Crying All The Time

I cry quite often. For a period in my life, for a few years around my early teens it was nearly impossible for me to shed tears, no matter what the situation was. Often I felt like I wanted to cry, that it was all there bubbled up but some kind of filter within me held it back. I have never been emotionally repressed in any way – in fact, quite the opposite – and as with most people in that disastrous period my hormones and emotions were tearing at me in every direction. Love was becoming a very real part of my life, as was unrequited love. I lost some friends while my other friends nearly lost themselves. There were reasons for crying, alright, but the tears never came. It wasn’t until I turned 17 that I can remember really losing myself and since I can’t remember what brought it on I am forced to assume that it was relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. Point is; it finally happened.

There’s an episode of Friends where the gang finds out that Chandler can’t cry and they spend most of the episode forcing it out of him. At the end they are successful and at that point he is unable to stop, to the point where the slightest thing makes him well up completely. They did the same thing in that episode with Bruce Willis. Where they the same episode, actually? Whatever, what I’m saying is that the same thing basically happened to me. Today I cry a lot. Sometimes it’s about a sad story I read online or a heartwarming Youtube video or an old music video or the last episode of Sherlock or – as is always always always the case – the ending to 25th Hour.

Last night I cried again because I watched Sea Wall, a short film monologue written by Simon Stephens and starring Andrew Scott. It’s a shaking, deeply saddening and horrifically realistic story. Describing it is entirely pointless and detrimental, but it made me cry. It made me cry not just because of the stories that the character Alex tells or Scott’s perfect performance but from the wounds it forces me to scratch at. Every human being learns the pain of loss at some point and maybe we’re not completely developed, or entirely born, until we lose something that made us whole. We are blessed and cursed by the knowledge of our own mortality but much more so by the knowledge of the mortality of the people we love and need.

I stopped crying after my grandfather died. I was 14 years old and I don’t remember more than a few brief blinks from his funeral. I remember others were crying as well. My dad didn’t cry then but I heard him cry in his bedroom a few days later. I remember sitting next to my dad in front of the coffin after everybody else had left. After that I didn’t cry for years and a friend of mine theorised that after I lost my grandfather there was no reason to cry for anything lesser. I never went to daycare when I was little and I was largely raised by my granddad since both my parents worked and if losing him in such a slow and painful way was worth crying about then surely there was no point wasting tears on something minor.

I feel the itch on that scar a lot, though. The emptiness I felt when he finally died and knowing that I will have to face it again someday both terrifies me but also pushes me. Maybe I become a bit overprotective sometimes, maybe I fear the worst way too often, but I can’t stand the thought of having to watch another person that I need disappear from me. Sea Wall moved me for this reason, the fear that it only takes a second and then it’s all gone. It made me cry but I didn’t cry very much, because unlike a sad news story or a film ending, it hit so close to home in how stark and detached it was. Maybe it’s the evil eye syndrome playing tricks with me subconsciously; if I allow myself to bawl about the genuine fear of losing somebody I love it might cause it to happen for real. And I am normally such a reasonable man.

My grandfather told my dad that men shouldn’t cry because it was a sign of weakness. My dad didn’t pass this on to me; he always told me that it’s okay to cry if I was sad and I am very grateful that he did. As a result, I cry quite often. I cry at fake things, at stupid things and then I feel a bit stupid. Thankfully I rarely have to cry at real things, about real loss and real agony. I know some people that are right now facing a reality which somebody they loved is not going to be part of anymore and I wish they didn’t have to and I wish nobody ever had to. I begin picking at my itching wound.

The Beauty Of Ugly

I’m not going to pretend like you haven’t seen it already but in case you suffer from some kind of internet move hype-induced amnesia or something; here’s the new trailer for that Prometheus film.

Pretty damn impressive, although not quite as brilliant as the last one, for my money. But there was one brief moment in this trailer that caught my eye and while it occurs for less than a second it got me thinking about something I have been meaning to address for a while now. Hop aboard the nitpick-train because it’s leaving station.

Around 1:18 in the clip we get a blink-and-miss-it POV shot from one of the crew’s mounted cameras, which is one of several nice little callbacks to the original Alien which this is totally not a prequel to.

You may notice that not-Tom Hardy up there can be viewed in absolutely crisp high-definition along with all the totally necessary UI surrounding the image. Doesn’t it look beautiful? Remember how this movie takes places decades, it not centuries, before Alien but still in the same universe? So just how will portable camera technology advance in the years after this?

That is a screenshot from the Alien Director’s Cut but you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a picture taken on a ten year old Nokia. You can sort of see a guy with his head in a fishbowl, maybe, and some other guy in a sort of shower cap behind him, or that’s a painting or something, maybe. This insinuates that within the movie’s universe we will technologically de-evolve from using portable 1080i cameras to using recording equipment that is barely higher definition than the Game Boy Camera.

57 years later we have apparently not made much progress in the field as this clip from Aliens demonstrates.

Okay, yes, I obviously understand that this is a result of real life technology advancing over the course of three decades and it is reflected in the later movie, despite that taking place before the original. In 1979 the technology to produce HD footage was barely available to filmmakers, so to create a POV effect they had no choice but to use smaller cameras which produced much grainer film. This helped create a more realistic sequence where we follow the characters through an unknown, hostile landscape while we, like them, can barely make out their surroundings. It makes for an oppressive, dark and deeply intense exploration. When the same technique was used in Aliens the jerky, barely comprehensible video feeds made the initial battle with the monsters that much more exhilarating. Most of the time we can only see the characters sweating as they stare impotently as the video feeds shake, twitch and begin going offline one by one.

That limitation does not exist in a time when we’re all effectively carrying around HD-video cameras to easily document our insanely important lives. But as a result of this I can’t help but feel that the effect achieved in the original movie will not be as replicable when the footage from the shoulder-mounted cameras will be of basically the same quality as the footage in the rest of the film. If you removed all the little graphs and text from the screen it would be nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the trailer because the quality of small handheld cameras are not that much noticeably lower than the big hunkering 3D and IMAX cameras that shot the rest of the film. The immediate closeness and realism that the POV shots in the previous movies managed to create might not be as easily achieved without all that lovely grain and gravel on the lens.

While HD is by no means a negative thing, I sometimes feel that when every film and every game is made with such lush, crisp graphics things have a tendency to becomes a bit too sterile and lifeless. There is a lot of beauty in the imperfect that you lose when you remove the limits of what you can do with an image. Take the recently released Silent Hill HD Collection as a brilliant example. I personally can’t think of anything that is less suitable for an HD remake than Silent Hill, since so much of the atmosphere and tone of the games came from how well the developers used the limitations of the hardware. The fog, the film grain, the darkness – they were all essentially parts in making the games so terrifying. What Konami of today does not seem to understand is that while these were results of limitations at the time, they were not flaws. In the HD Collections both the fog and the grain filter have been taken out entirely, which makes about as much sense as cutting the zombies out of Dawn Of The Dead.

Image from Dualshockers.com

Yeah, that’s the new, supposedly improved version on the left. Somebody at Konami looked at that and thought it was an improvement.. Notice how the graphics, now blown up to HD, look bloody terrible when there is nothing to hide all the imperfections and the horrendous draw distance. The fog hid the player’s surroundings from them so you had no way of knowing if you were standing just a few feet away from an enemy. The town itself seemed to be closing in on you as the disorientation and paranoia grew, creating a sense that the fog itself and the evils therein were smothering you. It was put there to mask a technical limitation but it absolutely served a purpose beyond just masking up the hardware limitations. It was all there for a reason, you idiots.

I guess this annoys me so much because I love both Ridley Scott’s old sci-fi movies and the Silent Hill games and it screws with my head when I realise how neither creator seems to understand what made their original works so good. Alien and Blade Runner were among the last science fiction movies ever made that features no CG but relied entirely on handmade effects. They also happen to be two of the best and most beautiful science fiction movies of all time, not despite of this but because of it.

Yes, it’s tempting to crank the framerate up to eleven and use 3D cameras and make everything crystal clear, and there is certainly a place for it, but I do wish that the beauty of the handmade, imperfect still has its place. Think of how uselessly silly Jaws would have been if Spielberg’s shark hadn’t constantly broken down so they were forced to shot most of the film without it, or how lifeless and dull all the fake environments in the Star Wars prequels look compared to the grimmy real-life locations of the originals.

While I am pretty sure that Prometheus can stand up despite this incredibly insignificant detail, I feel it might be important to recall the wisdom of Marilyn Monroe, and I sincerely hope that Konami are reading this right now.

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

How PG-13 Killed Guillermo Del Toro’s Lovecraft Movie

What seemed to be too good to be true turned out to be just that. Universal has pulled the plug on Guillermo Del Toro’s adaptation ofthe seminal HP Lovecraft novel At The Mountains Of Madness, citing Del Toro’s insistence on making the movie a “hard R” rather than a PG-13 as the reason for the axing.

