2012 Film Challenge #51 - Moonrise Kingdom

I intentionally avoided reading anything that had anything to do with Moonrise Kingdom before going to see it.

Critics are insecure. Determined to come across as seasoned and discerning, they cannot allow for genius to exist and everything must have an angle.

Heaven forbid that they should ever profess to liking anything without putting their appreciation into some kind of context.

Critics do not deserve our respect, and they certainly do not deserve our money.

But they do deserve our pity. It must be hard watching and listening to things with those cancerous crabs gnawing at your cortex demanding that you find something to hate.

Not wanting to subject myself to reams of feeble copy concerning empty whimsy (or whatever “angle” those poor bastards chose), when I sat down to watch Moonrise Kingdom, I knew nothing about it that couldn't be gleamed from glancing at its poster.

In January 2011, I had only seen two Wes Anderson films (The Life Aquatic and Rushmore). I have now seen absolutely everything he's ever made. In the past year he's cemented his position amongst my two other heroes of film-making: Without hesitation I now rank him alongside Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch.

All three make such beautiful feasts of films as can be identified as part of their respective canons within seconds. All three also succeed in creating onscreen worlds so real as to feel like a waking-dream (Kubrick) or a relentless nightmare (Lynch).

Wes Anderson, though, creates worlds so wonderful that I never want to leave. So long as his films are playing, everything's OK.

I was genuinely saddened when the credits first began to roll for Moonrise Kingdom. The fun was over, and it was time to return to the horrible, dreary, cynical real world once more.

Wes Anderson films always feel like the most fantastic adventures. Awash with colour, proud uniforms, coffee-house manners, paperback books and handmade elegance, they look as though even the camera on which they were shot was made out of wood and operated by cogwheels.

Fantasy, escapism and willful pretending are just as relevant and real as grime and grit, kids. It's OK to yearn for something ordered, warming and inviting when so much of this world seems designed to make you feel ashamed to be human.


2012 Film Challenge #50 - Silent Running

I'm celebrating having reached the halfway point of my 2012 Film Challenge by watching a film I've wanted to see for some seventeen years now.

Those seventeen years, though, haven't been spent hyping it up. I've not spent the time saying “Silent Running will have all the answers. Silent Running will change my life.”

Rather, I've been saying, again and again, “Oh, I'd quite like to see Silent Running.”

So there was no danger of unfulfilled expectations. But even if there were, this film combines three of my favourite things: Science fiction, folk music and robots. I was always going to approve.

One of the things to which I'm paying most attention in my watching and reading of science fiction these days is the world building. In what ways are the audience or readers made aware of the particulars of these speculative worlds?

I'm not really a fan of being told exactly what's happening; and world's that are ostensibly our own are just lazy. The truly engaging worlds are those into which you're thrown headlong and allowed to explore at your own pace. The perfectly realised speculative fiction is full of shadows.

Silent Running builds its world in quite a subtle way. Gradually we learn that humanity has entered a golden utopian era in which there's hardly any disease and nobody's poor. Everybody has a job.

But at what cost? There world's a barren wasteland at a constant 75 degrees. The only remaining trees are cultivated in geodesic domes tended by astronauts in orbit around Saturn.

The future, it's implied, is bright but bland. Nobody's suffering, but nobody's dreaming. Though humanity's apparently conquered the stars, it seems that it's forgotten much more than it's learned. For instance, the realisation that plants need sunlight to survive ultimately comes as something of a revelation.

Our hero Lowell is therefore represented as the last hope for an atrophied humanity. The fact that everybody has jobs isn't enough for him. He wants life to be interesting again. More to the point, he'd like nothing more than for humanity to be able to lie down in the long grass.

But war has been declared on nature. When instructed to destroy the domes, which truly constitute as the last bit of earthly nature in the universe, he loses it. He kills his crew and fakes his death through piloting a treacherous course through Saturn's rings.

This leaves him drifting alone in space with a forest which slowly begins to die from lack of sunlight. Luckily, though, he has some adorable little robots who he's reprogrammed to be his friends.

I dig the strong environmentalist message, and I'm always happy to watch minds gradually unravel onscreen. If it happens in space with a robot accompaniment, all the better!

And, like I say, the film manages to build a plausible future to which we could indeed be heading. I doubt we'll forget the intricacies of photosynthesis within the space of a hundred years, though. If people are still able to use looms by hand when the process of weaving is automated, then it stands to reason that we'll still be able to care for plants even when our atmosphere no longer supports them.

And the rationale for casting the last surviving specimens of nature millions of miles into space is never touched upon.

Even if the surface temperature of Earth stands at a chronic 75 degrees, those geodesic domes can support plant and animal life within the cold vacuum of space. Surely they'd be even more effective on sun-baked Earth? Not to mention the billions that would be saved on constructing such space vessels to harbour the domes, and paying the vast amounts that would be demanded by those employed to staff them.

They can't really be called plot-holes when no effort's made to explain things. But still, it's a discrepancy which has the potential to be jarring.

Yet that's not the point. To pick apart the film on that level would be to not see the wood for the lack of trees. The thrust of Silent Running is its elegant pace and its strong environmental message, which will, I fear, always be relevant.

And did I mention how obscenely loveable are those robots?

I'm glad I finally saw Silent Running. It was bleak but endearing, with wonderful Joan Baez music lending a necessary earthiness to proceedings.

Hippies in space; or Sci-Fi Folk. Now there's a genre in need of revisiting.


The Inexplicable Mechanism & Mrs Jones's Coat

Most people had a teacher or five who they acknowledge as having played a key role in the shaping of their world view.

Mrs. Jones was my teacher in the lower juniors. She taught us all about Ancient Egypt, which proved to be one of my very earliest fascinations. She read to us from Matilda and various Goosebumps books; doing all the voices and making the stories come to life.

She had a repertoire of clever word games such as Adjectives, Mime the Rhyme and a version of Timmy Mallet's great word association challenge.

It might be something of a push to suggest that “she instilled in me a love of language which has endured to this day”, but she certainly made frequently successful efforts to get us all to appreciate the power of words and the possibilities of fiction.

Earlier today I was taking a walk in some fields of which I've just become aware. There, I came across an inexplicable mechanism which, luckily, was small enough to carry home.

It looks like an electronic pulley. Said field we can safely assume to be the site of an old mine, as it's near a road called Colliers Way.

But whilst carrying that inexplicable mechanism my thoughts entered territories long unvisited. I began to think about Mrs. Jones.

One day, she brought a bin-bag into the class room. “I found this in my front garden this morning,” she said. “I thought I'd wait until I got here before I had a look inside.”

Because we were only eight or nine, we were immediately seized by a very innocent curiosity. To enter a room full of adults with a bin-bag claimed to have been found dumped in your front garden,  most in the room would scowl and tell you to destroy it immediately. The curious few would, of course, assume it to be full of drug paraphernalia or disembodied limbs.

But we children were simply interested to see what could possibly be within the bag. As far as we were concerned, there could have been anything in there.

She sat on her wooden chair with the red cushion, holding court like she did every morning. We all sat cross-legged on the carpet facing her in a semicircle.

“First,” she said quite gravely. “What do you think is in here?”

So instantly it became a game. I can't remember the sort of things we shouted out, but somebody probably did speculate that there must be a dead body in there.

She teased by delaying the unveiling for as long as she possibly could. Eventually, we were begging her to open the bag.

She did, and removed a tatty old coat with a grim frown on her face. For some reason, the revelation of the coat made us all laugh and squeal. It was a grubby brown tweed, so large that any one of us would have swam in it.

“It's a coat,” she said.

“An old man's coat,” one of us added.

She ruffled the fabric in the same spirit of grave investigation. “I think there's something in the pockets,” she said. “Should we have a look?”

We wanted her to have a look, so she had a rummage.

She proceeded to produce a series of items from the coat's pockets, of which I can unfortunately only remember two or three. But there must have been about a dozen in total.

The first was a train ticket. Again, a roomful of adults would have demanded an inspection of this in great detail. But to we children, who had never used a train unsupervised before, and who had therefore likely never handled a train ticket before, the item in itself was an exotic point of fascination.

“So that must mean he's been on a train,” we said, already awestruck.

Though I can't remember precisely what items she produced, I remember we children finding the whole thing to be somehow hilarious. Each item was funnier than the last.

When she delved for perhaps the sixth time into those pockets, slowly she revealed a tin whistle. As far as we were concerned, that was the funniest thing to have ever happened in the history of everything in the world.

From somewhere she had procured a tray, on which she lay each successive item until they were all displayed before us.

“Well, that's strange,” she said, when we had all stopped laughing and the pockets had been emptied.

How had that coat got into her garden, and why were all those things in the pocket?

A train ticket. A tin whistle. A candle. I also somehow remember an empty bottle of green glass.

She was as stumped as we were. “Let's have a think about it then, shall we?”

She had us all write down our theories concerning how that particular coat, filled with those particular items, had somehow wound up in a bin bag in Mrs. Jones's garden.

I remember feeling quite irritated as I tried to weave every single item into the narrative.

My story concerned a homeless old man who was drunk with a candle who had a whistle to call a dog who wouldn't come so he died and somebody found him and stole his coat which didn't fit so he put it in a bin in Mrs Jones's garden, or something.

It would be wonderful to find my primary school notepads and exercise books. There were always opportunities to write, and children always write so brilliantly.

One of my favourite things about the writing of children is that they always start of with an unhinged, wild energy. They soon get bored, though and you can almost pinpoint the exact moment at which the child just loses interest.

It's brilliant enough when a complex chain of bizarre events is abruptly cut-off with an exhausted “and they all live happily ever after.” But it's even better when everyone dies, or everyone has to go to bed, or then there was all the food or, best of all, suddenly the whole world exploded.

So I really hope one day to find those speculations. If nothing else, it would be great to be able to narrow down, once and for all, as to exactly which items were extracted from that rotten old coat.

Whilst walking the field with my freshly discovered inexplicable mechanism it occurred to me, for the very first time, that Mrs. Jones's coat escapade wasn't just a bit of fun.

It was a creative writing exercise. A really good one at that.

Why it took me over a decade to realise this is a question for the ages, but there you go.

The inexplicable mechanism may become totemic. It may become a symbol that I need never fear writer's block.

Should inspiration ever be lacking, just go for a walk.

There's no telling what you'll find. There's no telling what will be triggered.

Every object has a story; and whilst the world isn't ready for the Italian Unification of 1848 as told from the perspective of Garibaldi's battered sword, found objects can be gateways to other worlds and other lives.

I may be insufferable for the remainder of my natural life, but thinking along these lines entails that I may never be bored again.


2012 Film Challenge #49 - The Haunted House

A six minute film from 1908 in which three clowns spend an ill-fated night in a haunted house. A stunning mix of live action and stop-motion animation, this must have caused grim heart palpitations back in 1908, as it's still quite creepy now. It also happens to have the single best ghost I've ever seen in any film.

2012 Film Challenge #41 - #48 - Mika Rottenberg

I went to the Nottingham Contemporary. It's a contemporary art gallery in Nottingham.

I'd never been before, but I was always struck by their wonderful Americanesque sign and their intriguing window displays when passing by tram.

When I finally got a chance to visit, I wasn't sure what I'd see and didn't care.

Ultimately, I was enthralled and repulsed.

But seeing as the artist certainly set out to repulse, success.

Mika Rottenberg's her name. She's a film-maker from Argentina who makes films. Horrible, horrible films which made the stomach squirm, the toes curl, the mind boggle and the skin crawl.

Her films are broadcast on seemingly eternal loops in what she describes as “viewing machines” - giant installations which serve to add depth to the viewing experience.

Films! Brilliant. Eight new entries for my 2012 film challenge in one edifying, horrifying afternoon!

Entering the Contemporary you're confronted with Time and a Half. I'm quite squeamish when it comes to fingernails, so immediately my teeth were set on edge. This one featured a woman rhythmically tapping her long fingers on the counter of a Chinese takeaway – bored witless, as we cut periodically to a tropical landscape complete with a soothing cooling breeze. It's just a picture, though – the breeze is produced by a fan. Escape is impossible; already I felt stifled, and I hadn't even left the lobby.

Gallery 1 was dominated by a giant wooden structure apparently built from driftwood.  Entering, you're allowed to watch a second film – Cheese – broadcast simultaneously on multiple surrounding screens. This one detailed seven extraordinarily long-haired women as they milked their goats to produce cheese.

It was in Gallery 2 that I began to feel really uncomfortable. First was a film called Sneeze which featured three men – barefoot with painted toenails – all cursed with grotesquely swollen noses. They were each in the midst of a sneezing fit, and each sneeze would produce, variously, a live rabbit, a lightbulb and a slab of uncooked steak. Every time the steak was produced we cut to a different man – thus creating the impression that this was perhaps but three separate incarnations of the same individual, who grew noticeably older – and his nose noticeably more ravaged – with each appearance.

Seven was a collaboration with John Kessler which was set within a frame constructed of colourful laboratory equipment. This one detailed a lengthy process in which bodily fluids were extracted and channelled into a psychedelic spectacle on the other side of the world.

Seven and Sneeze, watched sequentially, induced an almost unbearable feeling of bilious claustrophobia. The worst, though, was yet to come.

Or the best, depending on how you look at it. Judging by the posters displayed outside the Contemporary, Squeeze (pictured) seems to be considered Rottenberg's masterpiece. It demonstrated an intricate and bizarre production line which included a rotating obese woman; a line of buttocks periodically sprayed and a trio of ladies who gave manicures to Mexican lettuce pickers in California.

All this was seemingly controlled by a woman in a tacky sort of grotty office. She'd switch between applying an electric heater to her face and soaking her feet in a tub of ice water. She was also in charge of humidifying a leering tongue which protruded obscenely from the wall.

Exactly how was never made clear, but this production line was responsible for producing compacted cubes of lettuce, rubber and blusher: Utterly useless objects which might only be of any value in the art world. However, an invoice posted outside the exhibit hinted that this object may never even be exhibited. Hmn.

The remaining three films were being looped in a variety of packaging crates in Gallery 2. Entitled Mary's Cherries, Tropical Breeze and Dough, they each dealt once more with various interactions between human bodies and implausible, inexplicable machines. Concerning once again acrylic nails (which were somehow transformed into edible cherries) and featuring lots of close ups of perspiration intercut with rising dough – not to mention an apparent obsession with lemon-scented tissues – it almost became too much. I felt like I needed a long shower. Or, at the very least, to clean my teeth.

Mika Rottenberg's films are being shown on perpetual loops at the Nottingham Contemporary until 1 July 2012. Though I found them nauseating and repulsive, they were also intriguing, amusing and utterly absorbing.

To anybody even vaguely interested in that which can interest and edify, I couldn't recommend the exhibition enough. It will make you feel deeply, deeply repulsed by most aspects of your own body, but it will certainly make you think and might even make you laugh.

And to anybody who insists that video installations shouldn't count as part of my film challenge – well. Start your own blog and your own challenge, you unholy mutant.


2012 Film Challenge #40 - Purgatory

I've always been able to tell when a film may have been made for a more “limited” audience than that afforded by a cinematic release, but it's only recently that I've been able to pinpoint the various tropes to look out for when you suspect you might be watching a Made-For-TV-Movie.

You know you're watching a Made-For-TV-Movie (MFTVM) when:

1. The music consists of little other than washes of strings, synthesised or not.
2. A lot of screentime is given to showing how characters get from one place to another – be it extended driving shots or long takes of people taking it in turns to climb or descend a ladder.
3. Footsteps are always somehow more pronounced in MFTVMs than they are in more “polished” releases. Especially when characters are walking on wooden or stone surfaces, you'll follow their every step because you'll hear their every step.
4. Rudimentary direction:With only one or two cameras at their disposal, you'll see a lot of panning and static mid to long shots.
5. Smoke and mirrors – with a smaller SFX budget, theatrical fog will never, never die.

All of the above can be spotted in Purgatory. But when you're watching The Horror Channel on a quiet Sunday morning, what more do you expect?

In Purgatory, a group of bandits in the old west hole-up in a quiet little town called Refuge. These bandits are a bunch of complete bastards, but one of them – Sonny – is only there for the ride. He's the good egg of the bunch, and he spends a lot of the first half of the film apologising to the residents of Refuge for the rowdy behaviour of his cohorts.

A fan of dime novels, he soon starts to notice something strange: All of the residents of Refuge seem to resemble the heroes of the yarns he digs so much.

It turns out that Refuge is actually limbo, and the residents are indeed the heroes of the yarns he digs so much. You have Wild Bill Hickock as the meek, noble sheriff and Billy The Kid as his scowling deputy – who never seems to say anything more than “damn right”. Doc Holliday is the town's doctor, and Jesse James is running the general store.

Brilliantly, the first time we see Jesse James, he's taking to his stock with a feather duster. A nod, no doubt, to the fact that his life was ended when he was shot in the back of the head whilst dusting a picture.

They're in Refuge in order to prove that they're not all bad. So long as they can live there without sinning too much (for a ten year period, apparently), then they'll go to heaven in a blessed stagecoach. If not, they'll be escorted to hell by a mysterious Native American.

They're thus forced to live impossibly dull gentile lives with no swearing, no drinking, no gambling and no lovin'. The slightest slip up will, without question, result in instant damnation.

The problem is, anybody who acknowledges the name of the film they're about to watch will know what's going on from the start. Of course the mysterious town in a film called Purgatory is purgatory! Sonny's investigation is therefore not engaging in the slightest. Every step is a further “no SHIT, Sherlock!”

Honestly, why didn't they just call the film “Refuge” and allow the mystery to unravel organically? That's a whole layer of enjoyment mercilessly stripped away by a too-revealing title.

Another problem is the mixed-message the film carries. It ends with an admittedly awesome gunfight – Wild Bill, Doc Holliday, Billy The Kid and Jesse James all fighting shoulder to shoulder in the knowledge that should they so much as raise their guns, they'll go to hell. Should they get shot, though, they'll also go to hell. They're damned no matter what they do, but should they do nothing, innocent people will die at the hands of the bastard bandits.

A fascinating dilemma there!

But having won the fight pretty much unscathed, and having blandly followed the mysterious Native American to the gates of hell, all of a sudden the divine carriage pulls up.

The driver says they're pardoned. “The creator may be tough,” he says, “but he's not blind.”


Earlier in the film, a gentle gentile gardener - “Lefty” Slade – had been condemned to hell having killed a bandit in self-defence.

There's also the case of poor Betty McCullough with the noose scar round her neck. We're told that she's in purgatory because she took to her father with a cleaver. “But people seem to forget that he had his filthy hands all over me from the age of twelve,” she says.

The message of the film seems to be, then, that God is OK with you murderin', but only sometimes.

Only, apparently, when it makes for a climactic gunfight and a happy ending.

I wasn't really happy with that inconsistent mixed-message. In fact, were I of an impressionable Christian persuasion, I suspect that watching this might have triggered some kind of crisis of faith.

Poor form, Purgatory. Poor form.


2012 Film Challenge #39 - Avengers Assemble

Last weekend I conducted what was, to all intents and purposes, my first ever formal ghost hunt. I was seeking out the Horrifying Horseman of Belper, who reportedly appears at a windswept set of crossroads in the morning.

I didn't find him. I wasn't exactly expecting to see anything, but still I felt a weighty disappointment whilst walking home.

But my spirits were lifted immediately when not once but twice on my walk home I received compliments for the Mighty Thor t-shirt I was wearing.

One came from a passing car. It was a beep and a jubilant thumbs-up.

The other came from a young man who I think was wearing tie-dye. He shook his hands around and asked in a stammering so-excited-I-can't-talk sort of way whether I'd seen The Avengers yet.

I said no, and he did that thing Jack Black does in High Fidelity when he learns that one of his customers hasn't heard Psychocandy. “Mate,” he said, as if imparting the most sagacious counsel. “Go and see it. It's the best film.”

It turns out that he was imparting the most sagacious counsel. For, whilst Avengers Assemble wasn't exactly the best film, the amount of glee and excitement it instils is epidemic – it very briefly took the number one spot in the IMDB Top 250. People were getting so overjoyed by this film that in their droves they're saying “Why, yes. It is better than The Godfather, Citizen Kane and  The Lord of the Rings”.

I don't think it's the best film ever made, but it just might offer the most amount of fun it's possible to have whilst watching a film.

I realised whilst watching this that the reason I've perhaps never really gelled with The Incredible Hulk in the past is because Bruce Banner is really hard to like. He's prissy, stoic, self-righteous and boring. Understandably, of course – he's got a lot on his plate - but who'd want to spend any amount of time with him?

Mark Ruffalo's Banner, though, is easily the best and most likeable I've ever seen. He manages to bring a great deal of charisma to the role whilst retaining his nerdy shakiness.

As a result, what could have been the weakest link in the ensemble simply acts as further chemistry. I loved how protective everyone seemed to feel towards Banner, and yet how simultaneously terrified and awestruck they were with his Hulk.

Tony Stark stole the show, and yet it wasn't the Tony Stark show.

Steve Rodgers received a lot of jibes for his age, yet never was he the irritating patriot I expected him to be. That said, I found it impossible to take him seriously once it was pointed out how much he resembles Darren Boyd.

Then there was The Mighty Thor – I will now wear my aforementioned t-shirt with even greater pride – and his evil brother Loki – who was a very mid-late nineties sort of villain. Think Richard E Grant, for whom I mistook him for the entire thing.

Add a team of incredible assassins – The Black Widow and Hawkeye – who's really good at archery – and you get an incandescent alchemy that's never, ever boring.

Let's face it: The reason Spiderman 3 disappointed has a lot to do with the fact that it simply contains too many villains. They smother and overwhelm – all is rushed, nothing's allowed to breath or develop.

Avengers Assemble could have suffered a similar fate. Too many heroes could have ruined the fun.

It just works, though, in the most satisfying way possible – everyone works together, nobody's under or over-used – it's so good that I was tempted to demonstrate my intense glee through just writing “YES” over and over again in lieu of anything else.

There's even an incredible, too-good-to-be-true continuous tracking shot showing each of The Avengers in action, in turn. As scenes go, it's on par with the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park and the lobby scene from The Matrix – it raises the stakes in terms of the sort of pure spectacle that serves to reduce all who see it to a giggling state of applauding joy.

Many will resent the attention and kudos the film's getting. They'll shirk from the Pavlovian attempts to get you to cheer and grin – or perhaps they'll just feel that something so popular just has to be attacked.

Yes, there will be a backlash, and when it comes it will be brutal and merciless.

But for the record, I wish to be part of the millions who say that this film deserves every ounce of hype, praise and hyperbole thrown at it.


2012 Film Challenge #38 - Bee Movie

The sort of film I probably would not watch under any circumstances apart from those which just came to pass – a rainy bank holiday afternoon, and it was on TV. So I watched it!

Bee Movie is a lot like Antz, in that it features the vocal talents of a legendary comedian not usually associated with films of this ilk. And, I suppose, further comparisons can be drawn – a wry, knowing anthropomorphic vision with a very adult feel that's still somehow a lot of fun for the kids.

But if you're going to compare Bee Movie to Antz, you then have to compare Antz to A Bugs Life – and then you have to start asking such questions as “how many anthropomorphic insect films do we need?”

The answer is “one”. That being, of course, James & The Giant Peach.

But if we must live in a world with multiple anthropomorphic insect films, then we might as well judge each on their own merits. I mean, what else are we going to do? Sit around and moan about them? Yeah, but do this and you'll inevitably have a moment of horrible clarity as you realise that you're dedicating precious hours to complaining about a colourful animated feature ostensibly made for children. Congratulations! I'd rather find something good to say.

With Bee Movie, that's not at all difficult.

Whilst we're judging things on their own merits, where this differs from both A Bug's Life and Antz is in shifting the focus away from the self-contained society of insects and instead allowing for humans and insects alike to interact with each other.

This interaction is initially hysterical, later curious and ultimately really quite something: The bees sue humanity for stealing their honey, and win.

I was once told that the first half of this film – that which details the society in which the bees live – is superior and worth watching. I was made to understand that enjoyment dips massively in the second half.

For me, though, it was the other way round. The bee society was nothing particularly new for anybody who's ever seen any computer animated feature made in the past fifteen years or so. The bees live like people, but they're bees!

The second half, though, was original and occasionally very funny in a Jerry Seinfeld “comedy about nothing” sort of way. It even harboured strong messages about eco-system preservation and that whole work/life balance chestnut.

There was even a fantastic send-up of the penchant of animated films of this nature to lazily assume that familiarity will be mistaken for enjoyment; when a bee version of Larry King is told that he has a human counterpart who looks just like him. "It's a common name," he says.

I'm often pleasantly surprised by these computer animated features. I always assume that they'll be lazy, cynical and empty.

But it seems that for every Shark Tale, there's an equal and opposing Bee Movie.

2012 Film Challenge #37 - Badlands

Now, this blog doesn't get many comments. But when it does, my word, are those comments read.

I'd even go as far as to say that they're taken into consideration.

A few weeks ago I watched Field ofDreams and found myself taken in by the film's wonderful summery warmth.

A certain Havershambler (who really should start blogging again) then recommended Badlands.

“It has the same wonderful amber colours and dusky vibe,” he said, “alongside a wonderful bit of spree killing and a zonked out voice-over from Sissy Spacek.”

Zonked out? She sounded like a child reading her “What I Did On My Summer Holidays” essay as she narrated her “wonderful bit of spree killing”.

The recommendation of Mr. Havershambler (who really should start blogging again) was essentially all I had to go on when I sat down to watch Badlands late one night. I was tired and a little drunk. Surely the perfect frame of mind in which to watch a Terrence Malick film?

Slow, meditative, gentle, brutal, enthralling. Martin Sheen's psycopath is a tender, loveable sort. He murders in a laid back, spur-of-the-moment sort of way. When he kills – which he does quite often – you can tell that not even he quite knows what he's doing or why.

He's the elder in this Bonnie & Clyde relationship, yet both he and Ms. Spacek are essentially children. Pretty much the first thing they do when on-the-run is build a treehouse.

They kill innocent people in cold-blood and with no remorse. And yet, never does this film come across as judgemental. Their actions are wrong. We don't need to be told as such, because it's obvious.

So we're saved a sermon, and are thus able to allow our minds to be drawn-in and subsequently blown.

Mr. Havershambler (who really should start blogging again) was wrong to describe the spree killing as “wonderful”, but Badlands as a whole is indeed a wonderful film; in that it inspires such wonder and creates a glorious warming atmosphere which you don't really want to leave.

But if you stay, you might die.

2012 Film Challenge #36 - The Incredible Hulk

One of my favourite games to play is called “Let's Face It”.

All you have to do is take it in turns to face things.

The game's a close cousin to the likes of “The Thing Is” and, of course, “I'll Tell You Why You're Wrong”. Indeed, many a good rally has been established through switching from one strategy to the next as the discourse demands!

Seeing as any situation can be improved immeasurably by a round of “Let's Face It”, how about a quick game now?

I'll start.

Let's face it: 2003's Hulk really wasn't very good. Nothing at all seems to happen for at least forty minutes, and when things finally get going, they're blighted by the fact that time has not been very kind to the computer-realised rampages. After only nine years, they look weightless, flimsy and really quite terrible.

Now, I'm a huge champion of substance over style. I can forgive terrible visuals if they're an intrinsic part of something gripping. But the 2003 Hulk had all the cold, clinical heartlessness of a JG Ballard novel with precisely none of the intrigue which make his inhuman stories so engaging and enduring.

But that was the origin story. This, The Incredible Hulk, more a reboot than a sequel, doesn't attempt to blind the audience with science, as the gamma ray disaster has already been endured. Instead, it focuses upon Banner's attempts to rid himself of his beastly burden. And Edward Norton's in it. I always like to see him.

Things Happen and the stage is ultimately set for a showdown between a good green Hulk and an evil Abomination. When it came apparent that these two unstoppable forces would be going head-to-head, I must admit to feeling a deep-seated sense of anticipation. I think they call it “excitement”. I was “excited” to see what would happen and who would win.

This showdown delivered. It saw Hulk using police cars as boxing gloves, repelling an explosive shockwave with a clap of his hands and even uttering his famous catchphrase. Hulk smashed in this one, and that was just one of many moments which was, I'm sure, inserted in order to five The Fans what they wanted.

Ho, to have been in a cinema packed with Hulk fans watching with fresh eyes at that moment. It would, indeed, have been a “moment”.

But look at this. I'm championing the action-packed sequel in preference to the cerebral, glacial original.

Indeed, the final minute of this one implied that the whole thing was just one big old $150million set-up to this year's Avengers Assemble.

And yes, that final minute sent the old shivers down the spine. And yes, I simply cannot wait to see The Avengers. I've received two compliments from complete strangers today just because I'm wearing a Thor t-shirt. This feels like it could be the sort of film that doesn't so much define a generation as dominate it. The sort of film that, despite sating the immediate need to see things explode, will still be picked apart and over analysed for decades to come.

I don't know. Superhero films are weird. They can't win. They can go for wall-to-wall thrills and people will label them as dumbed-down junk food. But when they go for the deep, measured pace, even the sort of people who usually insist that their films come with enough gravity to have their own orbit (that's me!) will speak-ill of them.

And then there's The Question Of The Geek. Do you try and satisfy their every demand, or do you instead attempt to successfully realise the material in your chosen medium?

Either way, you're going to piss someone off.

Games like “Let's Face It” and “I'll Tell You Why You're Wrong” were perhaps originally invented to lubricate the discourses of geeks.

And films like The Incredible Hulk provide the ammunition.


2012 Film Challenge #35 - Le Voyage Dans La Lune

There's a strange feeling in watching a film made 110 years ago.

It must be a combination of the outlandish, impressionistic sets, the emphatic gestures in lieu of speech, the graininess, the fact that all colour's been applied by painting by hand and, apart from anything else, the notion that without exception, everyone you see drifting jerkily before you must have died years ago.

Of course, as time progresses, this feeling will become increasingly commonplace. There will eventually come a time when watching a film more than a century old will be as taken for granted as is reading a book more than a century old.

Today, though, there's the poignancy. The gravity.

Such gravity.

This was a restored colour version of Le Voyage Dans La Lune. However, by “restored colour”, it's thankfully nothing like that bizarre eighties re-imagining of Metropolis with added neon lights and music by Queen.

Rather, this is the first time since, perhaps, the film's initial release that the whole thing's been realised in gloriously muted dreamlike washes of colour. This edition was thought lost, rediscovered in 1993 and brought to full fruition in 2010 – with the missing segments recoloured using footage from the existing black and white version.

And it looks magnificent.

It's always been the case that this – what must be the first ever science fiction film – was completely unlike anything that ever came before. Lord knows the joy and wonder if must have brought to the virginal eyes of 1902.

Only whilst watching it in the original colour, though, does it become apparent that neither does it resemble anything that's come since. Not even films from the same era come with this amount of otherworldly serenity. And, even though I still believe it to be the most wonderful music video ever made, the grand homage that is The Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight Tonight has nothing on this – even though it's essentially a frame-by-frame remake.

It's only sixteen minutes long, and it follows a storyline so linear it hardly even qualifies as a plot. But there's so much breathless exuberance inherent in every inch of every frame  - my favourite being the overwhelmed joy of the scientists as they see Earth from space for the very first time.

It's easy to forget that, when this film came out, nobody had seen the Earth from space – and indeed wouldn't for nearly 70 years more. It's a truly spellbinding moment; a very early hint at the transcendent, soul-enriching power that cinema would possess before long.

It's all set to a new soundtrack by Air. I'd been listening to the soundtrack for some weeks before I actually got round to watching the film on the bonus DVD. Though I really enjoyed the music,it  being a curious mix of banjo, spacey synths, proggy breakdowns and Herbie Hancock style funk noodlings, I wasn't quite sure how effectively it would marry up with the visuals.

It does, though. The album is effectively a standalone entity to the soundtrack, and the soundtrack takes the dreamiest, most extraterrestial moments to make an ideal compliment. Like a jam session conducted by mad scientists, it may even be the case that this is the sort of music Georges Melies himself might have chosen as accompaniment had the technology been available in 1902.


2012 Film Challenge #34 - Saw II

I am a massive fan of horror films, and yet I am clearly not part of the target audience for the Saw series.

Does that say anything about anything? Probably not.

They're just terrible, the Saw films. Just terrible.

And I know that by saying this I'm retreading ground that has doubtlessly been tread billions of times since the films started getting green-lit with alarming frequency, but their complete lack of redeeming features has absolutely nothing to do with the abhorrent violence by which the series defines itself.

Saw films are dull, overproduced, tired, hackneyed, unforgivably boring, poorly written and edited with such a crippling lack of imagination that it comes across as a bloated insult to the intelligence of anybody who demands more from their horror than a grand parade of gut-wrenching mutilation.

I'm often disturbed by violence onscreen, but I'd struggle to identify a moment where I've ever been offended by it. So, yes, job done: the horrible, almost gleefully elaborate “traps” and “games” in the Saw films do indeed disturb, but by no means do I find any of it offensive.

I'm no prude – I won't let them win by gloating that their films must have had the desired effect to have elicited such a negative reaction. For beyond the atrocity exhibition, no matter how hard they try, the Saw films are completely lacking in depth and substance.

They're therefore perfectly worthy of being labelled as “torture porn”, as there's almost nothing else to them than tired machinations designed to get people killed in sickeningly creative ways.

And yet they try so very, very hard to be taken seriously – to give their characters dimensions, motivations. All to no avail, though. They fail so hard in this effect that every time they pause to add something in the way of backstory, all they really do is break the pace of an already plodding “story”.

Case in point: Saw II, the plot of which revolves around a house filled with nerve gas from which a group of ne’er-do-wells must escape.

I understand that the success of the first Saw film caused for the title to be bolted on to an existing script, and my word does it show.

Without all the Saw tropes, this could have made for a wonderfully claustrophobic thriller – an ultraviolent version of the final third of Home Alone.

Instead, though, it's shoved face-first into a dreary world of ridiculous conceit and pretentious musings.

Few things annoy me more onscreen than self-righteous serial killers. It's such a depressing cliché that I find myself snarling every time one takes to the stage and starts monologuing.

The Jigsaw Killer must be the worst of the lot. He tries so hard to be deep, eloquent, terrifying – and oh look, he's dying of cancer! What an enthralling and poignant shade of grey – but no. Instead he doesn't steal any scene in which he appears. Rather, he opens his wan little maw and vomits all over it.

How little understanding must the makers of this have had of pacing, tone and mood to so frequently cut away from the action to delve into the backstory – apparently improvised on the spot – of a ridiculous cipher about which most people couldn't care less?

As this blog proves, I can find enjoyment in most anything I sit down to watch. Saw II, though, was irredeemable. My attention kept drifting to the walls of our living room – which were genuinely more fascinating, and the paint was already dry.

Still. At least I can now say that I've probably already seen the worst film I'll watch this year.