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.

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:

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

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?

Review: Terry – a fly on the wall peak at London’s street culture

Writer/ director/ actor Nick Nevern has definitely found a platform to show himself off: playing the role of London yob Terry in this faux-documentary drama about a dodgy london geezer and his ‘friendship group’ cum clan. They are hooligans and this is a close up and dirty portrayal of yob culture; street thugs with knives, drugs and attitudes. The film is essentially a gritty fly on the wall peak at Terry’s chaotic life and it’s an absolute masterclass on how to make a film on budget, shot on a camcorder and with a budget of less than £500! It could be perceived as a “happy-slap” flick, but honestly, it is much more than that.

Our camera man is introduced; given a name, Charlie, and a face – metal studded with a goatee, he looks much rougher than he sounds. He’s a film student making a documentary for his end of year showcase. He never really elaborates on his exact purpose behind filming Terry and crew, but it is implied that it’s kind of a social experiment, “a human study”. His subject: a sturdy, bald bloke with a predilection for cigarettes and the word ‘fuck’. He’s the very definition of streetwise and he doesn’t take any shit.

This is Terry. He’s a waster. He gets up in his dingy apartment, sparks a fag and then brushes his teeth with his finger over the kitchen sink. He drinks 90% of the day, and the other 10% he does coke. When Terry is around, a knife is never out of reach and things can turn sour, from amiable banter to violence, in an instant. He meanders from party to party with no ambition besides a drink and a good time. It’s a different life, a different culture, and it has different rules – specifically: there are none. Spencer is like the damaged chick Terry has taken under his wing. He’s a wannabe playboy who ends up spending most of his dough on prostitutes, and he sticks to Terry like glue. The two are “basically” best friends. Billy Black is a wannabe gangsta thinking he’s a wise guy. He talks the talk but he can’t walk the walk. He pisses Terry off.

These are the three central protagonists, and although we are slowly introduced to the rest of Terry’s posse, these are the three with whom most of the dramatic action takes place. There’s a lot of testosterone motivating these macho characters, and with so much conflict between the main parties things are inevitably going to get out of hand.

Terry walks a fine line that may not even exist, between a raw, brutal drama and a feel-good buddy movie. Yes it’s brutal, it’s savage and it’s totally unapologetic, but it’s never very intense. It retains an almost light-hearted and nonchalant air throughout, which is a relief because in a different light the content could have been too dark to watch. Instead Nevern finds humour in the unlikeliest of places and it’s difficult not to be swept up in the groups good natured jibing, and nonsensical banter. The chances are you’ll find yourself grinning at the most inappropriate times!

Much like Man Bites Dog, the fantastic french faux-doc about a serial killer, Terry approaches it’s subject with no prejudice and no rule book and it encourages the viewer to do likewise. Also similarly to that film, the camera man Charlie starts out determined to remain distanced from his subjects but is inevitably engaged by them, influenced by them at times, which makes for an interesting visualisation of the effects of peer pressure, affecting both the camera man and the viewer totally subconsciously.

As with most films shot in this handheld style, usually ‘found footage’ horror ventures, the shaky camera work is occasionally over-exaggerated to the point of distraction and in an effort to remain realistic, the voices aren’t always clear in the sound mix, particularly in the pubs and clubs they visit in the first part of the film. (This could also be attributable to the aforementioned £500 budget!). However, the real achilles heel of Terry is actually the pacing. When the action kicks off it is extremely gripping and easy to watch, but it’s a long time before anything really grabs your attention. In fact, I think this is a flaw recognised by the film makers as the film begins with an unnecessary and in hindsight, quite jarring false start, presumably with the intention of sparking some interest before a low key first forty minutes.

For a certificate 18, Terry is surprisingly un-graphic and inoffensive. It is littered with almost constant drug abuse, and every other word is a swear word, but there is no gore and practically no sex, although the one sex scene is a grotty threesome. It’s likely the reason it has been donned such a high certificate is the realistic and cavalier attitude of the characters towards drugs and violence. There is no underlying moral about a correct code of conduct here, nothing to indicate whether their behaviour is acceptable or not, and without a negative stance towards these things, the BBFC will always designate certificates harshly, and perhaps quite rightly too.

Terry is a film that could have gone in so many directions, and the final route it ended up taking might not be the best one. To borrow a phrase from Downey Jr., there are vaguely sinister undertones to the beginning of the movie, Terry is described as “not human”, and is often seen apart from the group, introverted. Or in the midst of a lively evening out, we’ll catch a glimpse of him, staring savagely, suddenly possessed by some inner turmoil and rage.

