Tuesday, 30 June 2015

BlogalongaStarWars: Episode 1:
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope

I remember it so clearly: it was the summer of 1982. Or possibly 1983. I don't actually remember it that clearly. My dad took me on a surprise trip to see a double bill of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back at the aptly-named Empire cinema in Shrewsbury which, like a tiny Alderaan, would eventually be destroyed and (unlike Alderaan, as far as I'm aware) replaced with a Pizza Express. It would be my first viewing of both films; I'd read and played the book-and-tape of Star Wars until the pages fell out, but was unprepared for Empire, which was why I cried my face off when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite. But more on that next month.

Star Wars for real - i.e. without R2-D2 irritatingly bleeping every time I had to turn the page - was a predictably thrilling experience for my tiny self, and thirty-three (possibly thirty-two) years and fourteen million viewings later, nothing has changed. It's still as magically exciting, beguiling and brilliant as ever, only now that I'm old and boring I can strip away the fun and dispassionately pick apart why it's so great. Obviously nostalgia is a massive variable in the Star Wars Amazingness Formula - that's why so many discussions around it begin with a tedious retelling of a first viewing - but let's be honest, EVERYTHING works here. George Lucas gets it so right it's hard to believe he could ever get anything wrong. But again, more on that later.
That beginning, man. I do enjoy a film that begins in medias res (cf. every Bond film), and this particular medias is so loaded with excitement they're making a whole film just about the first paragraph of that opening crawl. The collective jaw-droppage caused by the Star Destroyer has been written about so much that it's now taken entirely for granted, but that scene alone is the perfect argument for the most extravagant home cinema setup you can lay your hands on: Ben Burtt's sound work in that scene works best when it can be heard by all of your neighbouring postcodes. I always find movies' first scenes fascinating when you know the whole story, and Star Wars' is a classic in that regard - it's a David vs Goliath battle in space, with groundbreaking effects, a majestic score and spectacle coming out of its ass: the entire saga in microcosm.

And Darth Vader's introduction needs no introduction: representative of every major character's first scene in the film, it tells you everything you need to know about him in seconds. Still not sure why he kills the ship's captain before he gets an answer to his interrogation though; that, and the decision not to destroy the escape pod just because it contains no lifeforms, are early indicators that the Empire is beset by an overcomplicated hierarchy containing so many layers of middle-management that everyone is too afraid to make a judgement, and therefore deserves everything coming to it.
"Could you guys not have killed quite so many rebels?
The paperwork on this is going to take, like, FOREVER"

Lucas' exhaustive studies of storytelling pay off in spades in Star Wars. Eschewing backstory and trusting in the audience to just go with it (a lesson to which painfully few modern blockbusters - including the Star Wars prequels - pay any attention), he instead leaves us with no alternative but to be swept along on the journey as each character connects to the next with effortless efficiency: R2 and 3PO take us to Luke, Luke takes us to Ben, Ben takes us to Han, Han takes us to Leia. It's worth noting that at no point during this process do we stop for a fifteen-minute landspeeder race in which we learn that Luke is a genius pilot. The setup is textbook and the mid-section flawless, and before we know it we're escaping from the Death Star and biting our nails as the rebels try to destroy it before it destroys them. Lucas' writing failed him in the script's final act, but he savvily recognised the genius in editor Richard Chew's idea to introduce the threat of the Empire aiming at the rebel base, and to crosscut between that and the simultaneous attack on the Death Star - hence why nobody on Yavin IV talks about how they're all about to die; their story is told entirely in graphics sequences and spare shots of them gawping at screens.

En route we've seen some of the most on-point matching of actors to characters, not least of which is Han Solo, saved from being the unbridled selfish twat he is on paper by a relentlessly charming Harrison Ford: his antagonism with just about everybody is perfectly pitched, and his arc across the original trilogy a joy to watch unfold. Similarly, Mark Hamill shrugs off Luke's initial whiny brattishness in a way Hayden Christensen never could, and the inspired casting of Alec Guinness gifts Obi-Wan Kenobi the precise balance of wisdom and playfulness that stops him falling into cliché. And Lucas writes all their relationships honestly and believably; the only missing link is a dynamic between Luke and Vader, but that's only because they never even meet - a fact easily overlooked amid the excitement of it all.

