2010: The Third Quarter – Filmz

Toy Story 3 It’s been a remarkably strong few months in the cinema. I started to suspect that as I emerged from Toy Story, for my money the strongest entry in the series and quite possibly a goodbye to Pixar as we know it. (I never exercised my theory in the below review, but looking at the schedule – Cars 2 next, then splintering off into a mix of unnecessary sequelitis, unpromising fantasy fiilms and even live-action – it seems like the beloved company is undergoing something of a sea change, and that we stood, in the brief moment between Up and this, at their high watermark. It feels like that beautiful ‘wave speech’ from Fear & Loathing.) “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.” The review is the second part of a double-feature. Keeping the original confusion alive, it’s probably best to read the Inception half first. Inception Inception consumed the public consciousness for a good month or so. It’s settled down now, but I suspect, if picked at, those wounds will prove easy to reopen. I talked about it at length, because it’s Inception and that’s just what you do, here. “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?” I would have liked to see it twice, in this year of double-dip cinema (Scott Pilgrim and Toy Story so far, undoubtedly going to see The Social Network again). My opinions never got tested, and I missed the chance to wail along with that score. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World The film I had to see twice: “The hits that it lands are truly triumphant, though. The thing that struck me most second time was the music. It’s brilliant, and brilliantly used, and Edgar Wright’s description of the film as a musical with punches rings really true.” It didn’t occur to me either time, but Scott Pilgrim is a pop-song of a film. Catchy bits get stuck in your head. It doesn’t necessarily make 100% sense, but when it catches you, and you’re dancing frantically in the moment, it’s all you need. And like any pop song, it needs to be heard more than once. Otherwise how would you know when to dance? The Expendables See, here’s the problem with The Expendables: I wanted it to be one thing, though I knew it would never be that thing. Given its unique selling point is ‘we have all the action stars’, I hoped for a reflection on the genre and its heroes. Whenever the film lagged (and during a lot of the dialogue-heavy segments, or the exposition stuff, it really lagged), I couldn’t help but figure out how that film would work. Jason Statham the representative of the Modern Action Hero, against the ridiculous colossi of Stallone & Schwarzenegger? Each character an amalgam of the characters that actor had played? I wanted something simultaenously less serious and more intelligent. A post-modern wink of an action film. What I got instead, though, was occasional brilliance. A feeling augmented by the company and mindset I saw it in : we were the people laughing hardest in the cinema, perhaps the only people. The violence is ridiculous, and set up like a well-told, but silly joke. The opening scene drags on too long, trying to pile on tension and real-world allusions. And then, BAM, the first shot is fired and a man is ripped in half, his torso flying across the screen followed by flowing red ribbons. The four of us laughed uncontrollable squealing, ribcage-rattling laughs. Crap dialogue. Rubbish attempts at emotion. Ultra-violence. It was the best comedy I’ve seen this year. When the lights went up, a couple sat in front of us turned round and smiled what I think was a sincere smile. The film that could have been… this was our only shot at it. And that beautiful, strange film can never exist. But I did get to see a man take another man’s head off with a throwing knife. Shrek Forever After Provider of undoubtedly the biggest face-palm moment of my blogging year, when I accidentally linked to the review in my Summer Without Games article (the most popular post this humble website’s ever had) instead of the intended Mario Galaxy, presumably confusing the hell out of hundreds of readers. Sorry guys! “Being honest, I didn’t really want to like Shrek Forever After, or Shrek The Final Chapter, or whatever the hell it’s calling itself. I’d heard bad things; I automatically mistrust franchises that stretch beyond trilogies, and I oppose Dreamworks’ animated films on principle. In return, Shrek did its very best to make this easy for me.” That’s how the review in question starts. The rest is here. Panique au Village Or, if I’m being a little less precious, A Town Called Panic. Absolutely the purest cinema experience I’ve had all year. Decided arbitrarily to go and see it based on a convenient showing time and use of the words ‘parachuting cows’ in the synopsis. It didn’t fail to live up to that promise. Full of wonky DIY inventiveness, the film is the greatest fountain of ideas I’ve experienced since Mario Galaxy 2. It’s lovingly, obviously crafted in that Aardman way: you can almost see the hands moving the little plastic indians and animals around the screen. The film’s a PG but I couldn’t help but feel like a naughty child who’d snuck into a grown-up’s screening: not quite knowing what they were seeing, but loving every […]

Can I (not) Take U 2 The Cinema, pt. 2

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:

Can I (not) Take U 2 The Cinema, pt. 1

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…