Empire Movie-Con III – Act III

Day III of Movie-Con III, and it was the best one. Also, the most anticipated, chiefly because of my excitement over the Bastard Hard Movie Quiz, put together by none other than Empire’s resident movie genius Kim Newman, and of course, the UK premiere of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World! The day started off with 3D footage from Tron: Legacy, described as a ‘stand alone sequel’ to the cult 1982 Disney film. The original Tron lacked much character and story, but it more than made up for it with the sheer wondrousness of the visuals – Jeff Bridges INSIDE a video game made for something special. The visuals in this sequel are less stark but a bit more drab and grey than before – personally, it looked as though the 3D (or at least my 3D glasses) were a little off, because I didn’t really notice the 3D effects much….my fellow attendee felt the same. Weird. This was followed by a ‘comedy’ sketch by Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow promoting the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film – I hated the first one and didn’t bother with the sequels, so this is definitely a no-no.

Sony’s bunch of trailers were a mixed bag – the Angelina Jolie action thriller Salt looks spectacular enough, could be quite fun, the teen comedy Easy A looked pretty average, but things got much better with The Other Guys, an action comedy with Will Ferret and Mark Wahlbergthat looked insanely hilarious. Completely tasteless, but utterly hilarious. Battle: Los Angeles looked utterly blinding – a proper balls-to-the-wall action adventure about aliens (lots of films about aliens this weekend, it must be said) ripping LA to shreds. Looked very exciting.

Next up was the frankly outrageous trailer to Machete – a ludicrously exploitative revenge thriller that originally started as a fake trailer at the start of the Grindhouse double-feature but is now an actual film. Mexican behemoth Danny Trejo actually abseils down the outside of a building with a bad guy’s intestines – the gore is way, way over the top, there’s loads of nudity and trashy dialogue….it looks amazing. If you’re going to make trash, then go for it throttle. Machete is going full throttle and then some. Then there’s the new Resident Evil film; this time it’s in 3D, and we get a lot of spiel from Paul Anderson about how the RS series and 3D is a natural match and blah, blah, blah…..Anderson seriously hasn’t made a good film since Event Horizon, and that was over ten years ago. The footage here looked entertaining enough, but we’ve seen it all before, no matter how many dimensions it’s been presented in.

One of the day’s big highlights was the appearance of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – they helped make Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz some of the most deservedly beloved slices of fried gold to be made in the last fifteen years, and even though their new film Paul looks like a pretty damn funny road movie (with aliens) and nothing more (though please, please prove me wrong), they make a great double-act on stage and on screen, so bring it on! If Let Me In was the big surprise of Saturday (in that it actually looks really, really good), the medieval epic Ironclad (about King John’s siege of a rebel fortress) was the big unexpected treat of Sunday. A great cast (Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, a surprisingly tough-nut Mackenzie Crook) and a ten minute battle sequence that was seriously tense and brutal, this looked great and I’ll definitely be seeing this.

Star Wars-loving comedy Fanboys (about a bunch of geeks who try and break into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch) looks like a lot of fun – while the remake of Brighton Rock looked very impressive. Updated to the sixties and closer to the novel, this promises to be very atmospheric and Sam Riley (Ian Curtis in Control) has presence in abundance. After a brief video clip from Duncan Jones about his upcoming film Source Code, we moved onto Kim Newman’s Bastard Hard Movie Quiz, which I couldn’t wait to participate in as I love geeky quizzes, and this one was pretty cool. Guess the film from the credit sequence (with the title obviously blurred out), guess the actor from the character they played, guess the character from the range of actors who played them, a ‘threequel’ themed round, and a ‘what happened next’ round….did I say that Ironclad was the big surprise of the day? Okay, more than that, I didn’t expect to win the bloomin’ quiz! Very, very chuffed, couldn’t believe I won, so very happy!

After that buzz, we got to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, which is probably my most anticipated film of the year – I LOVE the Bryan Lee O’ Malley comic series, and Edgar Wright is such a great director, so expectations were high. Wright’s nailed the visual element perfectly – this is easily his most technically extraordinary film to date. The cast is perfect – I was worried that Michael Cera would be too soft to capture the manicness and madness of Scott, but he’s wonderful. Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes for a great Ramona Flowers, but unfortunately the film cuts out a lot of their more dramatic and relationship-based sequences, so their chemistry isn’t as strong as it was in the books. This is probably because Wright has had to condense six books into two hours, and as a  result, some great stuff gets removed. There’s no Lisa Miller (booo!!!), no Joseph, none of Knives Chau’s family, and the run of fight sequences are too closely sequenced together. This makes for an unrelentingly exhilarating experience, but the joy of the books was the normality of the characters lives in-between the fights, and because this is severely reduced, we don’t feel for the characters as much as before. I suppose it wouldn’t have made for gripping cinema, but I love the sub-plot where Scott’s band Sex Bob-Omb get stuck in mixing limbo as Stephen Stills and Joseph become obsessed with tweaking the band’s music on a laptop. The rest of the cast is peerless – Knives Chau, Stephen Stills (for a reason I can’t quite figure out, is my favourite character in the books), Wallace, Kim, Gideon, Lucas Lee, Todd…all perfect. The countless references to 8-16 bit era video games was just glorious, from the heavily pixellated Universal logo to the rather sweet reworking of the lullaby theme from The Legend of Zelda (which Wright had to get permission from Nintendo to use), it all brought a big smile to my face. The action is terrific, the humour sharp and clever…it’s a great film, but in the end, it’s only a great film, whereas the books were just utterly, amazingly wonderful. Still, I want to watch it again, so it’s obviously done loads and loads of things right. Scott Pilgrim. Rating – Awesome!

