What’s your choice of Halloween film?

If you were to organise a film night for Halloween, what film would you choose?

Vouchercodes.co.uk has asked just that question of a small group of bloggers, with the winning entry being aired at a private screening at the Charlotte Street Hotel at the end of October.

Of the shortlist of eight films they’ve selected, I’ve seen surprisingly few. I was tempted to nominate Psycho, but the risk of ending up having to sit through Gus Van Sant’s pointless remake instead of Hitchcock’s masterpiece steered me away from that (likewise Nightmare on Elm Street, Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

So my vote is going to The Shining. Which, to my shame, I have never, ever seen before…

500x244 Halloween Golden Ticket

Tamara Drewe

This is one of a series of very short reviews to catch up with what I’ve seen in the past few weeks since I last blogged.

Thanks to the lovely people at From the Red Carpet (@F\_T\_R\_C), Terrie-May and I went to the Odeon Leicester Square for the celebrity-filled premiere of Stephen Frears’ new film, Tamara Drewe. Unfortunately our tickets were for the stalls and the celebs were in the circle (former Big Brother 9 contestants Mario and Lisa ended up on our row, which probably says something about their celebrity status, or lack thereof).

Based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel, Tamara (Gemma Arterton) is a newspaper columnist who returns to the Dorset village of her childhood, and where she had previously been a sexually precocious wild child. The men who fell under her spell before do so again, but are thwarted by her new relationship with a wild rock star (Dominic Cooper).

Tamara is the least interesting character in the entire film, though. More interesting are the lives and loves of the people around her, most notably Roger Allam’s boorish pulp fiction hack and his long-suffering wife, played by Tamsin Greig. It is Greig’s film in many ways — not only the most interesting character on paper, but the most believable, watchable and fascinating portrayal on screen.

Greig steals the film, but not without much competition from Jessica Barden as scheming teenage fangirl Jodie. Playing much the same sort of character as she did in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem at the Royal Court and in the West End, Barden is clearly a name to watch in the future.

Streetdance 3D: two dimensions more than the script

There is a point at which Carly, the plucky heroine of new British dance movie, Streetdance 3D, is taken to a classical ballet (Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet) by her dance school mentor. Sceptical at first, she finds herself drawn in. As they leave the theatre, she marvels at how they managed to portray an entire tragic love story without words.

Lucky them. The rest of us have to endure what passes for a Streetdance script. Dance movies are not particularly known for ever exercising the best screenplay judges at movie awards, but Streetdance drags the genre down to new lows. It’s been concocted by someone who saw Step Up 2: The Streets, went on an all-weekend bender and then verbally vomited up his hazy memory of the least worst parts.

Normally when I review things that other people may not have seen, I either warn them of spoilers or try to avoid them altogether. There’s no point doing either here, as the template for dance movies is so rigidly adhered to that you know what’s going to happen even before you walk into the cinema.

Continue reading “Streetdance 3D: two dimensions more than the script”

Sherlock Holmes

When choosing a film to watch at the local cinema yesterday, there was no way I was going to go and see Valentine’s Day on my own (maybe later, but not on the inappropriately-abbreviated V.D. itself). I’d heard so many dire things about The Wolfman that I’m in no great hurry to put myself through it, and I have no desire to sit through Avatar again. So I ended up finally seeing Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie’s take on Conan Doyle’s private detective.

That the film itself is still showing, having been released on Boxing Day 2009, seemed just as surprising as the fact it’s taken me this long to see it. But now, after having watched it, I can see why — it’s an enjoyably entertaining romp. Robert Downey Jr. clearly revels in the absurdity of the character’s near super-human skills of observation, allowing him to play the role with the sort of deadpan humour he also brings to Iron Man’s Tony Stark.

Jude Law’s Watson is a younger incarnation of the character than we’re used to seeing, but it’s satisfying to see him written and played as an intelligent man, with the sort of fighting skills that a veteran of war would have and with an intelllect befitting the one person Holmes would be able to bear as a friend.

The main plot revolves around a quasi-Masonic cult obsessed with black magic rituals, with Mark Strong suitably chilling as an adversary for the cunning Holmes. Of course, this being a 21st century interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes canon, Professor Moriarty has a pervading presence, despite his being a much smaller part of Conan Doyle’s fictional world than common folklore suggests. Inspector Lestrade has a substantial role, too, of course, here being played by the wonderful Eddie Marsan — and the typical depiction of him as a bumbling policeman, while intact, has been given a couple of nice spins that play out well.