While Del Toro and co-producer James Cameron are said to be shopping the concept around to other studios, it seems unlikely that any other studio would have the bravery to make a big-budget movie aimed solely at an adult audience. The sad state of affairs is that today you simply can not spend $150 million on a movie which is not going to allow 14 year-olds into the cinemas and it doesn’t matter if you have a hugely accomplished director and the highest-earning film-maker of all time filming a literature classic – we still need to get the families in there together with their 3D-specs on.

The problem is that some stories need to be told a certain way. It’s frankly absurd to consider most of Lovecraft’s bibliography made accessible for people who are just barely entering puberty because at their core, they are stories that delve into the very bottom line of horror and insanity. Lovecraft wrote books and short stories about the edges of fear and what a human mind can tolerate to experience before it turns in on itself and if you round off those jagged edges then the poignancy is lost. It’s true that you can make excellent horror and still keep the PG-13, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring is an absolutely masterful film that didn’t compromise on the chills but was still made accessible for (ugh) a wide audience, but apart from a few noticeable examples it really isn’t an easy task to create something frightening and still keep the tween dollars rolling in.

Like this wouldn't make any Happy Meal infinitely more awesome.

Is this a death rattle of the big-budget movie for grown-ups then? I can’t say for sure, but it certainly doesn’t look too promising. The horror genre has always been plagued by snobbery and this causes a bad circle to occur, the same snobbery that has lead to only three horror movies ever being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and saw Sigourney Weaver snubbed for her game-changing portrayal in Aliens. So many horror movies today are made to suit both horror fans and (ughhh) a wide audience but ends up appealing to neither since true horror fans are going to sniff out a watered down imposter from miles away and non-horror fans aren’t going to be swayed by anything in the genre unless it comes packaged with some marketing spectacle, a la Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity.

And really, it makes little sense in a climate that witnessed SEVEN Saw movies rake in millions year after year after year. Say what you will about those movies but they were unequivocally made with a gore-loving adult market in mind and people flocked to them. Clearly the market exists but it’s a fickle and unpredictable one that studios are worried about going after. Del Toro has proven himself time and time again to be able to combine big-budget blockbuster appeal with an uncompromising visual and emotional style. The man knows and loves horror, not as a guilty pleasure but as a worthwhile genre in its own right and he treats it with grace and respect. He is the best man for the job and Universal cowering out is a tragedy if it turns out to be nail in the coffin for the film.

Oh God No: Blade Runner Sequels On The Way

Alcon Entertainment seem to have acquired the rights for sequels and prequels to Blade Runner, because apparently we can’t let classic Harrison Ford films remain untarnished for future generations. Okay, okay, I shan’t be pessimistic but it certainly doesn’t sound too promising, especially considering disasters like Soldier that already tried to include itself in the Blade Runner canon.

The agreement covers everything apart from a remake (so it’s not all bad, if anything) so we could be seeing sequels, prequels and video games soon enough. Little info is available so let’s begin the inevitable internet fan speculation. Will we see a direct sequel with a new actor as Deckard? Would Ford come back (not likely)? Will anybody, including Scott himself, be able to capture the unique mood of the original. And if not, is it even worth placing it in the same universe?

 

Timing Is Not My Strong Suit

Made by ratbanjos.

Drive Angry 3D: You’d Quite Like Him When He’s Angry

In one sentence: Drive Angry features the second finest gunfight/sex scene in recent years.

That just about sums up everything you need to know about Patrick Lussier’s insane action mess. It’s aiming to settle in the same chaotic grindhouse where the Crank’s, Shoot ‘Em Up and, well, Grindhouse, spends their weekends putting infants in danger amongst flipping cars and oversized explosions. What I’m saying is that Drive Angry can comfortably slot in somewhere in the living room but won’t be in charge of the remote. Presumably, the remote is on fire. Also, it’s actually a gun.

Drive Angry is knowingly gratuitous and it takes great pleasure and pride in being limitlessly stupid. The only problem is that it’s not quite as mad as it probably could and should be, which is saying something for a film where 95% of the starring cast end up as roadkill before the credits roll. That’s not to say that Drive Angry doesn’t fulfil the promises of it’s premise. Nicolas Cage plays hell-fleeing Milton with a barely repressed glee as he drifts cars, causes explosions and delivers shlock one-liners like he was born to do it – which he obviously was. He’s joined by Amber Heard, a no-nonsense southern lass with a heart of gold and fists of fury, and William Fichtner whose Accountant very much becomes the film’s heart and soul. Sadly, his role in the film is negligible but the few times he rears his cool, well-dressed apparition the film takes a turn for the awesomer.

The pace does sadly grind to a halt at times which is a debilitating flaw for a film of this kind. This mostly occurs when the main antagonist, a crazed cult leader played by Billy Burke takes centre stage. He plays his supposedly maniacal messiah figure with nothing but dull apprehension and he can’t manage to make his evil villain feel threatening or interesting. For a man who has the supposed command of a massive number of suicidally dedicated followers he is awfully uncharismatic and it is hard to see how he has massed up such a posse when he seems so thoroughly inept at this cult business. For a satanic sect, there really isn’t much personality to these people at all and that’s a shame, especially when the movie’s centre of gravity is the ritualistic murder of an infant – think Paul Giamatti’s wonderfully sadistic villain in Shoot ‘Em Up. I’m just saying, I was expecting more ham from these people, but I suppose I shouldn’t ask too many how’s and why’s about a film that could have been written by the designer of Meat Loaf’s album covers.

In the end, Drive Angry’s cheques are cashed. Nicolas Cage is a delight as always and the 3D gimmicks match the spectacle of the effects to satisfaction. It’s only real blemish is that it can’t bring itself to truly Statham-like levels of madness at the same ratio as its betters, but at least it aims for the moon and manages to blow up a few satellites and scattered airliners on its way to the stars. Which are presumably also blown up in the process.

Speaking Of Trailers

This is how you advertise a movie.

Not one line of dialogue. No stupid plot-revealing title-cards – almost nothing to give away the plot whatsoever. Most importantly, we don’t get to see the aggressor or its attack method. All we get is a feel for the atmosphere, danger and tone. It lets us know what we can feasibly expect from the movie without telling us almost nothing about the plot, which would probably have taken the edge of a lot of the scares if we had already seen them in the trailer.

If more ad people in both the film and games industries could look at this and take down some notes I think we’d all be a lot happier for it. Or we’d at least have some nicer trailers to look at.

This Alan Wake Movie Does Not Feature Alan Wake

Omega 3 fatty acids are good for Hayden Christensen’s heart.

Paul: Not Nearly As Bad As You Think

Really, that headline feels a bit off, doesn’t it? This is, after all, a loving genre spoof starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost with some geek referencing framing an otherwise formulaic comedy centre. It’s worked to near-perfection before, in movies I don’t think I need to mention by name here. But then again as soon as the first droplets of information started pouring out from the Paul production, a subtle but uneasy sensation overtook the enthusiasm. While the mere presence of the cast, an ensemble collecting the aforementioned Brits with prime Yankee talents like Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig, sounded promising enough, the trailers and posters gave you another idea entirely. It’s like we’re not allowed to advertise comedies as funny anymore at risk of offending the Friedberg/Seltzer demographic.

Nothing says fun quite like a list of nouns and mustard yellow.

But Paul isn’t as bad as the ad campaign wants you to believe. Yes, we’ve seen this story of the two slackers getting into hijinks with an odd third party before and yes, it’s no Shaun or Fuzz. Paul is standard-fare comedy but manages to stand out, in our trying times that has allowed for three Big Momma movies, by also being quite funny. Pegg and Frost know and love the genre and when they allow that to shine through, Paul excels. The references range from obvious to delightfully obscure and work to actually make the jokes funnier rather than just for tired fan-service (something they should have taught Edgar Wright and Scott Pilgrim might not have been such a mess).

Jokes do fall flat, especially the hackneyed running gags. Isn’t it funny when two male friends are mistaken for a gay couple? And when someone who isn’t very good a cursing curses? And if you find people fainting hilarious you’re in luck – it’s the punchline for two subplots. The committee-mandated love story is also one of the most ham-fisted attempts at romance in any movie ever made, to the point that it makes Amidala and Anakin seem positively naturalistic. Funny how these are the moments the international trailer focuses on, because that’s what we are assumed to find funny.

The fish out of water-plot reminded me of Michael starring John Travolta, a comedy road movie about a wayward angel with a taste for smoking and booze, being driven through America by a gang of initial  disbelievers-turned-friends before ascending back to his home in the skies. Now, Michael was a mess in more ways than one, most of them to do with it being boring to a punishing degree (it starred William Hurt), but it’s main flaw was that Travolta’s angel just wasn’t likeable, despite the entire premise banking on it. Paul excels in this regard and Seth Rogen does a fine job as the voice and mocap of the little alien, making him work as a believable E.T. for the Apatow-generation. What can I say, you start to like the guy and the film is better because of it.

Ultimately, Paul does what it wants, entertains you and then returns to whatever star system it may have come from. Team Pegg Frost manages to maintain enough of what makes their comedic partnership great, but as soon as they force themselves to dilute the comedy for the benefit of that awful intangible mass “general audiences” they lose sight of the funny. Don’t let the trailers fool you, though; Paul is a solid, funny comedy adventure and that’s more than most of us were expecting.

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