Tuesday Trailer: Sinister

Sinister, the latest film to be named from a ten-minute thesaurus-based marketing meeting, has been running some fairly tame TV spots recently. Ethan Hawke in various states of distress does not, I’m afraid, adequately sell your horror movie to me. Now Summit have released a red band trailer, the film marketing equivalent of a baby TV spot’s naughtier, swearier, emotionally troubled-ier older brother, to pack a meatier punch. Let’s see if it worked.

(Bear in mind this is all NSFW, so don’t watch the trailer/read the rest of the post if you haven’t yet passed your EBacc.)

There’s Ethan, in remarkably low light, looking distressed again, possibly at the fact that Classically Trained Actor Ethan Hawke has been reduced to starring in October-released horror B-movies that don’t even look that scary.

Ethan’s laptop appears to show Jigsaw, from the Saw films, which would make for a curious new direction for the franchise.

Or maybe it’s Ghostface, from the Scream films. Could this be a franchise mashup? If it is, I’m out now guys. Have we not learned the sobering lessons of Freddy vs Jason? Of Alien vs Predator? Of Sonic vs Mario at the Olympics?

OK, that appears to be a possessed girl convulsing out of a cardboard box screaming the death knells of a thousand tortured souls. That’s…well that’s…fine…would you look at that, I’ve suddenly noticed I’m completely alone in my house. That’s fine, too. BRB, just going to turn another light on.

OK, good, fine, now there’s a creepy infant girl covered in the blood, gesturing silence to her next hapless victim. No problem with that at all. I’m not one to be easily scared! You know I’m sure I had more lights in this house…

Ah, good, now we end on a family of four hung by the neck from a tree. Would you excuse me? I just need to go change my trousers, as this pair I’m wearing appears to be soaked in urine for some reason.

Well, now I’ve composed myself and spoken at length with all my immediate family to tell them I love them, I’m reluctantly impressed, in spite of the crap title. It remains to be seen whether Sinister truly will be able, as one testimonial puts it, “fuck up a lot of people”, but a trailer which manages to scare me into briefly mistrusting my own reflection is damn effective. It’s atmospheric and properly disturbing without containing a single line of dialogue. Amazing what a marketing team (and a capable editor) can do when allowed to show off to the grown ups.

Just Seen: Looper / Bill Cunningham New York / The Avengers

Looper

Rian Johnson’s third film is assuredly his best effort to date. The genre-bending director, having tackled film noir by way of adolescence (in Brick) and screwball comedy by way of conmen (in The Brothers Bloom), turns his hand to action by way of Philip K Dick-esque sci fi. In the future, time-travel has been invented, outlawed, and appropriated by criminal gangs who send marked men back thirty years in the past so their corpses will never be found. The assassins, known as Loopers, go about their time-warping work aware that they may one day be forced to confront, and murder, their future selves.

While the thrills are loud and bloody, the ideas floated are quietly philosophical. Some hefty ethical dilemmas amplify the ambiguity of our two leads, leaving us continually undecided which Looper is the true hero: present-day Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) or future Joe (Bruce Willis). Muscular and consistently unpredictable, this is genre filmmaking at its most confident and sophisticated.

Bill Cunningham New York

I went into Bill Cunningham New York knowing practically nothing about the eponymous Bill, nor the alien planet known as Fashion on which he inhabits.  To some degree, many of my prejudices about New York high society were quickly confirmed: a spoilt land where snobby socialites and nasal-voiced WASPs complain about the hors d’oeuvre at benefit galas, forever air-kissing. But sitting largely outside this pack is Bill, a humble eccentric who goes about as he has done for years – diligently photographing street fashion by day, and society parties at night, for his two columns in the New York Times, a toothy smile never far from his face.

Even in his ninth decade, Bill’s workload remains relentless. Fashion’s great and good speak of him in reverent tones (“we all get dressed for Bill” says Vogue‘s Anna Wintour, nasally). At Paris fashion week he’s ushered past a queue because one dogsbody designates him “the most important person on the planet”. To see such high esteem for a sweet old man makes Bill Cunningham New York utterly joyous to watch, even for fashion luddites like me.

The Avengers

Marvel’s dream team has lost none of its muster or bluster in the journey from the big screen to the small – it is still, unquestionably, the most entertaining two-and-a-bit hours Hollywood has conjured up all year, standing tall against plenty of other years, too. Joss Whedon’s sparkling confidence is spellbinding. How the hell did the guy behind Dr Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog summon the masterful dexterity to give so many swaggering super-egos an equal footing on a humongous stage? With a billion in the bank and universal acclaim, giving Whedon the gig will go down as one of Marvel’s smartest moves.

Yes, it is hardly the most unique of plots, and yes, it goes a little saggy in the middle, but what elevates The Avengers above all other cinematic superhero jaunts is its infectious, bubbling sense of fun. Nowhere is that better embodied than in the undulating green muscles of the Hulk, who smashes up New York City, and its alien invaders, with the glee of an sugar-intoxicated 8-year-old in a jungle gym, and we all find ourselves dizzy from the fun fumes. This is what comic books were supposed to look like on screen.

Lawless is okay, I guess

Nestled at the foot of the Appalachian mountains is Franklin County, Virginia, home to a modest 30,000 people during the 1920s. At the height of America’s prohibition, this diminutive rural community was producing illegal booze on a vast scale. It was estimated that perhaps as much as 99% of the residents of the self-styled “Moonshine Capital Of The World” were involved in the illegal liquor trade in some way. It’s surprising, given America’s fondness for navel-gazing mythologising into its frontier past, it’s taken this long for Franklin’s story to be told: first in a book called The Wettest County In The World and now in Lawless, a half-decent film adaptation of that book, which details the tribulations between three hooch-cookin’ brothers and John Q Law’s attempt to stop them.