This being a Guy Ritchie film, women know their place, with just three characters to speak of. Blink and you’ll miss Geraldine James as Mrs Hudson. Kelly Reilly is a little too two-dimensional as Watson’s fiancée, leaving the lion’s share of female screen time to Rachel McAdams as the smart-witted thief to whom Sherlock is attracted, but who is working for someone else. It’s a character that doesn’t quite work, but one has to admire her ability to find the one exit from the sewers underneath the Houses of Parliament that emerges at Tower Bridge a couple of miles down river. And not only that, but which emerges at the top of the bridge. Still haven’t quite worked out how that one works, save to set up a dangerous location for the film’s denouement.

The film contains several of my gripes about the depiction of Victorian London, including the depiction of buildings which would have been new at the time as if they were in the same half-decrepit state they are over a hundred years later. For more noticably, all the printed materials, including several newspapers and flyposters, all use typography that is far too regular and cleanly printed. Hours of perusing The Stage archives from the period has convinced me that any depiction of headlines that fill the front page in perfectly rendered block capitals are as accurate as depicting the front page of the Daily Express with actual news on it.

Small points, I know, but in a film that does attempt to capture the spirit of the age, anything which jumps out like that detract from what is otherwise a fun period thriller.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

I wasn’t sure whether I would like [Did You Hear About the Morgans?](http://www.didyouhearaboutthemorgans.com/), the latest romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant opposite the American actress _du jour_ (in this case, Sarah Jessica Parker). Ultimately, though, it won me over with some winning performances and a script that, for the most part, avoids the syrup that weighs down most Hollywood romcoms.

The plot itself — separated New York couple Paul and Meryl Morgan are placed into hiding after witnessing a murder — is something of a cut-and-shut amalgam of _Sister Act_ and, well, pretty much every NYC-based comedy. Both high-flying executives, the only way they can organise dinner to try and talk out their differences is through their personal assistants (Jesse Liebman and _The West Wing_/_Mad Men_’s Elisabeth Moss, stealing every scene she’s in).

Whisked away to temporary witness relocation in the depths of Wyoming (which the snobbish Morgans seem to regard with the same stereotypical disdain as English scriptwriters heap upon Norfolk), they are put up by gun-toting redneck couple Marshal Clay Weeler (Sam Elliott) and his wife, Deputy Emma Wheeler (Mary Steenburgen).

Naturally enough, they’re fishes out of water and have trouble adjusting to the country way of life, although in short order they realise that the friendly community spirit has a redemptive quality. Things pretty much proceed at the pace you’d expect from a movie of this sort, and indeed there are very few surprises, if any, in the way the plot develops.

What does surprise, though, is the script. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny all the way through, but has a nice pace to it, with occasional bursts of one-liners or slapstick sequences that help offset the more serious discussions about the Morgans’ self-destructing marriage.

As a result, it feels a lot warmer and truer than most romcoms, almost like a mid-West version of _Cold Feet_. The final reconciliation is one exception, as the dialogue turns gloopily soppy without the witty undercutting that runs through the rest of the script.

Without giving too much away, there’s a “six months later” coda that works quite well — it at least stays true to the central characters’ personalities, rather than having two metropolitan types deciding they need to go completely native to be be fulfilled. But it’s rather a gentler end than I was expecting: I wanted the last line of the film to be a real humdinger, and it wasn’t.

Much like this review.

Paranormal Activity? Pah. Sarah Greene is scarier

Cross-posted to TV Today

I saw Paranormal Activity at the cinema this weekend. For those who haven’t yet seen it, or heard about it from the large amounts of online buzz around it, it’s a supernatural film shot on a single video camera (a la The Blair Witch Project).

With all the best horror films, it’s the slowly creeping sense of dread that can turn a good movie into a great one. For me, Paranormal Activity doesn’t quite have that — while there are some genuinely creepy moments in the film, the scenes in between are more about tedium than tension.

What really killed the film for me, though, was the thought that I’d seen the whole concept — a family home tormented by ghosts or demons — done so much better. By the BBC, in fact, in 1992’s Ghostwatch.

It’s descended into notoriety now, of course, because despite being pre-recorded and broadcast in the Screen One drama slot, its presentation — as a live studio programme with outside broadcast links to a suburban housing estate — led some to overlook the (frankly rather dodgy) acting, and believe they were actually watching a documentary. Actors Sarah Greene and Craig Charles, on the “outside broadcast” duties, were then best known for their TV presenting roles, and in the studio Mike Smith (Greene’s husband) and Michael Parkinson were certainly no thesps. Indeed, remarkably it was the studio TV presentation that was the most plausible element of the whole setup, with the conceit only exposed by the stiff and much more tightly scripted response of the studio guests.