Like most children of the late twentieth century, Star Wars ruled my life for years. Its presence waned over time as the (barely) more grown-up adventures of James Bond took prominence, but like a comfort blanket made of lovely soft Ewok fur it remains, propping up my love of films since that fateful day at the Shrewsbury Empire. The prequels allowed me to be all cynical and arch about the series, but it was a smug, superficial detachment; watching the trailers for The Force Awakens have indeed awakened something deep down, and it all started with that Star Destroyer back in 1982. Or 1983. Whatever: it was a long time ago, in a galaxy (*record scratch*)

There is so much going on in the background
I love that there are so many random droids and aliens that pop up for one shot or bimble by in the background in scenes like the cantina and the sandcrawler interior. Some poor buggers spent forever working on some of these and they were rewarded with a mere handful of frames showing off their creations (admittedly because some of them are a bit shit), but it totally sells the universe as a multicultural melting pot of beasts and weirdos, like Dalston Kingsland station on a Saturday night.

Stormtroopers really are quite thick
  • While hunting for droids that could bring down their entire army, Stormtroopers come across a locked door. "This one's locked", they say, and move on, reasoning that if someone were trying to hide they would never possibly contemplate locking themselves inside a building.
  • Having located the droids on the Death Star, the troopers have a quick chat then leave them be, apparently unaware of their significance. Where are the lines of communication in this organisation?
  • Meanwhile, in another part of the Death Star, two troopers exchange idle conversation. "Do you know what's going on?" says one. JESUS CHRIST MAN YOU ARE FACING THE THREAT OF TOTAL ANNIHILATION DO YOU NOT CHECK YOUR PIGEON HOLE ONCE IN A WHILE
Lightsabres are fucking amazing
What a genius idea, executed perfectly: a sci-fi sword that makes a noise easily replicated in the playground. Teased in Ben's home, flashed in the cantina and given a full outing in the duel with Vader, it perfectly represents the idea of updating classic tropes for a new generation of moviegoers.

Princess Leia is a bit reckless
"They let us go, it's the only reason for the ease of our escape [...] they're tracking us", says the figurehead of the rebellion before doing precisely fuck all about it and leading the Empire straight to the rebel base. Yeah thanks for that sister.

The production design
It's as un-incisive to comment on as everything else I've mentioned above, but the worn-in look and feel of the Star Wars universe really is a joy to behold, again selling it as a place with life and history. The fact that none of the X-Wing pilots' helmets match is a detail I hadn't spotted until this viewing, simultaneously bringing me a small twinge of pleasure and an equal amount of embarrassment for not clocking it sooner.

What is the point of all this? I'll tell you. (short answer: no point)
Header pic by dark lord of the Sith Olly Moss

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

David Arnold: The Qs and the As

Unless you're blind or have just been ignoring me (understandably), you'll have seen me wanging on about doing a Q&A with five-time James Bond film score composer David Arnold at London's Prince Charles cinema last week. The evening came and went without any major disasters (although I wore a waistcoat in an attempt to smarten myself up and promptly spilled olive oil down it just before the interview, and that shit does not budge) and Mr Arnold was in fine fettle, spilling a small amount of beans regarding his work on Casino Royale - a screening of which followed the Q&A - and other films.

If you weren't among the many millions of people who crowded into the 285-seat auditorium that evening, I've handily reproduced most of what Mr Arnold had to say below; I had to edit out all the bits where he went on at length about how much he loves The Incredible Suit because it got embarrassing.

Your score for Casino Royale is a lot more organic and less electronic than previous Bond scores…

That's correct.

So how did that decision come about? Was that you, or the producers or the director?

It was me. I think with Die Another Day, someone said that some of the music was a bit over the top, and I was thinking, 'would that be for the scene where the guy who was a DNA-changed villain who became Korean – no, he became western, he was Korean – tried to kill James Bond with a space laser operated by a remote controlled arm-device while they were escaping from a melting ice palace?' That film had levels of extremity of all sorts of things in it, and the music has to react to what we're seeing.
Really can't see why people found this silly

When I read the Casino Royale script we hadn't cast Daniel, so it was really interesting reading the script and thinking 'I've got no idea who James Bond is going to be'. With Pierce, you kind of knew the inflections, you knew his mannerisms and the style and you could kind of picture the way it would be. I was on set while they were filming Casino Royale, and [my music] was largely informed by the way Daniel moved. He's a very physical, alpha male James Bond, not as eloquent and educated – you know, the idea of knowing which wine would go with what sort of fish – slightly less of that, more that you believe that if he hit you it would really hurt. And he wasn't James Bond yet: obviously he had the name but he hadn't become the character, so it was really doing away with the comic aspect of it and trying to make it a bit more muscular, as he was, and to make it a little more aggressive, but organic, because the refinements didn't come till later in the film.

