Horror at the cinema

It was with genuine excitement and anticipation that I attended a 9pm screening of Hereditary in Cardiff Cineworld this week. The film was almost universally praised by critics when it premiered at Sundance 2018 in January, and six months later it’s been massively hyped in nearly every media outlet, with frequent comparisons to horror classics, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, and reviews proclaiming it “a disorientating cocktail”, “nightmarish”, “a brilliant fear machine”, and “emotional agony…so raw” you will “see things you can never un-see and feel pain you can never un-feel”; acclaim that’s all the more impressive given it’s writer-director Ari Aster’s debut.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only cinema-goer intrigued by the promise of “pure evil”, and as I tapped away at the self-service screen to purchase tickets, I saw with dismay that the auditorium was nearly full. Even as I selected two seats near the front, they were snatched up before I could reach the checkout. This was concerning. I don’t hold a high opinion of the general public. I wouldn’t invite strangers into my lounge to watch a film, I wouldn’t gather with them around an iPad at a bus stop, and I’m no more keen to sit with them anywhere else. But I was here now, I would give viewers the benefit of the doubt, try a bit of trust in humanity.

Nonetheless, a few minutes later as I settled into my seat for the pre-film trailers, I was still anxious. I hoped the spirit of the genre would be honoured by its audience, that they would sit silently with phones off and allow the promised “crawling dread” to get under my skin. After all, the success and enjoyment of any good horror movie hinges on its “profoundly disturbing” atmosphere, on the audience’s suspension of disbelief, on a willingness to be absorbed, drawn in, and emotionally battered. If that’s spoiled, the film is spoiled.

This isn’t a review, but in truth, Hereditary was fairly horrifying (albeit not quite a “terrifying masterpiece”). Watching at the cinema though, I was reminded that the real horror is not dished out on screen. It’s in the crackle and crunch of wrappers during a moment of silent suspense, the inapt raucous laughter following a stomach-turning image, the distracting white blaze of phones in peripheral vision, the buzz of notifications, the endless masticating and whispering, the contagion of coughing and sniffing. It’s weak bladders, and late entries, and changing seats. It’s people with sledge hammers on their shoes and the dexterity of lego hands. On that note, do people become more clumsy at the cinema? Are they struggling to hold things in the dark? Why are they holding anything? And if they must, why can’t they put it down gently? Around an hour into the showing, somebody kicked a bottle over. Twenty minutes later there was a clatter as if someone had dropped a tray full of tools. The immediate disruption on both occasions was followed by cursing and giggling, as well as being seen as an opportunity to open new packets of munchies and unzip sweaty items of clothing with about as much subtlety and discretion as kids stomping bubblewrap or Gordon Ramsay berating his trainee chefs. But we’re not watching this in an effing kitchen! For some reason, people have paid money to sit in a specialised darkened room to do all this.

By the end, I’d concluded that the perfect cinema would ban phones outright. To identify social media addicts hoping to smuggle in contraband, spectators would be frisked while passing through a series of metal detectors with more vigorous inspections than Heathrow Airport. Entry would be prohibited after a missed start and tickets voided. Food and drink would not be sold on premises or permitted for consumption anywhere on site except by intravenous drip. Offenders would be expelled. Repeat offenders would be shot. People needing toilet breaks would have a choice to hold it in, leave and forfeit reentry, or use a urinary catheter or Shewee. A screening is 2-3 hours people, you can’t all be incontinent or diabetic!

Hereditary may be a “modern horror classic”. It may be the “most terrifying horror film in years”. I won’t know until I watch it again, in the perfect solitude of my living room, with the lights out and edibles banned. Sadly, this time it’ll be devoid of surprises and twists and its capacity to scare will be diluted. The cinematic experience it offers has been irrevocably neutered for me. Seconds into the film I knew it was ruined. I wanted to stand up and shout ‘Fine! I’ll wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it by myself!’ but much to my girlfriend’s relief, I didn’t.

I won’t watch horror at the cinema again, though, I’ll get my “pure emotional terrorism” at home. The sooner films go straight to Netflix and Amazon Prime, the better.