Never repeated on television, the British Film Institute released it on DVD in 2002, the tenth anniversary of the programme’s broadcast (the DVD is now deleted, but you may be able to find second-hand copies online).

On the BFI’s website, they claim:

> Seen today, following the advent of such tightly controlled ‘reality’ shows as Big Brother (Channel 4, 2000- ) and especially Most Haunted (Living TV, 2002- ), it is clear that the strong audience response Ghostwatch received at the time was due less to its dubious credibility as a factual broadcast than to the way that it tapped into audiences’ desire to be fooled, to be tickled by even the slightest possibility that a live broadcast could really go out of control.

Most Haunted (the creation, of course, of Greene’s fellow Blue Peter alumna, Yvette Fielding) does take the notion of fiction presented as fact to its most ludicrous extremes. Paranormal Activity is in no way as ridiculous — but as far as being creeped out goes, the BBC’s effort is hard to beat.

Below: a clip from Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Scary Moments talking about Ghostwatch.


Style guide wars: actress vs female actor

It’s such a shame when an injudicious choice of words overshadows the points that someone seeks to make. That’s what happened when, last week, The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman wrote an article for the paper’s G2 section about why Katherine Heigl would executive produce a film like The Ugly Truth after trashing Knocked Up, in which she starred opposte Seth Rogen, for being “a little sexist”.

The whole of Freeman’s piece makes some valid points — not that I agree with all of them. I liked The Proposal far more than she did, but I found myself nodding internally at this paragraph:

Hollywood romantic comedies have become the Primark dresses of cinema: disposable, crap and likely to make you wonder why you spent £10 on that piece of rubbish in the first place. It is tragically easy to see the thinking behind both Bullock and Heigl’s movies: “Hey! I’m a comic actress and I want a role that doesn’t involve me being a personality-free love interest, a shrewish wife/girlfriend, a hooker with a heart of gold, or a dumbbell. So why don’t we go back to the old school and make a Rock Hudson/Doris Day-type movie in which — and this is the real feminist kicker — I play the boss in the movie and he plays my subordinate. Amazing!” But no amount of sharp skirt suits can compensate for vibrating knickers.

But many of the comments attached to the article did not concentrate on the substantive points of Freeman’s article, but the headline. This is the part of the article which is least likely to have been written by Freeman herself, but would have been created by a subeditor. In this instance, it was given the headline

Even when they produce their own Hollywood romcoms, why do female actors still allow themselves to be humiliated?

Straight away, you can see the contentious element. Why “female actors” rather than “actresses”?

Freeman herself commented:

To all of you who are getting so exercised over the term “female actor”, take it up with the Guardian style guide.

…and later reiterated:

My goodness, the female actor / actress debate continues. As I say every flipping week it seems, take it up with the style guide. On the other hand, if that’s all most of you can think of to criticise here, my piece must be amazing.

And in Peter Preston’s media column in yesterday’s Observer he took up the cause:

Last week I was less than ecstatic about newspaper style books in general, and one in particular that saw a Hadley Freeman piece in the Guardian headlined: “The ugly truth about female actors in rom-coms”. Helen Mirren, female actor? Kindly leave the stage. And Hadley agrees with me. She’s blogged back to “all of you who are getting so exercised over the term” saying “take it up with the Guardian style guide”. Not with her, because she never wrote the two duff words; not with the sub-editor who wrote the headline and was merely following orders, but with the sacred book of ordained coinages.

Why do newspapers churning out hundreds of thousands of words a day – some of them as new as last night’s television or a blog from Tahiti – need to set living English in concrete blocks of disapproval?

Erm, let’s just look at the Guardian style guide, shall we? It’s easy to do, as it’s all online. Of the term ‘actor’, it says:


for both male and female actors; do not use actress except when in name of award, eg Oscar for best actress.

One 27-year-old actor contacted the Guardian to say “actress” has acquired a faintly pejorative tinge and she wants people to call her actor (except for her agent, who should call her often). As Whoopi Goldberg put it in an interview with the paper: “An actress can only play a woman. I’m an actor – I can play anything.”