So you couldn't write the same kind of music for Daniel as you did for Pierce?

Well you sort of can in a way because he's still James Bond. This is part of the problem with coming back to the series again and again, it's the same character in very similar situations: there's conflict that he has to resolve, you know there are going to be chases, you know there are going to be fights, you know there's going to be action and even though you have to believe he's in jeopardy, you know that at the end of the film he's not gonna die. So it's a matter of trying to take what people know and expect of the character, moving it on a little bit and introducing other aspects of it, as the films do.

The Bond theme is hinted at throughout Casino Royale but doesn't appear in full until the end credits. Was it hard to resist sticking the Bond theme in?

I've always said that a James Bond film without the James Bond theme is just an action movie; there's something you're missing at the heart of the character. With Casino Royale, Sony were quite worried about not having the Bond theme in the score because they were worried it'd be like watching Star Wars without the theme: there's an expectation that you want to hear it. But my argument was that he wasn't James Bond yet, so if you play any of that music when he's doing any of the things he's doing – you know, he makes a lot of mistakes in this film – then he becomes the Bond that we know, but he hasn't done that yet so you can't get ahead of the audience. So there were a few sequences in Casino Royale that tried to create a balance we thought would work: every time he acquires something of the Bond canon that we knew and recognised, I put in a hint of the Bond theme to start sowing the seeds of it as we go through. So when he wins the Aston Martin DB5 in the game of cards you hear it for the first time; when he tries on the tuxedo in the hotel room and we see him adjusting himself in the mirror, that's the second time, and so on until you get the iconic phrase right at the end of the movie. By that time you're so ready to hear it at full pelt, that's when we cut to black and shabam, it seems incredibly exciting.

In terms of the theme songs, how much say would you or any composer have in the choice of song or singer?

Ideally the composer of the film would be involved in the composition of the song, because I think the DNA of the score should be in the song and vice versa. That's not always possible though; there might be an artist that says "I've always wanted to do this, I've written a song and this is what it's going to be," and that happens more often than not. But they let me have a crack at a couple of them. The decision about who does the song is made between the producers, the director and the studio but the composer does get involved. It's a bit like casting: I think you should cast the singer as you would cast the character, so it always felt like if we had people who could almost be in the movie it would work. In trying to find someone for Daniel's James Bond, I was thinking about male singers: was there a contemporary Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant? Singers with bollocks really, people like Paul Rogers, who sound the way that Daniel was, that James Bond is in Casino Royale. Chris Cornell has a very masculine voice but also an incredible gift for melody and words, so it was a really easy choice to make. Also writing the song with him was really easy and quick; we sort of wrote half a song each. We met up and talked about it and I'd got some ideas and he'd got some ideas so we sketched our ideas out, and two or three weeks later we played each other our ideas and kind of went from one to the other. It sort of became the song without having to do much else. It's quite odd; we'd both written one half of the same song.

Would you consider doing another Shaken And Stirred album? Because there are plenty more Bond songs that could be covered there.

Well there was a bunch of songs that I ended up not doing: I did Goldfinger with Skunk Anansie and I started talking to Debbie Harry about doing it as well, and I did You Only Live Twice with Björk but didn't use it because she wasn't happy with it, she didn’t think it was better than the original. There are a whole bunch more songs - I mean there's been another six since that album came out - but I think that's a record perhaps someone else should make, because I feel like I've done it.

You must have written a load of potential themes that never saw the light of day – you started a song called I Will Return for Die Another Day

Sometimes you don't always know if you're going to get the gig actually writing the song, but I always start off by writing a song, because I like to have some sort of thematic material to base the score on. Sometimes if another artist is writing the song, like in Die Another Day, I didn't hear it until I'd almost finished writing the score, so you've really got no way of incorporating it. I thought what would be interesting is that at the end of every James Bond film it says "James Bond Will Return", so I thought, well, how about calling the song I Will Return, basically saying that exact same thing.

How far did that song get?

It got a verse and a chorus written. The melody of it is in the [Die Another Day] score, the verse melody, and the bridge melody is in [a cue called] Peaceful Fountains Of Desire.

[Audience question] Do you think your music has influenced current action scores like John Barry's music influenced you?