Everybody seems to respect Terry but as the film progresses you realise that the ‘respect’ is actually fear. People are afraid of him, of his irrational mood swings and sudden bouts of aggression. Terry will batter you for looking at him the wrong way and then carry on laughing. Terry’s mental instability seems to escalate throughout, and at times he goes totally haywire. His state of mind could have been an interesting avenue for the film makers to explore – indeed, initially I thought the film was a portrayal of one mans gradual descent in to insanity through a storm of drug and alcohol abuse. But not so. Nevern had other ideas in mind and in the final act, the film seems to veer off at a tangent and resolve itself in a manner quite unexpected.

Terry is out on DVD now.

An Interview with Terry’s Nick Nevern

A couple of months ago I was given the fantastic opportunity of interviewing Nick Nevern, the director, lead actor and writer of low budget, cult indie-movie, Terry. The interview was on behalf of Smell of Napalm and was first published on that website as an exclusive. Nick Nevern was a pleasure to talk with despite being on set at the time; honest, forthcoming and very friendly, I felt like we were having a drink at the pub. Enjoy the interview.

What were your goals when you set out to make Terry?

Oh, fucking hell! [laughs] What were my goals when I set out to make Terry? Just to make something cheap that people could look at in years to come say and say you know, “wow, if that guy made a movie for that little, maybe I can make one as well” you know? I think I wanted to inspire people a little bit, and I also wanted to create a story of where I lived, representing people that I knew.

In the release notes you refer to creating an honest portrayal of characters and situations you grew up with –

Yeah, absolutely man.

Would you say that Terry is in any way autobiographical then, even vaguely?

Um…not really. I was a bit of a wild kid I’m not going to lie, but I was nowhere near a bully or anything like that, like Terry is. Terry’s a bully. If you look at the people he fights in the film and the people he starts on, no-one is like, his size or his…you know, and I wanted to show that as well, do you know what I mean? People are calling this film a gangster film and shit like that. It’s not. It’s not a gangster film, it’s a portrayal about one guy who is just really unhappy with himself. So I wouldn’t say it was autobiographical in anyway, but I do know people like that and I don’t think you can play a character like that convincingly unless you’ve kind of lived that life a little bit.

You obviously have quite a diverse TV career, but in terms of films, this is your first major role – is that something you’ve always aspired to and want to continue doing?

Oh absolutely! It’s funny because I’m on a feature film right now so yeah…if Terry’s the biggest feature film I’ve ever done then this has got to be the second. I’ve done a few before but not massive parts or anything like that so hopefully that’ll change.

What film are you on now?

I’m on a film called Outpost: Black Sun. I’m playing a Special Forces Commando by the name of James Carlisle who’s basically part of a group of six special forces unit, basically fighting against sort of, crazy, nazi types.

Sounds interesting…

Yeah, it’s a bit of a mad one.

Is there any possibility that we might get a glimpse of Terry’s uncertain future in another film at a later date, or have you sort of made your statement and you’re going to leave it or…?

Well a few people have asked if I want to do a sequel and it opens itself up to a sequel obviously quite well. But…I do want to do one and I’ve got a great idea for it. I’ve got a great idea for what I would do for the sequel! Obviously I’d make the sequel a bit bigger budget, do you know what I mean, get a better camera out! I’d do it a bit differently. Same style, same documentary style, but it would just look a hell of a lot better. But yeah, there are talks of a sequel. We’ll see how this one does, if this one flops well then there’s no point. If people want to see more then I don’t think Terry’s story is over.

That’s wicked! I’d definitely like to see a sequel.

Well yeah, I’ve got a great idea…we’ll see how the first one turns out. If people like it, and it sells well on the dvd and stuff like that. I mean, I always knew this was a DVD movie. My producer Jason Maza wanted it to go to cinema which it did obviously, but I always knew that the market would be on the DVD.

Were you strongly influenced by films shot in vaguely similar style, Man Bites Dog for example –

Oh, I love Man Bites Dog!

So that’s a parallel you’re happy with?

Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s not the first time that Terry’s been compared to that in any way. Obviously Man Bites Dog really broke the mould in that style of movie. Obviously you’ve got your Blair Witch Project and stuff like that, and you’ve got your Australian movies like with The Magician which is obviously a documentary style film following a contract killer…these things have been done before I guess. But what I tried to do with Terry is…you see the thing with Man Bites Dog is it’s an amazing, original piece but it just wouldn’t happen in real life, do you know what I mean? So I just tried to making something that might actually – could – happen.

It is cool when it ends and you see that, when you read as if it’s real and you see what happened to them, you’re just like: no way!

Totally man, totally. That’s the thing, a lot of people when they watch the first 20 minutes, half an hour through, a lot of people watch it and go, “what the fuck am I watching here? What is this, seriously? Is this for fucking real mate?” And obviously as it goes on you get that its not real, or maybe you don’t, I mean, a lot of people don’t! But I was heavily influenced by Man Bites Dog and Magician and films like that really. I’ve got to be honest, I’ve got no money! Someone wrote a review about Terry saying it was “low budget for low budget’s sake,” I think it was The Times yeah? The Times wrote, “Terry is low budget for low budget’s sake.” I don’t even know what that means! I made it for £500 because that’s all I had! I wasn’t trying to make like… it’s not like I had a million quid in my pocket and I thought, “I know what I’ll do, I’ll make a film for £500”. I wasn’t thinking like that, you know what I’m saying? Some people just don’t get it. They just don’t get that I was making it because, you know, I had no money. If I had a million pound I would have put a million pound in to it and then it wouldn’t look the same and it wouldn’t have the same effect.

This is your debut feature, has it been easy getting it off the ground, developing it from concept to completion or was it a bit of a struggle? What sort of problems did you encounter?

Basically, I had the idea to do it fucking ages ago. Like it was a different idea back then, it was more of a documentary about a real gangster and then I watched Donal MacIntyre’s film ‘A [Very] British Gangster’ which follows Dominic Noonan around for three years as a gangster in Manchester and I thought, “fucking hell, the geezer’s just taken my idea”, like obviously it was a real thing, but I thought “shit, that’s what I wanted to do”. So then I just sat it on a fucking shelf for ages and then I just thought, I’ll do it, but not about a real person. So then I called my mate Ian Duck who plays Spencer and I said, “listen mate, I wanna do this little thing, do you wanna do it?” and he was like, “yeah”, so then I called Manuel and I went to school with his older sister, I’ve known him for years. Everyone in the film that you see I’ve known for fucking years, absolute donkeys you know? So yeah, I made it and then it was like 2 hours long or something. Then Jason Maza got involved and he cut it down by about 45 minutes, he edited the soundtrack, I don’t know too much about that, so he sorted all that kind of stuff, and then obviously Lionsgate and stuff got involved and it all came together in the end. It was a bit of a struggle getting it to a certain point because no-one wanted to fucking touch it! The distributors have been fantastic, Lionsgate especially, it’s a £500 movie man, and they’ve pulled out all the stops. They’re advertising it well.

Do you prefer writing, directing or acting?

To be honest I prefer acting the most. Acting is where I started, it’s my bread and butter. Direction is something I’ve only got in to recently after Terry. I’ve just directed a music video for a guy called Snakey Man, ‘Making Moves’, it’s on YouTube, it’s featuring Noel Clarke, and it’s the actual music video for Terry, so there’s loads of cameos. So yeah, I’ve only done a few things, and I obviously want to do more, but acting is my bread and butter without a doubt.

What would be your advice to any aspiring writers and directors?

You can do it! If I can do it, you can do it! The Times said, and I quote, “The actors showreel is dead. Now all aspiring film makers need to succeed is a camcorder, a few willing mates and a few like, unbusy weekends” or something like that yeah? They were trying to diss me. They were trying to fucking diss me, but it’s true. If you’ve got people around you that want to get involved and do this: go and make your film! It doesn’t matter if it’s on a camcorder or a mobile phone or a 7D or a Red, you know? Make your film man. Don’t be shy, don’t be scared, don’t care what people think man. If you’ve got a story, go tell it.

Lastly, a question on a lighter note – what’s your favourite film?

Oh, what’s my favourite film? Oh man, we were talking about this on set actually. I don’t know, there’s so many.

Alright then, top 3! List a couple.

Obviously I’m a big fan of, you know, your Godfather’s, your Goodfellas, your Scarface’s…but I’m going to tell you, and this is an exclusive now! [laughs] My favourite film…of all time…is…Young Guns. Have you seen it? With Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and a couple of others, and Young Guns 2 is the first ever movie, I’ve cried since, but it was the first ever movie that made me bawl like a baby man. I watched that, and when the geezer dies in it…man, it was…I haven’t cried so much since Jamie Mitchell died in EastEnders man.

How old were you when you watched that then?!!

[laughs] But anything by Scorsese I’m a big fan. And British films. I love British films. Anything British. Anything British I fucking love. Dead Man’s Shoes, that’s a fucking good one.

Well, thanks very much for your time Nick, and congratulations on a great movie.

In the spotlight: Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine loversNormally when writing a review, I have the Napalm guidelines niggling at the back of my mind; the format, the structure, the word count. I’m grateful for this film to be writing totally independently, as Blue Valentine is a film that invites much more intimacy from the viewer.

I’m going to kick off with a quick note about the direction and the creative team behind the film as Blue Valentine is a piece of perfectly constructed on-screen theatre. It was directed by Derek Cianfrance and it’s his first feature film in over a decade, and only his second ever. His thoughtful style of direction gives a lot of credibility to the film’s subjects, and his handling of the more carnal scenes in particular stands out as honest rather than racy or erotic. Special kudos should also go to the fantastic costume designers and make-up artists. The changes in era, both through fashion and emotionally are very clear. Gosling’s diminished/ receding hairline is somewhat distracting, but only because I kept asking myself how they’d succeeded in changing him so drastically scene to scene.  Following the brawl he has with Michelle’s ex (and the father of his child), one could swear that his nose is actually out of joint!

Anyway, I digress. Blue Valentine is about a married couple who are struggling to sustain their relationship. More specifically, they are failing to sustain their relationship, and there’s a sad inevitability to the depressing outcome. It’s not abundantly clear exactly why their relationship is suffering but that’s largely irrelevant, and instead the focus flits between their history (their beautiful love story), and their present unhappiness.

Many movies expect you to suspend your disbelief to some degree (if not entirely), but Blue Valentine doesn’t require the same. On the contrary, it is the reality of the circumstances within the film that make it so poignant. In fact, it would be safe to say the only suspension of disbelief required is to take for granted that Ryan Gosling could be so forward almost to the point of being sinister, and yet remain utterly charming. (A feat he has achieved for the second time here, the first being in another heartbreaker, The Notebook).

Ryan Gosling as Dean
Imagine having the class to pull off that suit

Speaking of The Notebook, there are definite comparisons to be made between the two films. Gosling’s character in both is forthcoming, confident and intensely passionate. In both films his characters almost force their love upon their counterparts through persistence and straight up challenge. For instance, in The Notebook Noah hangs by one arm from a ferris wheel, saying he’ll let go unless Allie (Rachel McAdams) concedes to a date with him. In Blue Valentine, upon intuitively sensing that Cindy is concealing something from him, Dean threatens to jump off a bridge unless she is honest and open with him. Both films play with the idea of actual madness as a result of love, that to be ‘crazy’ in love is to the untrained eye still just crazy. Both Noah and Dean definitely have their ‘unhinged’ moments and share the passion that is polluting their sanity.

The controversy in America over the NC-17 rating Blue Valentine was initially cursed with was over the sexual content of the film. It was eventually overruled, and the certificate reduced to an R, but it’s an interesting issue, because it struck me that the sex scenes aren’t sex scenes in the conventional sense, they’re love scenes, which is perhaps exactly why the MPAA found cause for alarm. People are uncomfortable watching emotionally charged, lifelike love scenes, particularly when they’re not shot with soppy lovestruck smiles on the characters’ faces. As Gosling himself said in interview:

“I just think that 10 people that live in the valley, representing parents across America is… how is that possible? They just make these decisions and they decide for these parents what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. So, their tolerance of violence is so different to their tolerance of sexuality, and if there’s violence involved in the sexuality, it’s somehow perceived as entertainment, but if there’s love involved with sexuality it’s seen as pornographic, and therefore not acceptable.”

It’s a curious paradox, but I think he’s right.

Throughout the film it is hard not to sympathise with Gosling’s character Dean, as it is very much Cindy who has fallen out of love with him. The efforts he goes to to maintain and then reignite their flare are desperate, but clearly romantic, and he is evidently very much in love with her despite the uncomfortable rough patch they find themselves in. Cleverly, both characters are likeable in their own way, which leaves the viewer in somewhat of a quandary as to whose side to take. Gosling seems rational; his arguments are sound, his logic irrefutable, but there is no overcoming raw feelings, and Cindy is unhappy, which kind of takes precedent over other considerations, of which there are many. Take for example their child, Frankie (Faith Wladyka – a perfect piece of casting), where does their relationship leave her? On the one hand it would be unpleasant and unfair to raise her between two parents who are sick of one another, and on the other hand it is also questionable whether an all out separation would be equally damaging. These are real dilemmas facing real people day in and day out, and one of the reasons Blue Valentine is such an effective film. It relates to you directly.

Personally I did find the film distressing, with many parallels to my own relationship (which is thankfully still in it’s youthful and love smitten days – long may they live), but Gosling’s wife shares a similar name to my girlfriend, a similar ambition (both desire(d) to be doctors), and I would parallel myself with Dean in some ways too, unfortunately in some negative lights: arrogant, pedantic, occasionally self-righteous, but on the flipside, romantic and deeply caring. It’s easy for a film as convincingly portrayed as this one to get under your skin and I don’t think it’s unhealthy to seriously think about the troubling issues it raises.

It would be dangerous to say much more about Blue Valentine without ruining it through spoilers, or in the very least over analysing it (as an excellent English teacher once described to me – “cutting a canary’s throat to see what makes it sing”).

It is evident that both lead actors have tremendous talent. Michelle Williams was essentially unknown to me prior to this film. Sure, I’d seen Brokeback Mountain, but it didn’t make much of an impression (that’s another story for another time), whereas I’ll definitely remember her face after this one. Gosling, of course, one of my favourite actors, can apparently do no wrong, and here he brings another very human character to life with incredible conviction. While there are talents like these on display, I look forward to the future of film.

LoveSpeaking of which, Ryan Gosling has been confirmed to star in a remake of Logan’s Run and will also be hitting screens again soon in Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Drive, both due later this year, following which he’ll appear in George Clooney’s The Ides of March alongside George Clooney, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Clearly a man moving up in the world. I’m more than happy to watch him climb.

Note To Film Makers: Endings Matter

Whether it’s the screenwriters, the directors, or the studios – in too many films, someone doesn’t have the balls to finish the convincing, gritty ending that we’ve all been waiting for.

It happens time and time again, a fantastic premise, solid acting, characters that deserve a birth certificate… And then something happens. Somebody interferes. The flow of the movie is interrupted and all excellence scatters on the breeze. Plot holes appear, undermine the integrity of the film, and the whole story subsides, swallowed up in to the depths of the bargain basket and newspaper freebees.

What am I talking about? Some examples off the top of my head; Fracture, Murder by Numbers, Law Abiding Citizen, three films defined by four men of infinite genius, whose devious schemes are nigh on perfect in planning and execution, and yet each is brought down by petty contrivances or deus ex machinas, (usually as simplistic as bad luck).

Then think Se7en. The concept was bold and terrifyingly brutal and arguably it’s one of the best crime thrillers ever created. Why? Because it stuck around even after the final shot (pun intended). The inevitability of that final deadly sin, the sudden violence, the chord it strikes with everyone watching, knowing: “that’s what I would do”. I defy anybody to suggest they would act any differently to Brad Pitt’s character, Detective Mills, as the head of his wife is presented to him in a bloody box. Really, who wouldn’t pull the trigger in anger and hatred at her killer in those initial few seconds after the gruesome revelation? David Fincher and Andrew Kevin Walker were unafraid to do what so often needs to be done. Let the bad guy win. It’s an unforgiving climax that is memorable and moving because it is real. It is haunting because John Doe (played artfully by Kevin Spacey) succeeds.

Of course, there’s a happy alternative. Let the bad guy lose but back it up with something substantial, some irrefutable reason for their failure. Besides being disappointing, it’s insulting to an audience to spend a film building the character of a criminal mastermind, only to reveal, in some kind of clumsy twist, that he overlooked something elementary, or was dealt a duff card by the hand of God etc. etc.

On a lighter note of the same theme, The Inside Man, Spike Lee’s heist thriller was so entertaining because the robbers got away with it. It allowed you, even welcomed you to share the satisfaction of their success, and that was a joy that stayed with you long after the film finished. My point being that such endings mustn’t always be depressing.

Let me put it like this: if you make an audience root for the bad guy, you’re only going to disappoint them when you set him up to lose. If you create a perceptive villain that overlooks nothing, the audience won’t believe you when he slips up. Be true to the stories you create. People want film making that’s honest, plausible within it’s own context, and unafraid of controversy. Film needs to provide two things, entertainment, and art. With one or the other you’ll usually get by, but land both and you’ve created a masterpiece.

With the rant over, here’s two such masterpieces I’ve seen this year: The American, and The Secret in their Eyes.