I went to see two films in twenty-four hours. For lazy me, this is a momentous occasion. The second of these films, chronologically, was Inception. I talked about that first. Don’t ask me why. The first was Toy Story 3. Toy Story 3 Before, I spoke about wanting an empty cinema, void of distractions, for watching my films. The hypothesis was this: people whisper and suck you out of immersion. It can be a good thing: I’ve mentioned how Four Lions seemed, I suspect, funnier because of the amount (and mood) of people in that screening. But, for good or bad, it’s pretty much undeniable: the audience changes the film. Pixar films are the exception to this rule (the problem becoming inverted: the oh God don’t cry that would be too embarrassing don’t cry effect). Where Inception was difficult to engage with emotionally, being distracted from Toy Story was near-impossible. I could see Dom checking his watch to my left. I knew we were cutting it tight with our parking ticket. I just didn’t care. Because Pixar have discovered the magical formula, now. The film consistently pulls on a visceral emotional response. Sometimes that’s laughter, or warm nostalgia. Sometimes it’s pure, big, colourful spectacle. Often it’s trying to make you cry. These are the things Inception doesn’t quite know how to use. Even, for example, as an action film, Toy Story fares better. It provides more pure heart-in-mouth moments, at least one example of sheer terror for the plight of the heroes. For all its folding cities and rotating, anti-gravity fight scenes, Toy Story does spectacle better. In emotion? Inception is barely interested. Pixar, meanwhile, are masters of traditionally-crafted films, everything perfectly placed knowing the exact reaction it aims for and will achieve.That sounds a light mechanical. And Toy Story‘s difficult to talk about this way, because it’s as exactly as much of a bare example of pure, masterful craft as Inception is. And, thing is: while I hardly dreaded seeing Toy Story 3, it summoned nothing of the excitement the last few Pixar films have held for me. I knew the formula, I didn’t care much for the characters and, frankly, it seems unlike the Pixar of today. They seem a little beyond sequels at this point. The first film is a great family film … but Pixar seem to be pushing to making films for adults, that just happen to be accessible to (and, fortunately, hold the endless fascination of) kids too. Not too many other films in the history (and probably future) of cinema whose focus was a grieving widower could also sell action figures and inspire arguments over, no, I wanna be Kevin this time in the back garden, y’know? Being fully honest, a lot of my worries applied. They just didn’t matter. It was formulaic. The plot followed the familar pattern of the first two in a lot of ways. But damn if it didn’t fight the corner for the film formula as a non-dirty word. The formula works, and it’s a proven form on which to hang some quite thoughtful ideas: in this case, a reversal of the getting-old/broken/redundant theme of Toy Story 2. I’m still not too fond of Buzz and Woody as characters, true: but the ideas they represent – childhood, and lost toys, and innocence – are holy to me. Endangering them is an assault on entire parts of my personality. Which is why being a sequel works. Toy Story was itself a part of my childhood; it’s true for all of us. No other piece of pop-culture has held such a perfect position for our generation. It’s as easy to sneer at the little kids going into the cinema as it is the newcomers attending a gig to sing along to the chorus of your favourite band’s one accidental hit-single and tap their toe through the other stuff. This isn’t theirs, it’s ours. After all, it’s been seven years. In any other hands, this would look like greed. And until I sat down in that cinema, being honest, it did. But, just like Dom checking his watch and the ticking parking meter and the impending potential fine, it all washed away in the ease of perfect feeling Toy Story 3 manages to be. Enough to show me I was being a snob; to show me the wisdom in letting us grow out of Toy Story just a little, placing us firmly in the place of Andy, and so more emotionally vulnerable. But all that came after the film; not during. Never during. That’s the Pixar magic. …And I guess that’s all, folks. I’ve got a lot more in me: how both films reminded me of Lost, in differing ways. My worries about the future of Pixar, and the theory of Pixar’s Five Ages. But I’ve gone on long enough. I’m sure most of it will come out in future posts or essays or comments. Oh, and speaking of essays: if you would by any chance be interested in reading the essay I wrote for a Film Studies course on death and mourning in Disney and Pixar films (using Up, Bambi and The Lion King as my examples), let me know and I’ll post it up on here. But be warned, it makes this admittedly long-windeed post look like a brief relaxed chat. And, for anyone wondering, here’s the Kenickie b-side I named these two posts after:
So … I went to the cinema twice in two days. Understand that this is, at certain times of year, as much as I’ll attend* in three or four months. The last time I did it was … well, a day of Chris Nolan’s previous film – called The Dark Knight, you might have heard of it – and Pixar’s Wall.E. This time it was Inception – Nolan’s new film – and Toy Story 3. This, clearly, is the kind of stuff I get off the sofa for. Thanks to that symmetry, the two seem a bit inextricably linked, so I’m going to write about them, in the exact opposite order to that in which I watched them. And, oh yeah, if you haven’t seen either those and you want to – and if you don’t, frankly, what the Charles Freck is wrong with you? – I wouldn’t read these till afterwards. …First, Inception. Inception. You know what my dream is? To be able to go to the cinema on my own. No disrespect to any of the people I saw either film with – Tom, Dom, Zoe, I like at least two of you – but when you’re sitting in the cinema, having someone next to you can be unnerving. You can’t help but register small movements, wonder what we’re thinking of the film, whether they’re bored or uncomfortable… This is people I choose to go with. Strangers next to you who decide to spoil the end of the film you’ve managed to avoid any and all information on three minutes before it ends? Fuhgeddaboudit. …This is my dream, and until the kind of tech on display in Inception (part-Eternal Sunshine, part-Matrix) exists, those dreams will be unreachable. Fact is, you have to go with other people, and it’s just not socially acceptable to want the seats next to you, let alone the entire cinema screen, empty unless you’re Mark flipping Kermode.