Well this isn't false modesty, but I think whenever music appears in a James Bond film it ends up appearing in other films because they're so popular and the music is still a big part of it. The thing I hear more often than not is the electronic aspect alongside orchestral stuff. What's interesting with the sound of John's scores is because they were recorded in smaller spaces, and they were generally just stereo, not surround, there's much less competition for earspace in those earlier films. If I go to a dubbing theatre where Bond films are dubbed now, there are 15 or 16 ProTools stations: that one's doing dialogue A, that's doing effects 1, effects 2 – there might be hundreds and hundreds of tracks. It's incredibly easy to make a film loud, and there is an awful lot of loud in a Bond movie, whether it's cars or gunshots or punches or helicopters or building sites. So the competition for actual aural space is quite high, and John's exist in a place where there wasn't as much sound and they just allowed the music to play more out front. The tendency to do that has changed now, and music is sometimes required to perhaps energise the scene more than it was in the older films. I've listened to some contemporary scores and obviously you can hear bits of John's work and now bits of mine, but I'm really interested to see what Tom [Newman]'s gonna do with Spectre. I'm fascinated with that, as I am with the film. I've always been a fan of them and it's really nice now to be able to sit back and watch one and not worry about, you know, 'why did I do that?'

[Audience question] To what extent are you constrained by the 1960s style of the Bond theme?

Well the Bond theme, I think, has endured dozens of interpretations: Marvin Hamlisch's disco version, Bill Conti's and Michael Kamen's, Éric Serra did it just on timps, so it's obviously a very sturdy piece of music. There's something about that recording that John Barry did with quite a small orchestra which is so swamped with atmosphere, there's something about the energy of it and the essential ferocity of it which is impossible to match. It would be weird to think you were constrained by it, I've never wanted it to sound like it was from the sixties. I don't think my scores sound like John's scores; I mean obviously there are stylistic nods, combinations of instruments that evoke the character. It's what John created, it's the blueprint of it. It was the same when I did Shaft: Isaac Hayes created a blueprint for that character and I didn't want to ignore it, but you just sort of move it on a little bit, so I was really happy to take advantage of the brilliance of that and add to it and move along. You don't want to feel like you're treading water stylistically, so sometimes that means people really don't like it and some people really do like it, but… just keep moving.

Éric Serra's score for GoldenEye is, let’s say, quite unusual – do you ever watch the film and wish you'd done it?

I wish I'd done all of them to be honest! But not that one in particular, no. I thought that was the boldest move that's ever been made in a Bond movie and I don't think you can criticise him for that. You can not like it, that's fine; I do like it, I think some of that stuff was electrifying, and I know the reaction to it was mixed. Being selfish I was quite pleased, because if he'd have carried on I wouldn't have got a look in!

It's really not that bad.

[Audience question] Did you change the music for the increased violence of the newer Bonds?

The thing with Bonds is that you never see blood in bullet holes or anything, so even though it's violent you won't see bullets going in or out or blood splattering from people due to the violence because they want to keep it a 12 certificate. So perception of what's violent and what's shown are actually slightly different things. I think the job of a film score is to kind of hold your hand and take you through the experience and hopefully explain and help to guide the film as we would like you to perceive it. The sequence where Le Chiffre has his knotted rope and, er, works James Bond's - you know - that's very violent, but a lot of that was cut, and in fact the sound of contact, the 'thwack', was turned down by about half because when we screened it for the first time it was excruciating. In fact the censors wouldn't let us have it, they said we had to turn that down because it sounds horrific. There's no score in that sequence, so the sound of James Bond's bollocks being battered was turned down because we didn't want to offend anyone's sensibilities in that respect.

OK, I've got a round of quick-fire questions to finish with. They're based largely on your own tweets, so I'll warn you now, you've only got yourself to blame.

Is it based on my Twitter feed or is this when you asked people to send questions in on Twitter? Because someone said "What’s the circumference of a cat?", but they spelled "the" wrong so I'm not going to answer that. [Yep]

No, I've had to cut all those for time. So here we go: an OBE or a lifetime's supply of Skips?

[Long, thoughtful pause] Skips.

Drums or a drum machine?


Benedict Cumberbatch or Martin Freeman?

That's cruel. I think Martin's the heart and Benedict's the brains of that combination, I think without either of them that show wouldn't work. Martin is the way into Sherlock and I think the audience wouldn't find their way in without him; I think he brings so much humanity to that, it's absolutely extraordinary. The pair of them are rock stars now, it's amazing. So I plead the fifth: both of them. They're both brilliant.

