, I realised what a mythology there was around the drive-in itself, how it inspired movie scenes such as Grease, or American Graffiti.

How sad that there are none in London.

But wait – there kind of are. They are just drive-ins without the car. Outdoor screenings have really taken off this summer, and in some of the most unusual places. And though the Bank Holiday Weekend has come and gone, the movie summer lasts until late September.

Nomad Cinema is one of the most interesting. They have just today announced a series of monthly boutique screenings at the Hox hotel, with 50 plush seats and a free cocktail and popcorn for your tenner. The first one, the brilliant Brit crime thriller Sexy Beast, is in a month’s time, September 29; at time of writing there were still tickets available, but they won’t be for long.

Image

Edward Scissorhands at Brompton Cemetery, in the Nomad Cinema season

But that’s indoors: Nomad’s signature is outdoor screenings – the drive-in without the drive – and their programming is superb. Fulham Palace hosts Woody Allen’s greatest film, Annie Hall, tonight (tickets still available), with When Harry Met Sally following next Thursday Sep 5. Ghostbusters plays at Roundwood Park on Fri Sep 6; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at Queen’s Park on Sat Sep 7; Edward Scissorhands in the suitably Gothic surrounds of Brompton Cemetery on Wed Sep 11 (Donnie Darko the previous evening is sold out); and at Hyde Park Lido, Wong Kar-Wai’s spellbinding In The Mood For Love on Fri Sep 20, and Godard’s game-changing masterpiece Breathless on Sun Sep 22.  

There’s way more! It gets wet ‘n’ wild at the Hot Tub Cinema on the roof of Rockwell House in Shoreditch, after a few too many cocktails. The programmers go for cheesy fun hits: September is mostly sold out, but there are still tickets for Team America (Sep 10), Top Gun (Sep 13), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sep 15) – expect everyone in their tubs to be acting out the sexy “Don’t dream it, be it” pool scene at the end.

The Rooftop Film Club have too many films to mention, programmed throughout September at the Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch; the Bussey Building in Peckham; Springbridge Car Park in Ealing Broadway and the Kensington Roof Gardens.

Pop Up Screens does what it says on the tin. Of the September films that haven’t yet sold out, V for Vendetta at Coram Fields (Aug 30) and Fight Club at Ravenscourt Park Hammersmith (Sep 13) are maybe too serious for the outdoor treatment. I’d go for The Blues Brothers (Sep 14) or The Wizard of Oz (Sep 15), both at Ravenscourt Park. Sing along.

Image

Luna Cinema at Brockwell Lido

Luna Cinema has some amazing venues. Leeds Castle shows Blues Brothers and Casablanca (Sep 6 and 7); Dulwich Park shows Django Unchained (Sep 5), Argo (Sep 8) and This Is Spinal Tap (Sep 19); Kew Gardens hosts Cinema Paradiso, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dirty Dancing and Ghostbusters (Sep 12-15); and I rather fancy The Breakfast Club at my local Brockwell Lido in Brixton (Sep 18).

Future Cinema, which is by the same team as Secret Cinema but just not so secret, presents Dirty Dancing in its usual lavish style this weekend, when Hackney Downs will be transformed into Kellerman’s Vacation Resort. Friday and Saturday are sold out, even at £35 a ticket, but you can still have the time of your lives on Sunday Sep 1.

The Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival is Sep 5-15, and includes a bike-powered Edward Scissorhands on Peckham Rye (Sep 7), Skyfall at the Employment Academy (Sep 8, free but bring a food donation for Southwark Foodbank), and the terrific music doc Searching for Sugar Man (Sep 10) outside Rye Books, with free wine and popcorn.

There’s also a more sedate rival, the More London Free Film Festival (Sep 11-27), held at the Scoop amphitheatre by City Hall with Tower Bridge looming to one side. The line-up is impressive, starting with Skyfall and ending with Grease, The Sound of Music or Rocky Horror – voted on by the public and announced on Sep 2.

Not outdoors, but still unusual and spectacular: this coming weekend the BFI programmes three vintage horror classics in the vast forecourt of the British Museum. Monster Weekend features Night of the Demon (sold out), Dracula and The Mummy (Aug 29-Sep 1).

Phew, that enough for you? 🙂 God, I love London. Now get booking!

Advertisements

The Fallen: 18-year-old Brit makes sci-fi flick

20 Aug

 

I was impressed by the trailer (above) for micro-budget Brit sci-fi flick The Fallen. It had action scenes and explosions and hundreds of alien spaceships hanging in the air, as Douglas Adams once memorably wrote, in exactly the same way that bricks don’t. I was even more impressed when I discovered that its director, Rupert Rixon, is only 18, wtf. So I kept an eye out for the finished product.

Now the first episode in this ambitious six-parter, which together will add up to feature-film length, has finally been uploaded to YouTube (click here). Given the director’s age and the tiny budget (for their most expensive battle scene they managed to dig trenches, set off explosions, fire machine-guns and kit out actors in army uniform for just £600), it’s enormously impressive: pacey, well directed, making excellent use of derelict areas and buildings across England to give it that post-apocalyptic feel. Give Rixon a few years and a good producer, and you could expect him to be beating Hollywood at their own game.

And yet it doesn’t deliver on the trailer’s promise. The sound quality is atrocious, which is hard to forgive. And you wish as much thought had gone into the initial script as it clearly did into the filming.

A sci-fi or fantasy film only works if the alternate world it creates is credible, if it feels real. Lord of the Rings or Dune or even Harry Potter endure not just because of story and character, but because so much thought has gone into the economics, politics and language of their worlds. Here, we are told in an opening voice-over that most of Earth’s water has been sucked out by aliens, leading to global famine. It’s not thought through. Bottle-caps are used for money, which in itself makes no sense; a handful of caps is apparently fortune enough to provoke an armed fight at a poker table, yet 30cl of water costs 120. Humans need a litre per day.

The characters’ motivations, too, are frequently unclear or downright unconvincing; not least when a man running from machine-gun-toting baddies lights his way with a flare, which may look good on film but is not recommended for evading nocturnal pursuit. (Mind you, M did much the same at the end of Skyfall, and she’s meant to be the spy of spies.) And so far there’s not an original or surprising line of dialogue.

Does all this matter? You may think not, on YouTube. It’s free, it’s short, the audience maybe don’t expect so much. Comments so far have all been positive. But it doesn’t cost any more to think these things through, so why not do it? And if you feel this is harsh on an 18-year-old, it is I hope a mark of respect for Rupert Rixon’s prodigious potential that I am criticising The Fallen as I might a “proper” film.

Lessons for would-be film-makers? Get a proper sound recordist/mixer, and a decent script-editor. They will do your film far more good than the latest state-of-the-art digital camera that most directors get their rocks off on.

But the more important lesson is – just do it. You can’t complain you don’t have the right contacts, the right financing, the right breaks, the right training, when an 18-year-old can get out there and make a full-length sci-fi feature armed with little more than vision, determination and a giant pair of clanking brass balls.

Taking French leave: Mark Kermode appointed new Observer film critic

17 Aug

Image

So Mark Kermode, 50, has just been appointed as the Observer’s film critic, replacing the venerable Philip French who retired after turning 70. While this may not do that much for lowering the age range of film critics (I often find myself the youngest person in the preview cinemas when I review movies, and I’m no wunderkind), it is a Very Good Thing, because Mark is a Very Good Thing.

A personal anecdote to explain why. One Tuesday night 20-plus years ago at Time Out, before I became editor and was still on the subs’ desk, I noticed young Mark lowering his trademark quiff over the new issue and comparing his printed review with the original copy on his screen.

Accustomed to writers complaining about their deathless prose being rearranged, I went over and asked if something was the matter. And he said something that, I swear, I have never heard before or since in nearly 30 years of journalism.

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m looking at how my copy has been improved, so that I can learn from it.”

I knew then he would go far. And learn he has. But he has never lost the fearlessness with which he first turned up at Time Out’s offices with a fistful of cuttings from Manchester’s City Life, claiming (falsely) to have an appointment with film editor Geoff Andrew.

And if you don’t think fearlessness is the single most important quality in a critic, here’s another anecdote. At the opening night dinner for the London Film Festival in 1994, I sat with a table of editors and critics all slagging off that evening’s Gala Premiere, Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, starring Robert De Niro. Hang on, I said to one national critic who was joining in the general bashing, I saw your review. You said it was brilliant, and gave it four stars.

“Of course,” he said, unabashed. “It’s British. It’s Kenneth Branagh. The editor and the paper wanted a good review.”

Mark, I’m pretty sure, would never, ever, ever, ever alter a review. Unless he changed his mind himself, as he admits to doing on a second viewing of Blue Velvet in his excellent autobiography. (The autobiography is called It’s Only a Movie, it’s very funny, and I heartily recommend it. Especially for the chapter on the press trip from hell in the depths of Russia. And the one on how he was with Werner Herzog when he got shot in the arse.) Whether or not you agree that The Exorcist is the best movie of all time, you have to admire Mark’s conviction in sticking with it.

Mark’s appointment is also A Good Thing in that it reverses a trend for newspapers to treat arts criticism as disposable: something to be dispensed with altogether (the Independent on Sunday has fired its critics en masse, effective next month), or passed around favoured columnists. Mark has a passion for the pictures. Too much so for the BBC, who passed over Mark for Claudia Winkleman as a replacement for Jonathan Ross in 2010 on their flagship film programme.

“I don’t do moderation,” Mark explained on his Radio 5 show at the time, adding that the BBC would need “a mainstream sensibility”.

Congratulations to the Observer for appointing someone equally at home with horror and sci-fi as with European art cinema. And here’s to the next 20 years of Sundays.

The goss on Bros: the Goss bros are set to reform

8 Aug
Image

Matt Bros in the Hangover Suite with his non-identical twin, Dominic Wells (that’s me). Tiger not included

News today that ‘80s Brit boy band Bros are contemplating a reunion comes as a shock. As the picture above shows, I thought it had already happened!

Seriously, though, the picture records my meeting with the ludicrously handsome Matt Goss in early 2010, on the eve of his reincarnation as a Las Vegas lounge singer. We sat in the suite at Caesar’s Palace where The Hangover was filmed, though there was sadly no tiger in residence that day, and he told me then that he was open to a Bros reunion.

Talent-spotted by the manager of the Pussycat Dolls, Matt Goss was about to start a residency performing Bros hits, old jazz standards and new material on a giant, garishly painted indoor boat called Cleopatra’s Barge. As you do. Giant billboards of his unfeasibly sharp cheekbones and five-day stubble sprang up all over Sin City, complete with the optimistic caption, “This century’s Sinatra”.

I found Matt charming, talkative, and working that dapper British gent look to the max: sharp shoes, a three-piece suit with a watch chain and cool tattoos poking out from under the sleeves, and a hat that he was happy to admit was less a foppish affectation than a disguise for a receding hairline (takes one to spot one).

He had one funny story about growing up with his brother Luke, who is now a reasonably successful Hollywood actor with credits including Blade II and Hellboy II. After moving from Camberwell in south London to the country, the twins used to make their own entertainment by throwing darts at each other across the fields and trying to dodge – until Matt got one stuck in his ribs.

He also described himself as a savvy business-man, having “learned the hard way” when Bros put on a hubristic concert at Wembley Stadium. “The show broke even,” he said, “but we didn’t understand the difference between ‘net’ and ‘gross’, and we were contracted to pay someone 20% of gross profits! It cost us a fortune. So now I pay attention!”

It obviously had a positive effect on Bros’ bassist, too. Craig Logan left Bros at the height of its fame, still aged just 19, and fought six successive legal actions with the label to recoup any share of the money. Logan is now a bona fide music mogul, managing artists such as Tina Turner, Sade and Pink. He’s never been keen on the idea of getting back on stage, so getting him to agree to a reunion is a coup.  

There’s just one snag: how can the three schoolfriends from Surrey who conquered America now sing When Will I Be Famous with a straight face?

Video

Bad Grandpa: Borat meets the school of hard Knoxville

1 Aug

I’m pretty sure I’ve just seen the runaway comedy film of the autumn. Or rather, the trailer for it, which was released just a few hours ago. Bad Grandpa features Johnny Knoxville as 86-year-old Irving Zisman, on a far from heart-warming road trip across America to reunite his eight-year-old grandson with his father. Suddenly scheduled for release on Oct 25, it was filmed in great secrecy over the summer, in order to keep the reaction of the public, Borat-style, authentic.

As you’d expect from the makers of Jackass, the comedy is broader than the Amazon river. Knoxville/Zisman collapses into a tower of champagne glasses at a wedding; knocks over the open casket at a funeral; and, in a glorious homage to Little Miss Sunshine, his grandson dons a dress and blonde wig to enter a child pageant, and ends his routine dancing round a stripper’s pole as his granddad peels off dollar bills. This at least shows that the humour will occasionally strike a valid satirical target, rather than just disturbing innocent bystanders whose shock, anger and bewilderment are recorded by multiple hidden cameras.

As a commercial idea, it’s genius: like all the most popular YouTube clips of people falling over and fighting and freaking out put together. As comedy it looks, expel me now from the Critics’ Circle (um, not that I ever joined), hilarious. As art… hmm. We’ll see.

I have teenaged sons; the watching of Jackass was mandatory for a while. The best sequences were not the crazy hurtful stunts, I always felt, but the ones where they would bewilder members of the public. The Bad Grandpa sketches, such as the one where he sits outside with his grandson (older than in the film), passing back and forth a cigarette and bottle of hooch and picking a fight with the local hard-nut, were hilarious.

I smell a hit. If this doesn’t take $100 million I will, like Werner Herzog, eat my shoe.