Excursions Into Hell: My Favourite Filmgoing Experiences

Excursions Into Hell: My Favourite Filmgoing Experiences

With the news that Female Trouble, John Waters’ meisterwerk and design for living is being shown, my noggin got a joggin’.

I started thinking about the films that I’ve been lucky enough to watch on the big screen and with an audience.

My favourite filmgoing experience has to be when I got to see a film that I never thought I’d ever see in a cinema AND in the format that it was intended to be seen in. That film is the brilliant Friday the 13th Part 3D. I had moved to London from York in 1994 to study film and had started to go to the amazing but very high-brow (although it can’t be that high-brow as they let me in…) National Film Theatre known as the NFT to London’s cineastes and skinny latte drinking set.

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Shortly after graduating from Uni and getting a job (real life is worse than ANY horror film) I heard that the NFT were to show a season of 3D films which were to be actually shown in 3D using the vintage technology that was required. I then read that the third Friday the 13th film would be part of the season. I have never bought a cinema ticket faster in my fucking life!

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Friday the 13th Part 3D starts with the end of Part 2 which isn’t in 3D. The NFT film snobs were sniggering at how corny this sequence was and were clearly thinking that their tastes in film were so much more elevated than this supposed generic slasher film they were watching on the screen.

But then, Part 3 started in earnest. If you haven’t seen the film, the 3D is brilliantly done. The makers of the movie really knew how they could make full effect of the 3D process and were willing to use it to blow audience’s minds.

The first glimpse of the 3D happens when the titles literally shoot out of the screen at the audience out of the decapitated head of Pamela Voorhees. But to really show how awesome the process was and how far it could be taken, the titles come forth but only part way before they come out even further so that they are right in front of the audience’s noses. It was a great piece of showmanship on the part of the filmmakers- ‘Here’s the 3D. Oh, hang on, we can do better than that! HERE’S the 3D!’

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With that first 3D one-two punch by the film I have never heard such a scream of excitement emitted by a cinema audience (and it sounded like every single member of that audience squealed in delight) before or since. The film was so well crafted with so much thought placed on the 3D aspects and how the gimmick could be used in so many innovative ways. A movie that was primarily made for horror fiends had just demonstrated that it could also work on the snobbiest film audiences imaginable and completely enthral them. Now that’s genius.

The 3D was used for both comical purposes to make the audience chuckle ( these involve yo-yos, juggling, a joint being passed towards the audience) but more importantly it’s also used so that spectators can experience the sheer pain of Jason’s killings. There is one scene in which Mr Voorhees squeezes a bit too hard on a character’s head and one of his eyeballs shoots out of it’s socket and straight at the audience. In another we get an arrow shot from a harpoon that Jason has fired at another victim. This also shoots her in the eye (after wheezing towards us first). It’s almost like the filmmakers wanted to exploit the ‘eye injury’ angle with this being a 3D movie. They were making the movie as painful as possible for the audience. Hooray for 3D!

We even get Jason staggering towards us whilst he’s mid-battle with the film’s Final Girl with an axe sticking out of his hockey mask.

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This screening was such a success with the NFT’s audience that there was even applause when it finished. The audience whooped, yelped and had a jolly good time. Job done.

I went to see Jaws 3D the following night. Even in 3D it’s dreadful and further testament to the innovative use of the format by Friday’s filmmakers.

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Shortly after this screening I heard about a season of films showing at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (known as the ICA), another establishment of all things high culture and respectability. All of the films chosen were then (1998) still banned by the British Board of Film Classification (the BBFC- as you can tell we like our acronyms here in the United Kingdom or UK *haha*) and were all banned horror movies with some appearing on the infamous Video Nasties DDP List. Through some legal wrangling the ICA had asked the BBFC to let them be shown for one day only.

Thus, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Driller Killer, Zombie Flesh Eaters, House by the Cemetary, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain and Zombie Holocaust were all shown whilst they were all still banned in the UK.

The thrill of seeing these forbidden fruits of the Video Nasties era when they were still banned was palpable. James Ferman was still the Director of the BBFC and was notoriously strict when it came to horror (it was under his regime that The Exorcist and Texas Chain Saw Massacre remained banned. He seemed inflexible when it came to art of any kind and clearly behind the times).

But things were about to change when it came to TCM. The movie was released in early 1999 in London when Camden Council were granted a license to show the film within it’s area boundaries only. For this release the film even had it’s own certificate of ‘C’ for Camden. Only people who were 18 and over would be able to watch the film in a cinema. I saw the film during this release.

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I remember I had gone into London to browse the many film memorabilia shops that existed around the West End then (all sadly gone now unfortunately) and then to go onto the gay scene with it’s numerous bars that were close to the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue. As I exited the excellent Cinema Store I walked past the ABC Cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue and saw that TCM was showing. I didn’t know about this release until I saw the poster outside the cinema.

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This was also my first visit to this particular cinema with it’s gorgeous carved frieze on the outside. It reeked of history inside and out and with further investigation I found out that it went back decades and was even used for film premieres.

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The afternoon screening of TCM only had two other people in it. Watching TCM is like going to Hell (in a good way) for an hour and a half and it seemed really perverse that one minute I was trolling the West End and was then immersed in one of the most intense and frightening horror movies ever made. I remember none of the punters in that screening left before we had seen all of the end credits through to the end. The house lights then went up, we exchanged looks to each other as if to say ‘What the fuck have we just been through together?!’, smiled and then left.

A favourite more recent screening that sticks in my mind was when my local arthouse cinema showed Pink Flamingos. The Hyde Park Picturehouse here in Leeds shows a cult film most Saturdays under the banner of Creatures of the Night. The cinema is located in a part of Leeds which has a huge student population. Hence, you have plenty of students who attend these screenings, a minority of whom think that ‘cult’ means ‘rubbish’. These people obviously don’t know what cult cinema is and wouldn’t know shit from clay. I’ve attended screenings here of films such as The Terminator, The Warriors and Christine which, unfortunately, this clueless and jaded minority have thought it appropriate to snigger at and ridicule. As a side note, these people will never ruin a cinema screening for me. I would never give them the satisfaction or feed their narcissism in such a way.

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A surefire way to tell if your film still has ‘it’ when it comes to cult cinema is to see and hear how the audience reacts. Right from the get-go Pink Flamingos shocked the audience at this particular screening into submission. At the start of the film there was a stunned silence of utter disbelief at what was being seen and then there were howls of laughter at all the right places with screams of disgust at all the appropriate scenes also (the dog poo scene especially) as Divine and co won the hearts of the punters.

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In fact, there have been a few John Waters related screenings that stick in my mind. Firstly, the time I went to see his live film This Filthy World in New York which he attended. He answered questions after it. Also, the time he taught a film class that I was lucky to be invited to in which he showed one of his favourite films, Boom! starring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. We all then talked about it and asked him about his career…But that has been covered by myself in a previous blog post. Talking about it again might be seen as bragging *walks away whistling*

Review- Jojo Rabbit (2019) *****

Review- Jojo Rabbit (2019) *****

Jojo is a proud Hitler Youth member. He decides to go on a weekend for fellow brainwashed enthusiasts. However, after a (very funny) accident with a grenade he finds himself hospitalised. At home recovering he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. He confides this to his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (!)

This film is actually a comedy! An off the wall, zany and irreverant comedy that works beautifully. It was a massive gamble to make such a film in such oversensitive and ‘woke’ times. And it was Disney of all studios that made Jojo Rabbit! Should such a terrible period from history be depicted in such a chirpy and comical way? Should Hitler be portrayed as such a goofball within the film? YES! Whether it’s Mel Brooks (who said he loved JoJo Rabbit) with The Producers and it’s musical Springtime For Hitler or Joan Rivers making her controversial joke about the Holocaust on Fashion Police, humour reaches the parts that more earnest and serious pieces of ‘art’ can’t. It forces you to laugh at whatever is the target of the joke is and then analyse why you laughed at something that you normally wouldn’t see as comical.

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Whilst most critics have lauded the film, there are peripheral pundits who have either said that the filmmakers have gone too far (How dare they make a comedy starring Adolf Hitler?!) or that they didn’t go far enough (How dare they make a film about Nazi Germany and not show the full horror of what happened?!). The Guardian hated the film which is another reason for audiences go and see this gem of a film.

But, understandably, everything depicted in the film isn’t just for laughs. There are plenty of gut-wrenching moments when the full horror is brought home to the characters and audience alike. These poignant sequences aren’t milked for all their worth and this makes them all the more powerful and genuine. There were a couple of pivotal scenes which made me fight back tears. These scenes were played out for what they were without the whole film descending into a tissue-soaking cry-a-thon which would have cheapened and devalued the movie’s content.

The film also looks beautiful with set designs and a colour palate that makes Jojo Rabbit a feast for the eyes. This film is beautifully constructed. Jojo’s room, the house in which he resides, the cubby hole that houses Elsa and the surrounding environs are all aesthetically pleasing and a joy to behold.

 

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Also, check out the framing. Every scene feels just as quirky, off-kilter and as warped as the narrative. Watch out for the scene on the giant steps and the later scene with it’s emphasis on a character’s shoes and how this motif is used later on in the film in an extremely heartbreaking but dignified and tasteful way.

The soundtrack is also fantastic with The Beatles’ German language version of I Wanna Hold Your Hand (‘Komm, gib mir deine Hand’)  and Bowie’s Helden leading the way. In fact, these two rather obscure (to English eyes anyway) versions of well known songs normally heard in their Mother Tongue depict the whole feel of the film- off kilter, eschew and very original.

There are uniformly amazing performances by the likes of Roman Griffin Davis playing Jojo, Scarlett Johannsen as his mother, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa the Jewish hideaway and Sam Rockwell (great to see him taking more risks with his choice of roles after starring in the ultra-woke and unbearable Three Billboards). Also, look out for Stephen Merchant as a very sinister Nazi inspector. He reminded me of The Demon Headmaster. But it’s director and screenwriter Taika Waititi who plays Adolf Hitler who steals the show. Every scene that hes in is comedy gold as he depicts Hitler as a kind of bro/dude best friend to Jojo. His lines and mannerisms are laugh out loud hysterical.

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4 parts humour, 1 part sentiment, this film has a power that will seep into your brain during it’s running time and stay with you long after the film is over. In fact my first thought on leaving the cinema was that I wanted to see it again.

I feel privileged to have seen one of the best films of 2020 on Jan the 1st of this year. A cracking start to a new decade of movies.

5 out of 5 stars

 

It’s Almost Here! Cruising Hits Blu Ray in Spring 2019!

It’s Almost Here! Cruising Hits Blu Ray in Spring 2019!

The news that I’ve been waiting for for many years has finally come to fruition.

William Friedkin’s masterpiece Cruising is coming to Blu Ray in Spring 2019.

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And not just that but the company handling the release are none other than the amazing Arrow Films. I couldn’t be happier. This release should exceed all expectations.

Heres my essay on the film. Grab your poppers and make sure you’re wearing the correct hanky in the correct back pocket…

 

Review- ‘Upgrade’ (2018)

Review- ‘Upgrade’ (2018)

Following a mugging in which his wife was killed and he was made a quadriplegic, Grey Trace has an AI chip installed into his neck that makes his seemingly super-human. He then goes after the bad guys who killed his wife and left him for dead.

I knew nothing about this movie but just knew that it was critically acclaimed (Thank you, Rotten Tomatoes) and so rocked up to the screening. I was amazed! This film is fantastic.

Yes, leading actor Logan Marshall-Green looks like Tom Hardy’s twin. Yes, the film’s plot seems eerily close to the storyline of Hardy’s upcoming Venom. Upgrade is a great film and will quite possibly be in my list of the year’s best films.

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The action sequences are terrific and theres more of a passing nod to a comic book type vision for the film’s look and feel. Check out the bar that Grey goes to to try to find his wife’s killers.

But there’s also emotional depth here. This is especially seen in the scenes where Grey tries to adopt to life in a wheelchair with his mother taking over the small tasks of everyday life that he could do before the mugging. The scene in which he bursts into tears at his own newly discovered inability is unexpected but very welcome in a futuristic action movie like this. It provides extra layers to a movie that in lesser hands would be more generic fare. He is later seen trying to take an overdose.

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Whilst there is gritty action and heartbreaking emotional depth to the film there is also laugh out loud humour also. Check out the scene where Grey fights an adversary with STEM in control for the first time. Marshall-Green’s comic timing is impeccable.

Some of the action sequences end gorily- in fact, very gorily. There was more than one occasion during the screening in which audience members where audibly grossed out at special effects that seem to be straight out of a video nasty. And if you’re a gorehound like me thats a great thing.

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In fact, one gore scene reminded me of the left sequence from Drive. There are faint echoes of many other films within Upgrade (including The Matrix, 2001, Scanners, Blade Runner and it’s sequel, Westworld… Hell, it even reminded me of Knight Rider. Yes, it’s that good!) but you never get the feeling that Upgrade if ripping off these ideas and blending them together, hoping the audiences and critics won’t notice. Upgrade feels fresh, original and innovative- because it is.

An amazing film- don’t miss it.

4/5 out of 5.

Review- ‘Searching’ (2018)

Review- ‘Searching’ (2018)

A girl goes missing. Or has she been abducted? Her father digs deeper to try and find his daughter.

A film that takes place either through words, pictures and footage on instant messenger, FaceTime or social media. The telling of the story through these mediums feels innovative to begin with but grates by the end of the movie.

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Great performances all round, an ending that feels a bit forced and rushed though.

But I’m not going to criticise a horror movie that strives for innovation and originality. Even though this movie doesn’t hit all of it’s targets it deserves applause.

2/5 out of 5

Review- ‘The Meg’ (2018)

Review- ‘The Meg’ (2018)

Theres ‘good bad’ and theres ‘bad bad’. This is definitely ‘bad bad’.

The Megalodon was a huge shark thought to be extinct. A research expedition into deeper levels of the ocean finds that ol’ Meg is still alive. Megsy then decides to move away from these deeper ocean depths and invade the shallower depths of the sea which the expedition came from in search of human chow.

This film contains the worst CGI since Escape From LA which just reinforces to me that this was made to make money and for no other reason. John Carpenter’s film at least had the excuse of being made when CGI as we know it was in it’s infancy.

The CGI in The Meg was so bad that a scene that should have contained a huge jump scare looked so fake and artificial just before said scare that you just knew something was going to happen. And it did. And zero forks were given.

This film also contains some of the worst most stereotypical and generic characters that I’ve ever seen- the cutesy little girl (far too irritating for her own good and deserves to become shark fodder), the edgy female scientist (tattoos, Lara Croft hair, probably a lesbian) the comedic black character (he makes Jovial Jemima look restrained. Time to send back your NAACP membership card, Page Kennedy).

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Edgy. And stereotypical.

Rainn Wilson has a face for radio, not for film. ”Why has he been cast in such a role?” I thought whilst watching this cinematic abortion. Then it hit me. His brash billionaire character who is in part responsible for bringing The Meg into our waters seems to be based on Elon Musk- someone else with a face for radio and a personality just as rancid.

Jason Statham is a great action hero. That is until he opens his mouth and undoes all of his good work. I have a theory- the more dialogue Statham has to deliver in a film, the worse the film is.

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Jason Statham with his mouth closed. Hooray!

We get the obligatory scene of Jason just out of the shower and only wearing a towel. So what. A Google search for such fare is cheaper and more painfree than watching this movie.

There are also some of the most awkward ‘comedy’ moments that I’ve ever seen. Lines that aren’t funny and have never been funny being delivered completely ineptly.

The film also changes gear and intent about two thirds of the way through. From being a suspense filled horror film (which it utterly fails at) the film then thinks it can master the ‘Sharknado’ sub-genre of ‘oh so camp, tongue in cheek’ horror movies (it can’t even master this- some feat).

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A Jaws reference. And another reminder that you could be watching Spielberg’s masterpiece instead of ‘The Meg’.

The Meg feels like a really anaemic, formulaic and boring straight to video movie from the early 90’s that has had millions thrown at it and given a theatrical release. It’s out of time and out of place. A bit like the megalodon really.

1 out of 5

Review- Spotlight (2015)

Review- Spotlight (2015)

A film that was on my ‘Haven’t got round to seeing it yet’ list. Until now.

Journalists at the Boston Globe investigate sexual abuse of children by local Roman Catholic priests- and uncover much more.

This is based on a true story and feels authentic and not over-dramaticised for the big screen.

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The locales are pinpoint perfect too. Note the cramped offices of The Globe compared to the splendid locations frequented by the higher echelons of the church and those paid to defend them. Corruption pays well- but only if you have no soul.

Notice also the Boston street scenes- this is a film that loves the city.

The performances are also amazing. Mark Ruffalo deserves special praise here- the best performance I’ve seen in a film in a long, long time. Batman was pretty damn great too 🙂

A brilliant film that indeed casts the spotlight onto the darkest of places. This deserves all of the many accolades it received and continues to receive.

4 1/2 out of 5