CD or vinyl?


Shaken or stirred?

[Thoughtfully] Stirred. Apparently you’re not supposed to shake it.

No, you're not, that would be terrible. Biscuits with chocolate content or biscuits encased in chocolate?

Encased. There’s a whole VAT issue around that that's very frustrating.

Jaffa cakes: cakes or biscuits?

Oh, they're cakes. The clue's in the title.
That's that settled then

Éric Serra or Thomas Newman?

Oh, that's rotten! That's professionally rotten. I love the pair of them.

The slide whistle in The Man With The Golden Gun: genius or madness?

Madness! Along with the double-taking pigeon.

And finally: are you doing Independence Day 2?

I haven't been asked, is the honest answer. But would I if they asked me? I'd really like to see the script, firstly.

Would you not just say yes, if they phoned you up and said there's no script but will you do it?

[Pause] Yeah. But they would have to phone me up and ask me, and as yet that hasn't happened.

Well I'll tell them you'll do it. David Arnold, thank you very much!

Thanks to Oliver Holden-Rea for the top photo.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The second-greatest series of the greatest TV show ever made is out on Blu-ray today

Hopefully by now you took my advice and have bought and watched the greatest series of the greatest TV show ever made on Blu-ray; if not I will feel like I wasted my time banging on about it, almost as if nobody listens to a word I say. If you did, though, then good news! The diabolical (but very sexiful) masterminds at Studiocanal have just released the only-slightly-less-amazing follow-up to The Avengers Series 4: the sensibly-titled The Avengers Series 5 is now available in 1080 lines of gorgeous 1960s televisual magic.

Originally broadcast in two chunks between January-May and September-November 1967, Series 5 of The Avengers brought us the adventures of John Steed and Emma Peel in full colour - which is undeniably well-used throughout, but brings the series a step closer to reality, where it doesn't really belong. To compensate, the stories got a little weirder (mind-swapping, time travel, miniaturisation and UFOs all get a look in), and the result is some of the most imaginative television of the 20th century.

As with Series 4, a cheeky tease was shot to promote the new adventures of our immaculately-attired heroes, and it's another perfect example of what to expect:

Highlights of Series 5 include, but are not limited to:
  • Guest appearances from the likes of Peter Bowles, Jon Pertwee, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Cargill, Julian Glover, Ronnie Barker, Peter Wyngarde, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee; one episode - The Superlative Seven - boasts Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland and an unfathomably beautiful Charlotte Rampling IN THE SAME STORY
  • Death's Door, an episode which rivals Hitchcock's Spellbound for surreally atmospheric psychoanalysis and giant props
  • Murdersville, perhaps the quintessential episode of The Avengers, which is set in a village - Little Storping In The Swuff - where every single resident is involved in the business of hired killing
  • More of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee being unbearably delightful in incredible costumes
  • And more tremendous music by Laurie Johnson, including this perky theme from Dead Man's Treasure
Also, obviously, there are buckets of extras that make this an essential purchase for completists and noobs alike. It all looks utterly stunning in HD and while the hit rate of episodes is less successful than Series 4, it is never not fun watching Steed and Mrs Peel bimbling about the countryside foiling insane plots and drinking gallons of champagne. You owe it to your eyes to see this.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Welcome... to Jurassic Park
Picturehouse Central

Last week, I and 26 real journalists were given a preview tour of London's newest cinema, the seven-screen Picturehouse Central, located in the heart of our fair capital's delightful West End. Having watched Jurassic Park (and indeed The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World) only a few days before, I couldn't help but liken the experience to that of Alan Grant and chums all those years ago as they were shown around another partially-constructed, exciting new venture designed to entertain tourists with loud noises and the occasional appearance of Jeff Goldblum.

Praying that I didn't get gobbled while on the toilet (fnerk), I donned my neckerchief and scowled heroically towards Piccadilly Circus, stopping only to educate a tubby young chap on the dangers of disrespecting cinema ushers, whom he rather impertinently referred to as "six foot turkeys". It's possible I didn't need to slice him open and spill his guts all over the entrance to Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum, but with kids these days you've got to speak their language.

This is Piccadilly Circus, home to Eros, the god of crass neon marketing. He stands guard over the giant videowall and will fire arrows at anyone who says "Cuh, it's like Piccadilly Circus round 'ere!" Anyway Picturehouse Central is just up there and to the right. You can't see it in this picture, I'm setting the scene, like those wide shots of Isla Nublar near the beginning of Jurassic Park.

I had a little trouble locating Picturehouse Central because it was hiding behind this white van. As you can see, work hasn't been entirely completed yet. I mentioned that they might want to remove the van to enable easy access and I was assured that the van would not be a permanent fixture.

From the street, you enter this delightful café, which is open to any Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to be passing. I mean they will literally let anyone in. Even you, in those shoes.

I was hoping for Alejandro's Chilean sea bass, but I had to make do with this selection of pastries. I have learned over the last few years that the quality of any given press event can be dramatically influenced by the quality of pastries on offer, and it gives me immense pleasure to say that the cinnamon buns at Picturehouse Central are absolutely fucking incredible. Alejandro can stick his Chilean sea bass up his Chilean sea ass.

A mural circles the entire café and climbs the staircase, depicting the history of cinema through the eyes of artist Patrick Vale. It is absolutely bonkers in all the best ways.

Here's Patrick literally muralling while we watched. Those are some seriously fresh murals.

This lady is Clare Binns, Director of Programming and Acquisitions at Picturehouse. She is the John Hammond of Picturehouse Central, minus the beard and the almost-Scottish accent. I suggested to her that she was so preoccupied with whether or not she could that she didn't stop to think if she should, and I was politely asked to leave.

Stairs from the café lead up to a bar and the cinema screens. As I arrived, the last of those light bulbs was being screwed in by the only member of Picturehouse staff tall enough to do it; I watched him with the stunned awe of Alan Grant when he first sees the brachiosaur. Do let me know when these Jurassic Park references start to sound forced.

Upstairs is this ruddy big and lovely bar, which is also open to the public.

Visitors of the previous cinema on this site, the unbelievably rank Cineworld Trocadero, will recognise the escalators that lead up to the auditoria, except there are fewer mice riding with you now. These friezes have been here since the turn of the 20th century, and, according to Picturehouse, "have been sensitively relit for future generations to enjoy". Here you can see a member of a future generation enjoying the shit out of those friezes. Look at his little face! Aw.

Each screen has been dedicated to an influential figure in the movies, and Screen 1 is named after Sigourney Weaver. I was a little apprehensive as I entered Sigourney Weaver, but once I was inside Sigourney Weaver I got so excited that I just wanted to keep coming. The seating is raked to avoid even the tallest bonce obscuring your view, the reclining seats are plush as fuck and the projection booth can handle 2K and 4K digital as well as 35mm and 70mm prints. It also boasts Dolby Atmos, with subwoofers on the back wall the size of VW Beetles. There's room for 340 people inside Sigourney Weaver, and every single one of them will withdraw from Sigourney Weaver satisfied. I for one look forward to entering Sigourney Weaver again and again in future.

Here is a close-up of a seat. It is the exact shade of red that all cinema seats should be and has the texture of chenille, which sounds lovely until you learn that "chenille" is French for caterpillar.

If you sit on the row second from the back in one of the smaller screens, you get enough legroom to throw a party in. The feet on the right of this shot are mine, fully stretched out, and they can't even see the seat in front. The feet on the left belong to Telegraph film critic Tim Robey, and even his comically long legs enjoyed their own personal space without molestation.

Up another escalator is a gallery space, currently occupied by these beauties from devastatingly hip film mag Little White Lies. I'll be honest, by this point the tour had pretty much stopped resembling Jurassic Park, no matter how hard I tried.

There's a members' bar further upstairs for members only, so bugger off if you're not a Picturehouse member, we don't want your sort here. It isn't finished yet but the views are quite special. That's Big Ben in the distance, and in the foreground you can just make out some classic London scaffolding.

I didn't take a photo of the escalator on the way down but as we descended, they stopped without warning for a few seconds. It was exactly like when the jeeps stop in Jurassic Park, and I began to think that finally I had something solid to compare the two experiences so this tenuous analogy could actually mean something. Then the escalator started again and we all went home.

And that was the end of the tour. I left with a complimentary bottle of Picturehouse "Centrale", and if you look very carefully you can see what they did there.

Picturehouse Central opens officially this Friday, June 19th, and looks absolutely ruddy great. Details are here, and membership details here if you want to come into the Members' Bar and feel superior to everyone else. See you there! (Do not approach or attempt to talk to me)

Friday, 12 June 2015

Jurassic World

How do you write a new Jurassic Park movie? Before the series was barely two films old, the formula of this sub-sub-genre was patented, packaged and slapped on a plastic lunchbox: people run away from dinosaurs; C-listers and greedy / stupid characters die in 12A-friendly fashion, topline cast survive. All you can do is add new dinosaurs, new actors for them to chomp on, a new kind of greed / stupidity and take advantage of the advances in CGI to produce more convincing effects. It's an odd situation for a franchise to find itself in, and a robust argument that some sequels just aren't necessary. Director Colin Trevorrow and his co-writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly have clearly had a long hard think about this, before coming to the conclusion that since the first film can never be topped, they may as well just make it again. Welcome... to Jurassic Park.
Sorry! Sorry, I meant: Welcome... to Jurassic World.
In fairness, Jurassic World knows full well the details of its own provenance, and its deliberate callbacks to Steven Spielberg's groundshaking original are knowing winks to anyone for whom Jurassic Park is a personal cinemagoing touchstone: a character picks up a dusty but familiar piece of headgear; those driverless jeeps are rusting away in a garage (the batteries dead after 22 years, but the tyres miraculously intact and full of air) and Mr DNA pops up to say hi, voiced by Trevorrow himself. But knowing winks aren't enough for modern audiences: "consumers want them bigger, louder, more teeth," comments one character early on. And sure enough in Jurassic World the film, as in Jurassic World the theme park, everything is bigger, louder and toothier than before, while still managing to appear strangely familiar.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: two children, young relatives of someone high up in the management of a dinosaur theme park, visit the park and embark on an awe-inspiring ride. Meanwhile, due to human stupidity, the biggest, scariest dinosaur escapes from its paddock, going on to terrorise the kids and others. The management enlists the help of a rugged dinosaur expert (an authority on velociraptors who's in the middle of assessing the park's ability to host dinosaurs) to rescue the children. There's a pause to acknowledge that these monsters are also living, breathing creatures when the two leads tend to a sick dinosaur. The children briefly take refuge in the visitor centre. One selfish character puts everyone in danger with his own personal agenda. It all builds to a thrilling finale, and in the end... well, you get the idea. Jurassic World doesn't just nod to Jurassic Park, it gets down on its knees and prostrates itself, then steals its shoes.
All of which is disappointing and somewhat depressing, but if you're going to stand on the shoulders of geniuses you may as well do it with a tall hat on, and by crikey Jurassic World's hat is very tall. [note to self: hat metaphor needs work before publishing] The opening shot of a baby dinosaur breaking out of its egg may be yet another echo from the past, but as a visual effect it's 65 million times more impressive than in 1993. It nicely sets up every subsequent appearance of the scaly bastards, which mark high-points in V- and SFX, the line between CGI and autoerotica blurred to the point of invisibility; the velociraptors in particular are more incredibly realised than ever. And the scene in which we're introduced to Chris Pratt's raptor-training hero Owen Grady is genuinely tense: we don't know if he's got them fully under control yet, and although we do know he isn't likely to get his head bitten off in the first reel, the fear is palpable.

Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays corporate drone Claire Dearing, do adequate work with flat, lazily-drawn characters (Owen is cartoonishly macho and proactive, while Claire wears impractically high heels and a pristine white suit destined for punishment), but puny humans are rarely the stars of these movies. Jurassic World's monster roster is extensive, including, among others: a leviathanic Mosasaurus; a T-Rex-dwarfing man-made hybridino called Indominus Rex, and Dimorphodons, which look like Pteranodons with little T-Rex heads. Each performs a specific role in the set-pieces which, while lacking the Spielberg touch that made even The Lost World worth watching, are enormous fun, confidently directed and skilfully edited. And while actual gags are thin on the ground, comic relief is expertly delivered by New Girl's Jake Johnson in a role which requires the poor bugger to stay in the same chair for almost the whole film.
Jurassic World slickly delivers on its promise to offer up two solid hours of dino-based entertainment, and for many, that's fine. But it's laced with plot holes and contrivances (Vincent D'Onofrio's warmonger has one of the dumbest plans ever committed to film; gigantic, clumsy dinosaurs can still sneak into shot undetected when the story demands it, and I counted at least three instances of conveniently inconvenient mobile phone / walkie-talkie reception failure), and it appears that nobody has learned anything whatsoever from the previous three films about man's inability to control nature or the inadvisability of splicing dino DNA with that of other animals which may aid the dinosaurs' evolutionary superiority.

A remake in all but name, Jurassic World - like its two immediate predecessors - would be a tremendous and admirable achievement in blockbuster filmmaking if only Jurassic Park hadn't got there first. Rejecting Darwinism like a particularly obstinate creationist, the series' survival appears to depend on a stubborn refusal to evolve, locking itself instead in a loop of eternal unoriginality. But that isn't really good enough, and while this entry makes a cursory attempt at relevance with a smattering of self-referential commentary on audiences' indifference to spectacle and their desire for "more teeth", it fails to capitalise on that idea and soon slips back into the comfort of familiarity. It's fun while it lasts, but it might be time to close the park for good.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Christopher Lee

"To us, Mister Bond. We are the best."
- Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Ghastly self-promotional blog post disguised as public service announcement

In an unlikely and quite possibly ill-advised turn of events, I find myself in the position of preparing to conduct a Q&A session with five-time James Bond score composer David Arnold this weekend. This will be the second time I've done a Q&A, the first being memorable primarily because I got the guest's job title wrong and ended up looking like an amateur who knew nothing about the subject matter in question, which definitely might not have been the case.

In order, therefore, to avoid looking like a clueless dolt in front of one of my genuine heroes and a room full of people, it would be great if anyone out there has any Qs they would like me to pose to David Arnold for him to A. I ask this not because I can't be arsed to think of my own questions, but rather that crowdsourcing might result in fewer instances of me asking David Arnold why he is so great, why his scores are so great, why his shoes are so great and so on.

If you'd like to come along and thrust a Q at David Arnold yourself, then feel free, which conveniently brings me to the public service announcement part of this thinly-veiled advertisement for my own unique Q&A-hosting skills. (Oh, you want me to do a Q&A with all the Bond actors / Ryan Gosling / Kristen Wiig in a bathtub? I'm sure I can make myself available, just get in touch!) The venue for this meeting of minds is London's sexually devastating Prince Charles Cinema, and it will take place this Sunday, June 14th, just after 8pm. Through a miracle of planning synergy, the Q&A is followed by a screening of Casino Royale (the good one), for which Mr Arnold wrote some well good music, and some may say the film is an even better reason to buy a ticket than the Frost/Nixonesque episode which precedes it.

You can buy tickets for the screening and Q&A here, and you can post questions in the comments below if you like. Don't suggest anything that might compromise my integrity as a professional asker of questions because that integrity is pretty goddamn fragile as it is and I need every last shred of it.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Mary Ellen Trainor

If you grew up watching films in the 1980s, Mary Ellen Trainor was almost always with you. Here's some nonsense I cobbled together a few years ago which may as well stand as a tribute to her small but important role in my personal cinema history:

Thursday, 4 June 2015

I have a bad feeling about this:
introducing BlogalongaStarWars

Loyal and long-suffering victims of The Incredible Suit may recall the groundscratching exercise in group bloggery that was BlogalongaBond: a mass attempt to revisit and re-evaluate one James Bond film every month in the run-up to the release of Skyfall. Literally some bloggers took part (all 547 articles published can be found here) and it was roundly hailed as the least significant cultural event since the Renaissance.

Since then, other Blogalongs have surfaced under the stewardship of more hardy bloggers than I (Kinnemaniac's BlogalongaRusskie tackled the next obvious target for a mass blogging retrospective: Andrei Tarkovsky), but the original project left me a spent, dried up husk of a man, and I haven't felt the need to attempt anything so ambitious since.


Well, hang on, it's not that ambitious. I'm far too lazy to go through all that again. But the fact that there are seven months to go until the seventh Star Wars film comes out is too much to resist, so if I can be arsed, I think I might try and find something new to say concerning six films which between them have generated enough hot internet air to float Harry Knowles to Endor. I'm sure I'll fail, but if you have some kind of "web presence" and fancy joining in, feel free. The only rule I've set myself, which you can follow or fling out the window for all I care, is to do one blog post per month on each Star Wars film, in release order, beginning with Episode IV: A New Hope this month and ending (duh) with Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith in November. I neither know nor care if that's the best order to do them in but it's my blog and I'll do whatever I want in whoever's underpants I like.

Do let me know on Twitter if you fancy taking part and when you've posted something; I won't be setting up separate social media accounts like I did with BlogalongaBond but if I'm feeling generous I might share your efforts, provided they're not better than mine. Hashtag your stuff with #BlogalongaStarWars if you like and if it doesn't obliterate the 140-character limit.

May the force be ever in your favour.