As always, use common sense: a piece about the late film director Carlo Ponti was edited to say that in his early career he was “already a man with a good eye for pretty actors” … As the readers’ editor pointed out in the subsequent clarification: “This was one of those occasions when the word ‘actresses’ might have been used

I’ve added the emphasis to the start of the final paragraph. Good style guides recognise that there are situations where the “rules” are not hard and fast. I think that the clumsy structure of the headline to Freeman’s article is brought about by one instance where common sense was not applied. Indeed, note how the article itself describes Heigl both as an actor and an actress, depending on the context.

In Preston’s example of “Helen Mirren, female actor?”, “Helen Mirren, actor” would suffice. The style guide says that is preferable to “Helen Mirren, actress”, and I would agree. Preston seems to have a chip on his shoulder about style guides, and uses this example to justify his own prejudice. The error, though, is not in the guidance, but in the dogmatic following of such guidance without recourse to common sense.

On a related note, we recently had a flurry of letters over the same wording in a news story on The Stage, which was headlined Female actors get less pay and shorter careers.

This is a different case, though — as the headline implies (and the opening paragraphs confirm) there is a comparison to be made between female actors and their male counterparts in the same profession. If the term “actresses” had been used to change the headline to Actresses get less pay and shorter careers, that implication is lost and a longer, clumsier headline would have been needed.

Sunshine and Moon

Over the weekend, I saw two British science fiction films for the first time: Sunshine, directed by (the now Oscar-winning) Danny Boyle and Moon, directed by Duncan Jones.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to see Sunshine. It’s been out on DVD for ever: my copy was bought a while ago on impulse in one of those 3-for-2 deals from HMV or somesuch, and has lain in the original cellophane ever since.

That’s changed now, of course. And in a way it was the ideal weekend to watch it, as it provides a great counterpoint to Moon, which by some miracle actually made it to my local multiplex this week.

Both films wear their visual inspirations on their sleeves – Sunshine’s Icarus II has many echoes of Alien’s Nostromo, while Moon takes obvious cues from the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, as with the best SF, it’s the human interactions that make the pieces work, and in both films the themes are simultaneously huge and intimate, both contemporary and eternal.

Sunshine asks us to consider the boundaries between the science of physics and the faith of spirituality as somewhat more blurred than we usually accept. For Moon, it’s a consideration of what makes us the person we are. I really don’t want to go into too much detail on either, as you really do need to go into both films without any forewarning of what’s to come.

Of the two, though, I think I prefer Moon. Sunshine, for me, veers from a claustrophobic character study to a more traditional action film — albeit one with a remarkable camera effect that emphasises the philosophical aspect of the film — while Moon retains its sense of creeping unease throughout, building the tension until the very end. Sam Rockwell gives the sort of performance that, if it were in a non-genre based drama, would be a shoo-in for awards.

Both films have faults — including liberal artistic licence with the laws of physics — but as examples of thought-provoking SF, they’re right up there.


Tron 2.0, aka Tr2n, is now Tron Legacy

If I was the sort of person who went to conventions, I think Comic-Con San Diego would be the one I would most like to go to. Somehow, over the last few years, it has become a major means of marketing all sorts of genre productions in TV and film to the fans.

Anyway, while I’ve been stuck in London, this year’s convention has been covering all sorts of things, from BBC shows being plugged (**Being Human**, **Doctor Who** and **Torchwood** – yup, Ianto’s still dead and staying that way) to sneak previews of the latest films.

Trocker and videoblogger [charlieissocoollike](http://www.youtube.com/user/charlieissocoollike) got a press pass for this year’s convention from Disney, and has filed a report in his usual ebullient style:


Like him, I’m incredibly excited about the prospect of the Tron sequel — now, apparently, called **Tron Legacy**. Unlike him, I was actually born when the first film came out in 1982 — indeed, I had devoured the novelisation well before I got to see the film. Combined with a set of stills inserted into Brian Daley’s book and the occasional glimpses of footage in **Disney Time**, the version of Tron in my head is the one I still think of being as the original – the movie itself ending up as a big-screen facsimile.

What with computer graphics improving so much over the last 27 years, there’s every chance that Tron Legacy will be closer to that original version in my head. Here’s the footage shown at Comic-con: kind of a teaser trailer, if you will. I _cannot_ wait.


Dorian Gray – the teaser trailer

Not the [Matthew Bourne](http://www.sadlerswells.com/show/Matthew-Bournes-Dorian-Gray-09) version, nor indeed the play which continues at [Leicester Square Theatre](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/24905/dorian-gray) until August 2. No, this is the movie version, with Oscar Wilde’s novel being given the full Hollywood costume drama treatment, starring Ben Barnes, Colin Firth and some truly terrifying hairstyles: