Monday, May 30, 2011

Why You Should Watch The Tunnel

A week and a bit ago,
The Tunnel, an indie Australian horror film was released for free online. The creators have taken a daring approach to film distribution, attempting to cover the $135,000 production cost of their film by selling individual frames on their website, releasing a deluxe DVD and organising a couple screenings. A lot has been said already about this side of the project so... let's ignore it all together and focus on the actual film.

The Tunnel is a pretty damn decent 'found-footage' style movie. As such, comparisons to other similarly styled/gimmicky (delete-as-per-your-taste) are absolutely inevitable. Amongst such competition, by my reckoning, The Tunnel mounts a pretty strong defence and, whilst it's by no means the best around, it certainly holds its own. And kicks Paranormal Activity all over the park (although, in truth, that isn't exactly hard...)

The unique selling point in this case is the presentation of the story as a documentary, with talking-heads style interviews with several of the lead characters involved in the story. This, as should be immediately obvious, has a fairly massive downside... You. Know. Who. Survives. I'm not giving anything away here at all (I do seriously hope lots of people will watch this) but, given that we expect people to die in horror films (that's what happens!), the fact that the film makers show us two of the four lead characters talking to the camera from the start leaves the audience to draw some fairly easy conclusions!

Minor documentary-gripe aside, they do succeed in setting up a genuinely intriguing story. With contemporary fears over water-shortages, the New South Wales government have come up with a new plan to use the miles of abandoned train tunnels that run underneath the city for water storage. For various reasons, this leads to our starring group of intrepid (and possibly implausibly stupid...) band of journalists to go exploring in the dark. Sadly, they've told no-one they were going (they clearly haven't seen 127 Hours). And they're staggeringly under-prepared and under-equipped. Even Theseus took a thread with him when he went into the labyrinth!

Needless to say, all sorts of tragedy, violence and scary noises ensues.

Again, I don't want to go into too much detail about what actually occurs. The camera wiggles, night-vision comes and goes, screams and cries echo through the tunnels. It's stylishly and competently put together and puts their sub-Sydney environment to good use. The only criticism I can really level at the film, however, is that with such an interesting background story created for the film, much of the detail and interest gets forgotten about from around halfway through. They're not the only ones who do it - District 9 forgets entirely about its mockumentary format from about 30 minutes in - but it did leave me wanting a little bit more from the story. I'm not the kind of viewer who likes to be spoon-fed an easy solution, but having interested me in the story, to forget about it was a bit of a let down. Perhaps, like the creators of [REC], they intend to reveal a lot more of the story, the causes, etc. in a future instalment. Perhaps they don't.

Either way, The Tunnel is a well-made, decently paced and enjoyable film. It's interesting, genuinely creepy in places and leaves you wanting more (or though not in an entirely positive way). Oh, and did anyone mention that it's free?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cannes ban von Trier...

Oh dear, oh dear, Lars von Trier has certainly upset the Cannes-folk, hasn't he?

Does anyone really not see how ridiculous this is? Has anyone who does insist that it was a very serious issue actually seen/heard the video? He preceded the comments by pointing out that his next film was a four hour long hardcore porn film starring Kirsten Dunce. With no dialogue.

This man is bored. This man is bored of the dull routine of press conferences and he rambles off on a provocative wander. He clearly has no idea where this ramble is going and laughs at himself throughout. So you don't like the humour? Fine, I can't say I'm wild about it either, but the "von Trier is a Nazi" headlines that everyone has been churning out just seem like willful media aggression. Which is pretty pathetic.

But the media are the media, they're always been smug hypocrites. Luckily, the Cannes organizers are above all that ... just as bad. It'd be bad enough that they were dismissing him for what was clearly a joke, given with all the other stuff they've put up with, if it weren't for the smiling face of Emir Kusturica who's running this year's Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes. This is the same Kusturica who has very seriously made comments suggesting an extent of support for Milosevic.. Suddenly, Lars jests don't look so important...

Edit: The Daily Beast have a very interesting post with a response from von Trier.

“It was stupid and the wrong place to be sarcastic,” von Trier admitted. “Of course, I don’t sympathize with Hitler. And, as we all know, the Holocaust was the cruelest and most barbaric crime against humanity of the last century … My only excuse is that if I think a press conference is getting boring I start to perform. [...] The reason that I make these Jewish jokes is that, for half my life, I thought I was Jewish. If you’re Jewish, you’re allowed to make Jewish jokes. So it’s hard to break that habit when you find out that you’re not really Jewish. All of my children have Jewish names. I’m sorry that people took it the wrong way. But I know why; I was stupid enough to talk to the world like I talk to my best friends.”
What we have here, as so many times before when the world reacts with shock to particularly callous/offensive remarks is an absolute lack of context. The people at the press conference are familiar with von Trier's style (there is plenty of laughter or at least nervous tittering through the video) and the people who watch von Trier's films are familiar with his style. It's only when remarks given in a closed circle spread (inter)nationally that things start to kick off and the apoplectic rage blinds everyone...

Anyway, if nothing else, this gives me an excuse to stick a couple of awesome Nazi-themed posters from sleazey films in this post. So without further ado, here's and . Quality, family-friendly entertainment, I'm sure...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cannes 2011

So Cannes 2011 starts tomorrow, everyone's favourite round-up of often pretentious, frequently over-serious and yet still usually fantastic film. There's almost no point getting too excited about any of the films on the actual bill because, months down the line when they actually get a release, the interest usually wears off before I get to actually see them. So I'm taking a fairly laid-back approach to it this year, mostly just reading the occasional review or summary. Or I might read everything I can find. We'll see...

Neither Empire nor Total Film have much up yet for Cannes besides the month-old line-up announcement. More from them to come soon, I'm sure... The Guardian's Cannes section has a predictably thorough-but-earnest Peter Bradshaw analysis of the main contenders up, whilst Mark Kermode is not going (he's not much of a fan).

But what about the films themselves? Well, to be honest, very few of them are really shouting to me. I'll keep half an eye out for the Lars Von Trier contribution (Melancholia) and Almodóvar's latest (The Skin I Live In) whilst Takashi Miike's Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai certainly has potential (Peter Bradshaw, needless to say, is not interested!).

Half the fun, however, is usually to be found in keeping an eye on the mad as can be films in the marketplace, fighting desperately for distribution deals. There're almost always a good few horror and other indie gems to look out for there, so I'm sure that's where my attention will be focused.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The death of cinema?

So I've been meaning to write this for a few days now. Shame it's taken me so long...

As reported in the Guardian and many other places on Sunday, several big-name directors have joined the cinema industry in attacking movie-industry plans to shorten the amount of time between the cinema debut of a film and its home availability, by making video-on-demand (that's streaming) films available as little (?) as two months after the film's release.

They roll out some interesting claims to fight these plans: VOD releases will increase piracy, they say, and will force cinemas to close. These are BAD THINGS and, if big, important names are saying them they MUST BE TRUE. Right?


One of the marks of almost any cultural industry (ugh, I hate pairing those words) is that those who've climbed their way to the top tend to have an (entirely to be expected) fondness for the status quo. Things are how they are and should be as they should be. Why would you change anything?

Sadly for them (but not for us), life doesn't work like that. We like progress. We like exciting new things. We like big shiny fun things that no-one else in the history of mankind has ever had. Hence we invent stuff, we find new ways to look at the world, we radically alter our relationship with life, culture, art and the environment. I am by no means suggesting that this is always positive - it's not, the obscene quantity of human-created human suffering is testament to that - but I am suggesting that it's inevitable: we're just not adapted to maintaining the status quo. Things will change.

So let's return to Earth for a moment and go back to look at their claim. It will increase piracy. It will. Will it? The evidence that it would is very shaky. Let's be blunt: it's very easy to find films on the internet. I (obviously) am not about to link to anywhere you can get it but the current box office smash Fast and the Furious 5 is all over the internet. I have no idea what kind of quality it is, but it's there and that's enough.

Now, what we have here is the Film Industry's Music-Industry-Moment. For the music industry, this happened somewhere around the whole Napster deal. Faced with a very clever technology (hello internet!) capable of delivering high quality content at (even then) fairly decent speeds, they were poised to make an industry revolution. They bottled it. Years later and the Beatles music has only just been made available online (November last year). No-one was keeping count, but thousands of Beatles albums were certainly downloaded in that time. Today's online music sites still often provide higher quality music than some shops sell.

The point I'm approaching (slowly) here, is that refusal to engage with digital distribution for fear of increased piracy is futile and narrow-minded. The Film Industry has to take the initiative and provide a decent service that people will pay for before they get used to downloading films. If they wander blindly into the same place as the music industry there is no way back.

The second point, and I think the one I object to more, is that it will mean cinemas to close. This relies on out automatic linking of "closing things = bad" without pausing to think about the relation in question: why will people choose to watch a film at home rather than in a cinema?

Some of the answers are related to progress again - we have bigger better TVs with bigger better speakers, the gap between home and cinema has narrowed - but there's also an implicit condemnation of the way cinemas are run and have been run for years.

Cinema visits in the UK are horrendously expensive. The price for a single ticket is already bordering on the price for a DVD in some cases. I might like the cinema but I can't afford to go as much as I'd like. If me and four friends each bought a DVD we'd have spent little more than it'd cost the five of us to go to the cinema and we'd see five times as many films.

It's also astonishing (and, depressingly true) how regular it is to hear serious film-fans describe the cinematic experience as being deeply disappointing. We brave the ticket prices, stump up and march in. The sticky floors and chewing-gum covered seats are what welcomes us. The bunches of screaming kids chucking sweets at each other and talking continues throughout. You leave thinking, 'I wish I could've seen that in my own house'. Seriously, what would it cost a cinema to have a member of staff to kick out the people who ruin a film for everyone?

So there we have it. Cameron, Bigelow et al are clinging to what they love. The cinemas are using this as another excuse to neatly avoid considering why less people go to the cinema and they're all intent on digging in their heels to slow the inevitable. And, I should add, by the inevitable, I certainly don't mean the death of cinema. This is not the end. This is another chapter. I love the cinema and will continue to go but it shouldn't need to be carefully protected: to survive it must make progress too, it must work to provide an absolutely inimitable experience that we're prepared to pay for.