Liam Neeson’s ‘Non-Stop’ demonstrates the Rise of the Ageing Action Hero

Tomorrow sees Liam Neeson’s return as yet another antique action hero in Non-Stop [1], the story of an air marshall whose passenger flight is held hostage to the tune of $150m. Since 2008 hit Taken reminded audiences that the older gent can still kick ass and hold his own at the box office, Neeson, 61, has starred in a spate of action flicks including The A-Team, Unknown and Taken 2, and is showing no signs of slowing, with Taken 3 already announced [2] and lead roles in upcoming action thrillers A Walk Among The Tombstones (fall 2014) and Run All Night (2015). Whilst Neeson initially dismissed the possibility of reprising his character, Bryan Mills, in a third Taken movie, joking, “that’s just bad parenting,” he was reportedly enticed back to the role with a handsome $20 million cheque [3]. Nice work if you can get it, but the real question is: why can he get it? Why is Hollywood paying out sums of that scale for action stars in their twilight years? One thing is clear, Neeson is far from the only oldie picking up the gun; there are plenty of other stars clamouring to put the silver back in silverscreen…

Arnold Schwarzenegger, or affectionately, “Arnie”, 66, exploded back in to cinemas after his political hiatus in action ensemble blow-ups, The Expendables and The Expendables 2. He subsequently manned the minigun in The Last Stand and then again reunited with Sylvester Stallone, 67, for more high-octane action in last year’s Escape Plan. Not to be left out, The Expendables 3 will see Harrison Ford, 71, joining the current posse alongside Mel Gibson, 58, who, despite leading the excellent and criminally underrated prison thiller, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, a few years ago, isn’t exactly bankable these days. (In fact, given his chequered and controversial past, for many it’s a mystery his career has even survived this long. I, for one, thought The Beaver was his death knell.)

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How to be one of the highest grossing actors in Hollywood

So you’ve seen the highest grossing actors list, dollar signs have fluttered like birds around your punch-drunk noggin, and you’ve realised that with your unique acting chops, winning charisma and burning lust for fame, you too could become a bona-fide Forbes listed gold magnet in Hollywood’s perpetually booming movie machine. Your parents always told you that anything was possible, and they were right, but here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you’re aiming to shoot for the stars:

Start out sporty and don’t ever give up on your six pack. Without a doubt, action heroes are the biggest money-makers, and revealing your innards like Thor doesn’t happen over night. Aside from vigorously hitting the gym, finding an exhilarating passion is probably a good idea: Chris Hemsworth has a lifetime love of surfing [1], Dwayne Johnson wrestled since childhood, rising to fame as WWE nutcase ‘The Rock’, and the late Paul Walker started every morning with a few hours of Brazilian jiu jitsu [2]. Even the oldies have athletic backgrounds; John Goodman won a football scholarship to university, Billy Crystal obsessed over baseball and Steve Carrell has always had a knack for ice hockey.

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Over-50 and acting? Join the Wizard’s Institute…

After reading Damian Lewis’ disparaging comments towards Ian McKellen and McKellen’s mild-mannered if acerbic retort, were you left wondering if perhaps Lewis was on to something? Well ponder no longer…

Ian McKellen, charged with conspiracy to conjure aged 74 but first offense aged 62. The assumed target of Lewis’ initial critical comments, McKellen is obviously best known for his towering role of Gandalf in all of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth epics. I’ll leave it to commenters to debate whether perhaps his turn as metal-morphing mentalist Magneto in the X-Men franchise also qualifies – my own guess, probably not.

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Is it time to give up on film ratings altogether?

“The reliability and validity of the movie ratings system are problematic, and its usefulness for parents limited,” declared a study published on Monday in which researchers of the University of Pennsylvania concluded that US film ratings barely distinguish between levels of violence depicted in PG-13s and R rated films [1]. Following so swiftly after a separate study last month determined that the level of gun violence in PG-13s exceeds that of films rated R and has tripled since 1985 when MPAA ratings began [2], is it time to stop questioning the efficacy and merits of the rating system and instead consider scrapping or replacing it altogether?

Perhaps it is inevitable that any group dictating age specific censorship will draw criticism, be it the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) or the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but studies specifically undermining the classification of films and highlighting deep flaws in the rating process underline an urgent need to reform or replace the current system. Amy Bleakley, the lead author of Monday’s study suggests: “It seems like [the ratings system] is not necessarily doing the job it set out to do in terms of shielding youth from inappropriate content” [3] and it’s hard to argue, but I suppose it all depends on what you consider to be ‘inappropriate content’.

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Hunger Games: Catching Fire epitomises the potent draw of cinema for pre-film advertisers.

There was a time when turning up to a film late guaranteed that you would be fumbling in the dark for a seat. These days, you can whack an extra hour on your parking ticket, because pre-film adverts, trailers and infomercials will extend the screening time by at least another thirty minutes.

Blazing dramatically in to cinemas, in the US alone, The Hunger Games grossed over $161 million on its opening weekend, the highest November box office, and the fourth highest of all time [1]. That’s a lot of bums on seats, and an unrivalled captive audience for advertisers. According to Digital Cinema Media (DCM), research shows that 89% of cinemagoers watch cinema on-screen advertising [2] – an unsurprising figure, given that the entire audience is sat gazing at the screen in expectation for their film to start, the same film that, in all probability, they just paid an extortionate entry fee to view.

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The all new 3D silence: an indication the third dimension has at last been welcomed by audiences, or merely tacit resignation?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, almost every visit to a film site would have you clicking through endless diatribes of the hotly debated views surrounding 3D cinema. Albeit hovering uncertainly in cinemas on and off since the 50s, it was Avatar in 2009 that essentially detonated the 3D explosion, with director James Cameron bragging that the film had been built from the ground up for over a decade with 3D in mind, and heralding new 3D technology to boot. It smashed box office records and wowed audiences the world over, breathing new life in to a cash cow that would soon have industry executives rubbing their hands with glee. But even after the initial hysteria around the new wave of so-called ‘RealD’ technology, the web remained awash with naysayers. In fact, by the end of 2010, following Avatar’s triumphant release only a year earlier, critics and pundits were already harbingering the decline and inexorable doom of 3D [1][2][3][4], and by the fall of 2012, 3D was widely regarded a dying format [5][6][7][8][9]. Yet here we are, at the close of another year replete with 3D releases, and there is an unsettling, ominous silence. The detractors are mute, the fever has subsided – is it resignation or acceptance?

Back in October 2012, a reader poll in SFX found that 42.25% of respondents “hate” 3D, with a further 28% saying that they “can’t see 3D” or it causes them problems. Only 13.75% responded positively [10]. Albeit a very specific sample and a year ago, the response still seems to bear true now:

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An interview with Ink’s Jamin Winans

Writer-Director-Jamin-WinanInterview with Jamin Winans about his film, Ink. First published back in April 2011 on Smellofnapalm.com (which has since gone offline). He had a lot of (still relevant) views regarding piracy so I thought I’d reproduce it here for interest. Jamin was really receptive to my questions and as you’ll see, more than happy to give extended, thoughtful answers.

Piracy and torrent downloads reportedly gave Ink massive exposure and you are quoted to have said that you “embraced the piracy” – was that specific to your film, or are you unperturbed by piracy in general? Do you believe it has the potential to be beneficial to film makers?

That’s a really great question and actually one that no one else has asked. There have been some misconceptions about how the piracy happened with Ink. Some have thought we released it ourselves on torrent and that’s not true. It was torrented by someone who bought the disk just a few days after it was released.

Suddenly it blew up on Pirate Bay and we were honestly shocked. However, when we initially released Ink in the States we had absolutely no marketing money. An underground fanbase was developing, but it was at a trickle. When Ink hit the torrent sites our sales shot way up and the exposure was unprecedented. Ink was ranked around #12,000 on IMDB before the piracy and then it shot to #16 in a week and #14 the next week. In regards to exposure it was competing with all the major Hollywood films. Obviously the piracy was a good thing for us and so we embraced it.

My feelings about piracy of other films are mixed. I don’t see any reason why people in the States need to pirate films when there are services like Netflix that are very inexpensive, extremely convenient, and have every movie you can imagine. But the Hollywood model for the rest of the world seems to be antiquated. Frequently films don’t come out for months if not years after their release in the States and when they do come out they’re often overpriced for a lot of people in other areas of the world.

I’m not saying I condone the piracy as ethical, but I certainly understand why most piracy comes from outside the States. We’ve lived in Bulgaria for a few months and there piracy is just a way of life. There are no video stores anywhere and the only way to get a movie is to download it illegally for free or rent it on iTunes for $3.99. For a Bulgarian that it would be like spending $10-$15 to watch a movie when you can get it for free.

I would think Hollywood would be wise to start making their films available everywhere instantly for a very affordable price and do it as soon as possible. Otherwise they’re fighting a losing battle because there doesn’t seem to be a good way to inforce anti-piracy in the States let alone worldwide.

How piracy might help other filmmakers I don’t know. I think it helped Ink enormously because we had a good deal of word of mouth in advance while no one could see it. Ink is also a film that fit the piratebay demographic more than a lot of indie films so I wonder how successful a torrent release would be for most indie films. Above all else I think indie filmmakers need to make their films available any way possible because their greatest threat isn’t piracy, but obscurity.

You may be unwilling to state outright, but viewers the world over will no doubt be as curious as I am…who is Liev? (And is it deliberately “Veil” backwards?”

Wow, another thoughtful question. And I know what you’re getting at, but that’s actually one question I’m going to leave open simply because I hate to alter someone else’s experience by adding my own commentary.

What was the most difficult aspect of bringing your vision for Ink to the screen? For example, for a picture of Ink’s size and scope you were working within a relatively minuscule budget, was that incredibly limiting?

The budget was a huge challenge, but it also gave us tremendous freedom. The more money a film takes to make, the more restrictions you have. Our tiny budget let us make the movie we wanted to make. That said, we all almost died making it. It was the most exhausting and emotionally draining experience I have every been through. It was a marathon shoot that lasted 83 days and we were always way under-crewed, under-paid, and overworked. But hey, we were making a movie, what room do we have to complain? We owe an enormous amount of gratitude to our very small crew who shouldered an enormous amount of our budgetary limitations. To some degree the budget forced us to be a lot more creative. We were making decisions we wouldn’t normally make if we could just throw money at a problem. And to a large degree I think the film benefits from it. It’s just a shame it took a couple years off my life.

What was your main inspiration behind the film?

As a kid I grew up having lucid nightmares about the witch from Snow White trying to kidnap me while I was sleeping. Yes, terrifying I know. And by “kid” I mean 25. That image stuck with me a long time and one day I started writing a story around who that “witch” was. Ultimately the witch turned into Ink and a whole story about redemption came out. Probably my way of reaching peace and trying to understand my captor. Funny how things start. Oddly, Ink still looks a lot like the witch from Snow White.

Which film makers did you draw influence from; it seems to me to contain elements of David Lynch and Tarsem Singh?

Amen. Yes, huge Lynch fan, but I think you’re one of the only people who’s made that connection so kudos. Also a big Tarsem fan though I don’t know he’s as big an influence on this particular film. I grew up with a Terry Gilliam doll who was my only friend. Okay, not quite, I didn’t have any friends but Terry Gilliam was clearly a major influence. I have a lot of other influences that aren’t as obvious. I would stalk Michael Mann if I had more time and maybe ask him to adopt me, I’m an avid fan of Barry Levenson, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Frank Capra and blah, blah, blah. I’m just a huge fan of anyone making “cinema” and not just movies. I love working in the mindbending and sci-fi/fantasy genres, but I love all genres.

What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the pipeline?

We do. We have a sci-fi/fantasy in the works that we’ll likely shoot this year, but that will depend how quickly we get it setup. It’s very hush-hush at the moment, but we’re really excited about it. We’ll probably start posting more details on Facebook in a couple months so if your readers want to know more, just search Ink on Facebook and we’ll harass you with the latest.

Thanks for your time.

By all means. Thank you for the great questions and watching the film so thoughtfully. We’re thrilled to have the exposure.

Camera men required – feature film

One or two camera men needed.

The role: shooting first camera (DSLR 5D/ 7D) on an ultra low budget, indie feature film.
The dates: must be available 24 June – 8 July.
The deal: Travel and accommodation paid for. This is an ideal, short term summer project for a film graduate/ young filmmaker.

Message me if you’re interested: ben@alienoptics.com

 

Why piracy is still the most attractive option available to consumers (…in most cases…)

Why piracy is still the most attractive option, even for those who actively WANT and are HAPPY to pay for the content on offer. In each scenario, I give the honest, law-abiding version, and the ‘dishonest/ illegal’ version. See which you find more appealing:

CINEMA

You pay to go to the cinema.

PROS: You get to see the film on the day of it’s release in the country of release. The film is (hopefully) good visual quality and on the big screen. If you have a rare, attentive and quiet audience, it’s enjoyable to share the ‘big screen experience’ with other people.

CONS: You have to pay. You are bombarded with anti-piracy adverts, ordinary adverts and trailers for films you may or may not want to see – some of which, if you pay to go to the cinema regularly, you will have already seen several times before. You face extraordinary prices for mundane things, and I’m talking a mark up of often several 100% over normal street prices. You are usually faced with an annoying, talking, rustling, popcorn munching audience with whom there is nothing enjoyable about sharing the ‘big screen experience’. The film may be already released over seas whilst it is still unwatchable in your country so you could be waiting an agonising amount of time whilst others are already reviewing, blogging and posting spoilers about it elsewhere in the world.

You pirate the movie.

PROS: It’s free. No ads of any kind, watch it when you want, share it with whoever you like, watch it on any device, usually a smallish digital file size, watch it as soon as it’s pirated – no ocean divides #nooceans, watch it with whoever you want with food that you’ve purchased yourself at reasonable prices, in a sociable environment if you so choose…

CONS: A smaller screen. Potentially fractionally lower quality, both audio and video – if you download a ‘cam’ then you’re looking at substantially lower quality, although why anyone would debase film like that in this day and age is a mystery to me…

BLU-RAY and DVD

You buy a DVD or Blu ray disc.

PROS: The best quality available. You can watch it at your leisure. It’s neatly boxed and packaged. You can lend the disc to a friend and they can watch it.

CONS: You have to pay. You are forcibly bombarded with anti-piracy adverts. These screens are nine times out of ten unskippable and frustratingly delay your viewing. Occasionally you have to put up with ordinary adverts too, despite having paid. You have to wait until the film is released on DVD/ Blu-ray, usually several weeks or months after it has been released in cinemas. As with cinema releases, discs are released at different times around the world, so others can be buying the film abroad whilst you’re still waiting. Studios release and re-release and re-re-release discs again and again in the hope of sponging more money from you. You might think you have the ‘Uncut’ version, but what about the ‘Directors Cut’ and the ‘Collectors Edition’ and the ‘Super Directors Uncut Collectors Edition’? A prime example of this was the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition blu-rays which were calculatedly released months after the theatrical version blu-rays. It’s not usually equipped with a digital copy, so you can only watch it with the right auxilliary hardware (ie. a blu ray/ dvd player).

You pirate the movie.

PROS: As before… It’s free. No ads of any kind, watch it when you want, share it with whoever you like, watch it on any device, usually a smallish digital file size, watch it as soon as it’s pirated – no ocean divides #nooceans

CONS: Potentially substantially lower quality, both audio and video.

BOOKS

You buy an eBook

PROS: Assuming you read it on the device it was purchased for; good quality, legitamate (so customer services to solve any quality issues) You can read it right away as soon as it’s downloaded.

CONS: You have to pay, and often pay exorbitantly given that there are no distribution costs (printing, transport etc.) If you lose the digital copy (considerably easier to do than losing a book) then you may have to buy another. It is incompatible with other e-readers other than the device it was purchased for (eg. Amazon – Kindle, Kobo store – Kobo reader etc.)

You pirate an eBook.

PROS: It is free. It is DRM-free. You can read it on any device (once converted to the appropriate file format). You can share it with whoever you like and redownload it as many times as you like.

CONS: It may need to be converted for your e-reader, athough usually it doesn’t need to. As a result of this, it may have formatting issues. If DRM-free content is detected on your device, some companies can and will remote wipe your device (including books you have legally purchased) – Amazon, I’m looking at you.

What is especially frustrating in the example of books, is that if you own a book, if it is on your shelf at home (ie. after you have paid good, hard earned cash for it), then you can trade it, share it, sell it on, give it away to charity, whatever you like. It’s yours. If you buy the eBook, despite paying the same amount (or in some instances more), you are bound by DRM and obstructed from sharing it, reading it on multiple devices, deleting and redownloading it. You are effectively paying to BORROW a book. That sucks. It shouldn’t even be legal, that’s what libraries are for.

SO HERE’S THE THING

When all of the PROS of honest, legal consumerism far outweigh the CONS, then you can expect a decline in piracy. Right now, in the two industries above (film and books) it seems nobody is making any effort to rectify the unbalance. Whilst that’s the case, why should the consumer go out of their way, to be inconvenienced and charged for an inferior product than they can get elsewhere for free?

You’ll notice that music is not one of the industries listed above. That’s because the music industry has slowly but surely tackled their piracy problem, at least to some degree. How? Through online shopping, streaming, and music on demand services, and through stripping tracks of Digital Rights Management (DRM) ie. DRM-free.

Almost all of the music I own these days is bought and paid for legitamately, through iTunes, or Google Play or Amazon MP3. I have spent more money on music since these online, music on demand services have launched than I ever did at any time in my life before that. Music in the cloud means that I can listen across all of my devices. It means if I lose a song I can redownload it. Most importantly, it means that once I have paid for a tune, it belongs to me. People are willing to pay for content, it just has to be worth paying for.

So here is the message, and hell, how it’s heart felt:

Studios, distributors, publishers – if you fuck with the consumer, the consumer will fuck you right back. Instead of attacking consumers, labelling them as criminals, trying to frighten and intimidate them through legal tactics and law suits, how about you just offer a fucking service that people are happy to pay for?