First, the good: it looks nice and the acting is great. Director John Hillcoat has assembled a fine ensemble (Shia LaBoeuf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska) and there’s not a weak link among them. I particularly enjoyed Gary Oldman’s appearance in what basically amounts to a cameo: as big shot gangster Floyd Banner, his opening appearance provides the best scene of the film. He screeches into town, lets a million bullets from a tommy gun rip into an old Model T Ford (á la Bonnie & Clyde), chews a cocktail stick beneath a pencil moustache and winks, slyly. So cool are these brief thirty seconds, they all but confirm, if confirmation were really needed, that Gaz need only stick his head round the corner of a film set and the film is his.

Shia LaBoeuf is impressive too, continuing his World Tour Of Arthouse so as to atone for his heinous franchise crimes. (We will next be seeing Mr LaBoeuef having full sex with a lady in Lars Von Trier’s mad art bonkathon Nymphomaniac.) It takes guts and self-effacement for an A-lister to play, as one character names him, “the runt of the litter”, and he shows more commitment, grace and range in 90 minutes than he did in three Transformers films, boding sort-of positively for his burgeoning career as a ‘serious actor’.

And Lawless sure looks purdy, too, with a careful devotion to period and a consistently beautiful palette through Benoît Delhomme’s carefully trained lens. But Hillcoat, along with scribe/soundtracker Nick Cave, fall into the trap of many a neo-western, wrongly assuming that a pretty country vista and a wistful voiceover from  good ol’ time boy are all the ingredients needed. In fact, they skittishly throw in another element: some Tarantino-esque try-not-to-look-away violence, which crops up now and then in an uneven, misplaced fashion.

It makes for a bumpy ride. Lawless shows occasional promise, but it is a film no smarter than its own bullish, red-blooded lead characters, grumbling along rather mindlessly like Tom Hardy’s apparently indestructible grunting moonshiner. Chalk it down to laziness, studio interference, inexperience, whatever, but this shoot-first, ask-questions-about-plot-and-character-later strategy doesn’t swing it with me. You need only observe how bluntly written the measly afterthought female characters are, or how Guy Pearce’s oil-slick villain bears cartoonish similarities to Dr Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, to see what I’m talking about. As Prohibition-era yarns go, Lawless ain’t got nothing on Boardwalk Empire.

How London 2012 made me a reluctant patriot

I’ve never been much for patriotism, an archaic and rather silly concept typically only the preserve of racist pensioners and people from America. What’s there to be proud of? Centuries of reckless colonialism and slavery, ITV2, an undemocratic monarchy, shit food, shitter weather, Piers Morgan, town after town of concrete skyrise and piss-stained asphalt… Being British is embarrassing.  Doug Stanhope put it best when said that nationalism “does nothing but teach you how to hate people that you never met and take pride in accomplishments you had no part in whatsoever”. (See also: this Mitchell & Webb sketch.)

So how did I, a grumpy non-patriot and emphatic small-r republican, find myself last week bellowing our country’s ludicrous monarch-doting national anthem at the top of my voice, union flag draped over my torso like an EDL recruitment officer, alongside 80,000 other people? And in the name of sports as well!  Not since Kevin Keegan resigned as manager of Newcastle United in 1997 have I irrationally devoted deep emotional capital to factors entirely beyond my control. #neverforget

London 2012 has surprised me in more ways than one. It all started, appropriately enough, at the beginning: watching Danny Boyle’s mostly brilliant opening ceremony at a pub about a mile away from the Olympic park. I found myself quickly swept up in the spirit of things, lubricated by good company and alcohol and the pub’s boisterous atmosphere and sense of occasion. We all cheered noisily when Team GB paraded out, we cheered when Lord Coe talked about how great we all we were, and we ran outside when the fireworks began and saw them for ourselves. What a start!

And so it continued, defying the expectations of a perpetually pessimistic populace and almost making the crass commercialism, the forcibly evicted East Londoners and the nauseatingly distasteful £9billion price tag seem worth it. There was a lot to be angry about the Olympics, but now they were here, it seemed the sensible thing to just enjoy it.

Even I, placed last in three consecutive 1500m sports day finals aged 13-16, felt those primitive tribalistic impulses that have somehow held fast into our age of enlightenment surging through my veins as the GB gold rush accelerated through both the Olympics and Paralympics. Unlike last year’s royal wedding or this year’s jubilee, these were no pageants for the wealthy and spoilt, celebrating spurious and intangible achievements. Here, we were cheering bona fide, rock solid achievements.

And though I had no part in these accomplishments whatsoever (I bought a lottery ticket on my sixteenth birthday, so there’s a chance a fraction of that may have funded the mens coxless four), I couldn’t help but feel some affinity for these incredible superhumans, whose post-event interviews invariably showed them to be recognisably lovely people, the kind found everywhere in this odd little country of ours. I know people like Laura Trott and Nicola Adams and Bradley Wiggins and David Weir. They’re not the gilded, spoilt millionaires that clog up our football stadiums every weekend; they’re just ordinary Brits with extraordinary talents and ruthless work ethics, and in spite of myself I can’t help but feel overcome with a peculiar sense of pride.

So I’ve somehow managed to reconcile my uneasy relationship with the whole idea of patriotism, as the picture above should powerfully illustrate. You won’t see me voting for UKIP any time soon, but when you’re faced with, as Lord Coe perfectly put it in his Paralympics closing ceremony speech, “the best of mankind“, it’s bloody hard to argue for anything else.

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