Tamara Drewe: Just not Bridget

There’s something about naming a story after the lead character that, to me, creates a sense of intrinsic Britishness. I’m reminded of my first encounter with the tales of Mary Poppins, Harry Potter and Oliver Twist, the smell of the pages as I followed the title character through the chapters, and the over-arching sense of quality.

So when I settled down to watch new Brit-Film Tamara Drewe I was expecting something special.

Having seen the trailer, I was expecting a romantic comedy set in the county, full of mishaps and providing a nice variety of laughs.  What I got was a strange meshing of Bridget Jones and Midsomer Murders

The film is an adaptation of Posy Simmonds weekly Guardian comic strip, which is in itself a reworking of Thomas Hardy’s classic Far from the Madding Crowd, and features a Brit-heavy cast, with a number of whom offering truly stonking performances – hats off to odious Roger Allam as novelist Nicholas Hariment (who actually made my skin crawl), and Tamsin Grieg as his long-suffering wife Beth.

However, aside from some strange plot twists (involving noses, cows and rock stars) which left me feeling somewhat bemused and down-right puzzled, I found Tamara Drewe to be a refreshing direction for British cinema.  It’s just a shame that the title character is actually the least interesting of the bunch…

The story centres on columnist Tamara Drewe who returns to her childhood village after the death of her mother.  But rather than sorting out the estate and returning to the Big Smoke, Ms Drewe finds herself gathering the attention of a number of the villages men-folk… helped along no-end by a pair of bottom-clutching denim shorts.

Tamara Drewe is a prime example of a film that would have been more enjoyable if the trailer hadn’t tried to make it seem something it simply wasn’t.  Whilst this farce is frothy and often frivolous, it’s generally not laugh-out-loud funny – and the ending didn’t leave me with the feel-good-movie-afterglow I was predicting…

Tamara Drewe is definitely worth is watch – just don’t go expecting Bridget Jones.

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Eclipse: When movie trailers go bad

I used to go to the cinema every week, but for the past few months I’ve just not been able to squeeze it in.

I’ve been passionate about movies for as long as I can remember, so my return to my local Vue cinema, Orange-Wednesday’s code clasped in my hand, it felt like I was returning home.

To me, nothing beats settling down to watch a movie with good friends – so I sunk into my seat, rested my already sweating drink on the arm rest and waited to be plunged into darkness…

This blog however is not about the film we watched (Prince of Persia for anyone that’s interested), but rather the 20 minutes that preceded the movie’s opening sequence.

I have vivid memories from my childhood of curling up in my parent’s bed most mornings and watching TV with my mother.  Even when I knew I should have been pulling on my scarlet school uniform, my attention was fully on the little square box, watching the adverts that punctuated GMTV.  I loved them.  Something about the way each one told a complete story in 30 seconds kept my young-mind’s full attention.  Forget the main programme – I was there every morning for the advert-breaks.

So when the lights started to dim in the cinema on Wednesday evening a little part of me couldn’t help smile, as I settled back to enjoy the pre-show.

But, whilst adverts aim to tell you the whole story in a short period of time, surely pre-view trailers for the season’s up-coming films should be different?  Shouldn’t they aim to tell you just enough to be interested in what’s coming next?

They should grab you and embed hooks of anticipation under your skin and get your imagination firing.  They should offer you a glimpse at the possibilities, sketch an outline around characters, relationships and situations but snatch away before it reaches any certainty.

What they shouldn’t be doing is offering spoilers.

I have to say the trailer for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse was a real disappointment.

Within 45 seconds the trailer had reached page 385 of the Meyer novel.  Zero suspense.  All of the endless problems that are lined up in the previous 300 pages are, in one fell swoop, solved.  So you could argue that the trailer doesn’t actually show you how it all ends… but surely there should be more to a story, whether a book or a film, than the dramatic fight scene near the end?  Where’s the anticipation?  The unanswered questions?

Where’s the journey?

Maybe it’s because over 100 million people have read Stephanie Meyer’s novels, and the Eclipse marketing department knows that die-hard fans know what’s coming… but the trailer lacks flair and creativity.  It’s about as subtle as a brick.

An easy way to tap the mass-market, sure… but to me it seems plain lazy.

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Product Placement on a Plane

On Friday I took my life in my hands as I fought through the swarms of  Bank Holiday shoppers squabbling among the remnants of Easter eggs.  I even witnessed one small girl have a full-blown tantrum because she wasn’t going to be able to stuff her face with the Cadbury Buttons easter egg she was hoping for…  Clearly brand still is everything.

Samual L Jackson

Samuel L Jackson stars in Snakes on a Plane

And nothing made that clearer when later that afternoon I settled down to watch my latest LoveFilm rental – the 2006 action-horror Snakes on a Plane.

The story goes that the script for this firmly C-class movie was rejected over thirty times by different Hollywood studios until New Line eventually gave it the tentative green flag.  But it was getting the world’s coolest guy Samuel L. Jackson to play the FBI lead that turned this potentially dreary film into an overnight internet phenomenon.  Talk about branding in action.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it pretty much does what it says on the tin; there’s a plane, there are lots of snakes, chaos ensues.  And with an actor credited as “Man Bitten on Penis” with lines such as “Aw, fuck! Fucking bitch! Get off my dick! Aw, fuck! Fuck” there is clearly no need for sophistication.

As you may have gathered the plot doesn’t really matter, and to be honest I didn’t care – for once it was quite nice to be entertained without engaging my brain.

Yes – this film is bad, but in an eye-rollingly good way.

However, it seems to me that this serpent movie had enough cold-blooded wigglers slithering around without adding (and I’m allowed to say this because I’m in marketing)  advertising executives to the mix.

product placement

Nothing like a swig of Red Bull before you witness a grizzly murder

Red Bull gets in there early on with some beverage glugging in the opening sequence, and then later the empty can returns in a police evidence bag to link a character to the scene of a murder…  The Apple Macbook gets a full screenshot, the FBI apparently spend their afternoons shopping for porn on eBay and the Treo Smartphone is highlighted as the communication tool for reptilian disasters.

But it’s Sony who pull out all the stops… not just with chubby security guard Troy glued to his PSP for most of the movie, but they also managed to get Samuel L’s line “All praises to the PlayStation !” into the final cut – impressive.

So, in the somewhat bastardised words of Samuel L Jackson: ” I have had it with these motherf**king ads on this motherf**king plane.”

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Uh, before we dock, I think we oughta discuss the bonus situation.

Originally posted on 4th January 2009 on Bobbin’s Movie Night)

Breaking News: New Deal: Brown Unveils Jobs Plan – Sky News

With household names Woolies, Adams and Zavvi about to bite the dust it looks like the queues at the Jobcentres are just going to keep getting longer. As the Christmas decorations are packed away for another year, and the drunken shenanigans of New Year’s Eve fade into memory we’re left with a very bleak outlook for the job market.

Happy 2009.

But today Gordon Brown has announced his plan to create new jobs, get people working, and reduce unemployment.

As of yet, however, there remain a few holes in Brown’s grand-plan. Not least of which, the matter of who these lucky 100,000 new-starters are going to be…

It is becoming increasingly clearer that we will do anything these days to get a job. It makes me wonder what Matt Smith had to do to land the role of the 11th Doctor Who (I bet Catherine Zeta-Jones is smarting over missing out there), and he no doubt feels doubly successful – not only does he get to take on a role that could catapult him to super-stardom over night, but he’s also one of the few 26 year olds with an ounce of job-security!

So perhaps we should look to TV and film to find the best recruitment process for Mr Brown’s new jobs… Because lets face it, movie land boasts some of the strangest work-place situations ever to be seen. And few things can beat: “If you want to get paid, you’ll check out this mysterious distress signal… Oh, and by the way, bring the rib-inseminating, acid-blooded, multi-mouthed alien with you…”

Talk about a lack of job satisfaction…

Alien (1979)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 117mins
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

What do you get when you cross a face-sucking multi-limbed parasite with a team of bored, underpaid, intergalactic long haulers? Some may suggest that you have a dystopian Star Trek on your hands, or maybe just a clingy ex. But in the hands of Ridley Scott you get a true cinema classic.

Seven blue-collar space workers are woken from their cryo-sleep when their on-board computer ‘Mother’ picks up a SOS signal from a distant uninhabited planet. Realising that they must investigate or forfeit their company shares, the crew of the industrial spaceship Nostromo disembark on a rescue mission. But when crewman Kane (John Hurt) ends up with a head-hugging alien clamped to his face the crew decide to ignore the quarantine guidelines, and all hell breaks loose on board when a shiny dagger-mouth alien bursts directly, and bloodily, out of his stomach.

Not exactly what the crew expected when they clocked-on that morning.

The alien itself is hidden in shadow for most of the film, leaving your imagination to fill in the grisly blanks, and some very skilful cinematography notches up the tension, delivering plenty of “Are you sure you want to go in there on your own” moments, that even now still have the power to scare the life out of us. Even the red herrings (namely Jonesy the cat) catch us off guard every time. Alien, in fact received an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and the sequences with the alien are memorable and lasting testaments to the production team’s skilful handiwork (even if you can play spot-the-bloodpack in some scenes)!

Sigourney Weaver, as Officer Ripley, is excellent in what is a traditionally a masculine role. She reluctantly shoulders both responsibility and her motion sensor with desperate determination, leading the charge (and the retreat) in the crew’s struggle against this apparently unstoppable creature. Equally she courageously sports the world’s smallest briefs; clearly those cryogenic freezers are warmer than we gave them credit for.

The supporting cast fulfil their role admirably, going beyond being mere alien-comfort-food. From the disillusioned Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), to the creepily clinical Science Office Ash (Ian Holm), and the whining ‘I’m going to wet myself’ crewman Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) each character maintains a clear identity as an individual within the crew. This makes their struggle for survival all the more human as they are made increasingly aware that they are no longer top of the food chain.

However, to be honest as professional spacefarers I am unsure what most of the crew actually do. There are a couple of grunts who seem to be responsible for repairs, but otherwise ‘Mother’ seems to do everything. Whilst the on-board computer does most of the work, the crew appear to spend most of their time puffing on cigarettes, complaining about pay or just sleeping off the journey time. You rarely see them working, apart from when they’re forced to by the threat of no pay…But that’s what makes this film so slick. You don’t need to know everything about everyone. Do The Company know about the aliens? Why aren’t their any bodies? How the hell did that thing get so big? Who cares?! Arguing it out it much more fun.

Even thirty years after it was first released Alien is clearly a class above many of its successors. So some of the effects look a little dated, but there was something in Alien that made it truly iconic. It moved away from the squishy family-friendly space movies of Close Encounters and Star Wars, and made the enemy a relentless, gut-wrenching monster. In Alien you are taken beyond primal and thrown headfirst into a story of pure survival.

Rather like the Jobcentre queue.

Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices

(originally posted on 3rd December 2008 on Bobbin’s Movie Night)

Breaking News: Conjoined Twin Dies After Surgery – BBC News

So much media attention has surrounded the birth of these two children part of me expects a TV crew to record a small troupe of Wise Men trundling through the hospital reception following a glowing orb to the maternity suite and the SCBU.

With so many people willing little Hope and Faith to just keep on living, it makes it even more poignant that Faith will now never know her sister, and as a nation we collectively mourn a baby who we have never met, and now will never see grow.

When a single child can so capture the hearts of a nation, for me it is almost impossible not to think of one of my favourite films of recent years, the deliciously dystopian Children of Men – where a single squalling infant gives hope to a dying world.


Children of Men (2006)
Starring: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Running time: 109 mins
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

The concept sounds rather odd. A sci – fi – come – war – film – come – political – thriller directed by the guy responsible for the third Harry Potter film. Doesn’t sound all that hopeful does it? But actually Children of Men is one of the best film I’ve seen for years. Set in London in the year 2027 it’s the film’s realism that makes it truly harrowing to watch. It could be our future.

An infertility crisis has caused the nations of the world to collapse, and it is only Britain that is managing to soldier on through the chaos – according to the official propaganda at least.

Innocence is long dead. No children have been born for over 18 years, so humanity is left without a future and without very little cause hope. The world has descended into paranoia and depression. A rebel outfit of guerilla refugees (or ‘fugees’) known as The Fish loom threateningly in the background and the Department of Homeland Security have been ordered to arrest all illegal immigrants, cage them and propel them to the fortified compound of Bexhill-on-Sea. Never has the familiar name of a Kentish seaside town sounded so sinister.

This is a film that could have easily become ridiculous, but in the hands of Director and writer Alfonso Cuaron it is superb – not just theatrically (the action is completely credible and the script is tight) but also technically. His attention to detail really makes this film – we are not presented with some sterilised white PVC future, we see London as it really could be in 19 years time. The London buses are still red and shabby, the back-streets are grungy and covered in graffiti, take-away coffee still comes in card cups, but also we have Identity cards, flat-screen holographic televisions, old 2012 Olympics sweaters and euthanasia pills available direct from the government… but in true british style canabis remains illegal.

Cuaron keeps things moving at a breath-taking pace, filling each shot with so much clever imagery that it is difficult to take it all in. He doesn’t bother with any back-story, the lack of explanation is confusing and disorientating, but Cuaron plunges us straight into the action and the bloody reality of the future, employing only the most required of special effects. This is a story of human survival and individual sacrifice. However, the level of violence and disturbing images that appear in this film, although not frequent, are deeply shocking. The camera work would often not look out of place in a war documentary and some sequences later in the film, are incredibly realistic, adding to the serious themes of the film and building on the tension.

The actors really drive the film, and are perfectly cast in what are difficult roles. It is really refreshing to see that the majority of the cast are British – Clive Owen (Sin City, King Arthur) provides a great performance as the reluctant and jaded central figure of Theodore Faron whilst spending the majority of the film running around barefoot. Michael Caine is excellent as a dope-smoking ex-political cartoonist, and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots, Love Actually), really developed his Serenity style hard man look and is very impressive as an assault rifle wielding rebel.

Cuaron has perfectly adapted P.D. James’ original novel into an outstanding thought provoking film. For some reason this film was not received particularly well by a lot of critics, but personally I can’t stop watching the DVD, and I will do my best to convert anyone who doesn’t think this film is simply superb.