** Inception is the kind of film that suffers from this phenomenon particularly hard. The film’s kind of cold, and requires a certain level of attention and immersion: when someone next to you hisses “is there really still half an hour left?”, you can’t help but notice, yeah, it is going on a bit. Nolan is, fittingly enough, a bit of a paradox: I will rush to see anything he puts out, but I enjoy all of his films in a particular way: approving, generally impressed by the craft, but rarely overwhelmed. I always mean to get round to watching them again but never quite do – with the exception of Batman Begins, probably my least favourite of his work but defintiely the one I’ve seen most. It’s because of that coldness. It’s not necessarily there in the best moments of Memento, or The Best Moment of Dark Knight. But Nolan’s films generally tickle the brain, not grab hold of the heart. But that coldness is definitely playing to strength – Nolan’s emotional scenes tend off a little schmaltzy – and in Inception, it seems particularly intentional. Inception is a puzzle game: the old-fashioned variety, before computers and everything. All sliding pieces and rotating sides. The ideas involved are those big ones: time, layers, dreams. The human mind; not the human heart. It begins to reach beyond that, into concepts of the afterlife and, well, just life – like a secular version of the final season of Lost, actually – but those are a little beyond its remit, requiring a fusion of emotional and conceptual storytelling that neither example fully managed. But where it succeeds best – and it succeeds exactly – is as a film. The action and posing and posturing is very post-Matrix (remember the early 00s where every film was the new Matrix or the new Memento? This is, of course, both). It’s full of floating and slow motion. But, this is the thing: Nolan manages to find sweet justification for each and every chunk of spectacle. It plays with the action-movie cliché of those last few impossibly slow seconds before the bomb goes off and, again, justifies and finds purpsoe for them. Which mirrors the time dilation of coming out of a long film into the real world (it’s a film which, yes, people sitting next to me, feels longer than it is) and that’s all part of the plot as well as the atmosphere. It’s a film about films, just in the sense that it’s such a shining example of a film that understands films. Inception’s basic premise, and the early reveals, are based around the most obvious narrative cliche in the world: …and it was all a dream. The twist becomes not oh it was all a dream but rather, already knowing that’s in the deck, will they play that card? And where? …It is, essentially, a film I could write about all day. All my actual conversations on the matter, however, have been much more closed. That’s the other thing about seeing a film with people: I never want to say anything after the film. I need a little digestion time, a little time to try out thoughts and come up with something intelligent to say. The first thing I said about this film, which will probably remain the most true, was that the the more people say they loved Inception, the less I’ll love it. And every time someone comes home from the cinema, showering it with praise, true enough, I resent the film (and the people) just a tiny bit. Why wasn’t that it how it was for me? I can tell you why: I watched it with a different audience. And that’s how it’ll always be. (In conclusion: courtesy of this here tumblr, via Miles) *’attend’ seems like the right word. For all the holiness I feel music holds over other cultural forms, going to the cinema is the one that feels most like going to church.**Hmm. I feel a plan forming…
day 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angry And the bottom has, inevitably, started to fall out of British summer, making today an even more perfect Kenickie day than yesterday… Los Campesinos! – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed It should be pointed out that I don’t really listen to music as an anger-reliever or -enhancer. This is largely because I’m not very good at getting angry, certainly not for an extended period of time. Put it down to a testosterone deficiency or whatever. However, the stuff I do like that would usually be considered ‘angry’ (Rage Against Machine, Gallows, most good hip-hop) is used for having a good time with. I nearly slipped Orchestra of Wolves into yesterday’s position for making this point. Even WABWAD doesn’t make me angry, per se, but I can’t help, no doubt to the bemusements of other pedestrians, but shout along: “I cannot emphasise enough that my bodyIs a badly designed, poorly put together vesselHarbouring these diminishing, so called vital organs HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRSTI HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST” This loses some of its power written down (like almost all LC! lyrics, for reasons we’ll get into/have gotten into another time) but those capitals are well earned. These sorts of carve-them-into-your-arm bits are dotted across the song (“We kid ourselves there’s future in the hugging/But there is no hugging future”*) and it’s easy to see how, if I ever actually learn to get angry, they might come in useful. *Why does almost every choice I make try its hardest to contravene the site’s (arbitrary, but fun) family-friendly rules? Naughty, naughty. As my mom once bemoaned… those rockstars, they like the f-word, don’t they?
As my life takes on the traditional summer-holiday form of long days of gaming with little other nutrition, so do my for-the-blog scribblings become a games-only paradise*. But none of them still quite scratch the lingering itch that only Spelunky can satisfy. That is, something elegant yet mindless to do with my fingers while I chat/watch TV/listen to music. It’s why my girlfriend plays Tetris and Spider Solitaire while she catches up on Smallville**, why my flatmates play endless hours of Football Manager; it’s the unique debt we owe to laptops. 5 of us in a room, following (currently) the many running-people on TV and listening to the Ramones and discussing the “is she a man” controversy and never breaking the illusion of social contact.There’s a sense of pure uncomplicated flow to all these games that just fills a need. And even in console games- which tend to be a just-for-me, more serious time-consuming activity, I’ve found myself craving that flow. I think this is exacerbated by the death of my 360 and, in lieu of shooty games, seeking that other love of mine, the jumpy game. And it’s something I’ve just failed to find in the amusing, interesting mechanics of Super Paper Mario, or the pretty cartoon landscapes and addictive challenges of Wario Land: Shake It. They’re just not bouncy enough, frankly. It’s the same reason I love the Ninja Gaiden games, infuriatingly difficult though they might be at times, over more artistically interesting (and equally infuriating) games like, say, No More Heroes***. Now, having not touched Ninja Gaiden for maybe 6 months, if I close my eyes, I can imagine the exact moves. My fingers twitch automatically, dancing for where the buttons should be- a quick bounce of that guy’s head (R + A) to flip back off wall (A), then shoot myself (Y) back at him, get in a quick couple of slices (XX) before finishing with a uppercut stab (Y). There’s a sense of these games as an extension of your body, and the repetitive motion is their draw. It’s not a longing to do a particular level or move in Ninja Gaiden that causes me to inevitably crack open the case every six months- it’s a desire for its familiar mechanics. It’s soothing and at the same time I feel powerful. Which might seem a bit of a paradox in a game so infamously difficult, and with Spelunky being almost as hard. Sometimes the actual flow of movement on screen gets interrupted, often by death, but as I learn, I internalise the game’s mechanics. In Spelunky (and when I watch my girlfriend play Spider Solitaire I can see it happening in her head), I can look at a situation and, if I take my time, imagine the many- but finite- possible outcomes. The arc this thrown rock will take, how and when that spider will fall- into an arrow trap, which might wake the skeleton-is it an undeador just a throwable skull?- a simple bombshould solve it and let me safelydown to the next– I’m sorry, I need to go and play Spelunky. I’ve spent too long quietly typing this and not paying attention to the running-types on TV.*And, I realise, quite rarely committed to the blog itself. Internet’s been in a mess, etc. Comment if you’ve really missed me enough that you feel left down.**This isn’t an activity I encourage, but am consistently morbidly curious about it.***You can’t even jump in NMH. This is a travesty. (Confession: I’m aware this is about the most autobiography-heavy post I’ve ever done, for which I apologise. Handsome or no, I’m certainly less interesting than ninjas, tomb-raiders and Britney Spears.Confession II: I’m also aware the point of this post meandered more than a little. Apologies to the many teachers and markers who I am sure will recognise this quirk from every essay I’ve ever written.)
So you’ve seen the film, you’ve experience the pulse of a slight geek-on against your thigh, and …frankly, you want MORE.Well, buy the comics, say I?Which comics though? If only there was some kind of guide to which comics to buy… Sigh. A man can dream, I suppose.