And so we come to the end of a wonderful weekend, what a great time I had! Roll on next year! If I can get a ticket of course!

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Empire Movie-Con III, Act II

Day 2 of Movie-Con seemed as though it was going to be the least of the three days – this is mainly because there was to be no big movie. Friday had The Expendables, Sunday will have Scott Pilgrim, but what it lacked in a full-length feature, it made up for with a wealth of movie previews, goody-bag contents and great Q & A’s.

Let’s get the so-so stuff out of the way – Little Fockers, the third in the Meet the Parents series, looked pretty lousy and unfunny. The only good bit was actually in the intro to the trailer where Ben Stiller gave us his ‘Blue Steel’ face from Zoolander. Always hilarious. Dreamworks’ animated feature Megamind showcases the whole hyper-kinetic, mildly amusing but ultimately throwaway style that puts the studio forever in the shadow of Pixar. Of the two previewed Zack Synder features, the animated Legend of the Guardians certainly looked very impressive, but not very special on any other level. The other Snyder feature, the live-action crazy-fest Sucker Punch, looked completely off its head. Having Led Zeppelin’s mighty ‘When the Levee Breaks’ over the first half of the trailer certainly helped to win me over, and the trailer has an exhilarating anything-goes mentality that could prove to be wildly original. At the same time, the film could turn out to be a hugely indulgent mess. This is the first time Snyder’s worked outside of his remake/adaptation comfort zone – without the discipline of a source material to keep him in check, Sucker Punch could see Snyder go out of control. Or it could be absolute genius. We’ll wait and see….

The new film from Aliens Vs. Predator 2 promises to be less of a studio-controlled disaster (although this is all secondary info – I have never seen AVP2 and have no wish to do so), and Skyline’s trailer showcases plenty of spectacular action. The characterisation looks very production-line though, so this could turn out to be cliché city. Time will tell. The third Chronicles of Narnia film – new director, new studio – looks decent enough, though I’ve not seen the first two, so I’m a bit ambivalent. Super-slick trash merchant Tony Scott’s Unstoppable is a reliably spectacular looking runaway train thriller with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine – Scott’s settled into a visually arresting but dramatically uninteresting director – this looks ok, I’ll wait for the DVD. Drive Angry 3D (featured here in a non-3D trailer) was represented with approximately fifteen seconds of footage, so nothing special to report there.

Moving up a few notches were Kenneth Branagh’s Thor – the 3D looked great, and Branagh made for an engaging interviewee (there were also brief previews of Captain America and a no-footage preview of The Avengers), and the final Harry Potter film(s), which made me want to re-watch the first five so that I can fully understand the sixth (there had been a long gap in viewings and I had to turn off the Half Blood Prince as I had no idea what was going on) and then arrive fully armed for the Deathly Hallows, which will be split into two films. Could be great.

The low-budget Monsters could be this year’s District 9 in that provides cheap-priced sci-fi on a spectacular scale – the director did a fine job in whetting our appetites, while the Eli Roth-produced The Last Exorcist looks surprisingly great – the humour worked in the first shown sequence, the horror just as well in the second….Roth needs to pick up his game after the lousy Hostel II, and even though he’s not directing this one, it looks a treat. The Saw films have been around for at least 75 years, and I gave up around the third or fourth one, but the decision to make this one in 3D could be a good one – we were previewed the opening sequence and the grisly gore looked wonderfully horrible in an extra dimension. Ryan Reynolds spends an hour and a half trapped in a coffin in Buried – the first ten minutes looks impressive, scary and suitably claustrophobic.

Jon Favreau’s interesting Cowboys and Aliens looks cool – Daniel Craig looks mean and moody, Harrison Ford actually acts for the first time in ages and the mix of western and sci-fi could really work. It won’t be Wild Wild West, that’s for sure. I never thought I’d say this, but the most promising film of the day actually turned out to be Let Me In. This US remake of top Swedish horror Let the Right One In didn’t sound promising, but the footage we were shown certainly swayed my opinion. Chloe Moretz (as the vampire) and Richard Jenkins (as her guardian) both seriously impressed, and the two sequences we were shown were respectively sweet and seriously chilling – there’s an unbroken shot in a sequence of sudden destruction in the latter sequence that looked amazing. Moretz herself turned up for some Q and A – Empire’s editor assured us she would NOT be quoting her most infamous line from this year’s terrific Kick-Ass – and her unforgettable performance in that film was most likely the reason she got one of the best receptions of the weekend so far. A surprise appearance from Daniel Radcliffe got an even bigger cheer, but then again, he is Harry Potter, Oh yeah, Cary Elwes showed up. Cary Elwes! Westley from The Princess Bride! He was here to talk about Saw 3-D, and he proved to be a highly amusing guest.

Prizes were given out throughout the course of the day – my fellow attendee was ‘lucky’ enough to win Clash of the Titans on Blu-Ray, but I certainly won out on the prize stakes, just for sheer obscurity value – somehow I now own a CD copy of the soundtrack to Cutthroat Island. You know, the film that bankrupted a whole studio back in the nineties. The same studio in fact, that made Terminator 2, which is on in the background now on my mate’s telly. And on that bombshell, I’ll leave you. Tomorrow looks set to be the best of the three Movie-Con days. Why? Scott Pilgrim.

BFI/Empire Movie-Con III – Act I

I’ve just come back from Day Two of the BFI/Empire Movie-Con III, and I can safely say it’s set a very high bar for the quality of future conventions to match. The major, major draw for lucky attendees is the UK premiere of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, which, at the time of writing, I absolutely cannot wait to see, yet sadly must do so– though this time tomorrow, I’ll be able to let you know just how good it is. Anyway, that’s all in the future – let’s talk about the past. The last day and a half to be precise.

Located in Waterloo’s British Film Institute, Movie-Con III promised lots of sneak previews, star Q & A’s and many trailers and choice scenes from upcoming movies, many of which had never been seen in the UK before. In fact, the only other public place to have seen these were at San Diego’s Comic-Con, though a few choice clips have now made it onto Empire’s website. Details of exactly who would be present to talk about the movies have not exactly been confirmed, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the very affable Danny Boyle talk about his upcoming film 127 Hours, which stars James Franco, an actor who I could always take or leave in the past with his undemanding turns in the Spiderman films, but have since grown to really admire following fantastic performances in Milk and Pineapple Express. Boyle’s best film still remains 1995’s Trainspotting, but it’s not as if he’s made a bad film since – Slumdog Millionaire’s a gem, and 28 Days Later, Sunshine and The Beach were almost successes – pity about their underwhelming final acts. This looks good though, a claustrophobic and intense drama based on the true story of Aron Ralston, a mountaineer who becomes trapped under a boulder following an accident. Boyle’s a versatile director, and it’s cool that he’s following the success of Slumdog with something different.

A little schedule shake-up means that directorial duo Hammer and Tongs (Hitchiker’s Guide, Son of Rambow) stepped in early to talk about UTTERLY BONKERS Belgian animated film A Town Called Panic – the fact that the aspect ratio was faulty and we couldn’t read the subtitles meant that an already baffling movie (essentially a Cowboy, an Indian and a Horse get up to all manner of insane adventures) was made even more baffling. The animation style is very similar to those crazy Cravendale milk ads with the lairy cows – Hammer and Tongs have generously offered their promotional services to boost the film’s publicity, even though they have nothing to do with its creation. In a hilarious ‘extra’, we get an interview with one of the ‘animators’ of the film (actually Adam Buxton in full-on crazy mode), who discusses the legacy of his work, which includes the most messed up episode of Pokemon you’ll ever experience – see this extra if you can, it’s hilarious). A Town Called Panic looks wonderful; along with 127 Hours, this will be on my viewing list.

Never Let Me Go, based on the Kazuo Ishiguro book (which I own but still haven’t read), looks intriguing – though its presence in-between the manic madness of A Town Called Panic and the weekend’s first full-length preview (The Expendables) made for a shift in tone that I’m not sure everyone fully appreciated. It was like a course of caviar thrown in the middle of a KFC/McDonalds/Pizza Hut marathon. Looked pretty good, though I’ll definitely read the book before seeing the film. And so we come to The Expendables, the new Sylvester Stallone film and the first of his I have seen on the big screen (having missed the recent Rocky and Rambo sequels) – the cast is full of the action genres biggest stars – Stallone himself, Jason Statham, Jet Li – plus some real retro names like Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke, not to mention cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Their brief appearance makes for one of the most amusing scenes in the film’s otherwise pedestrian first act – it’s a treat to see the Planet Hollywood owners together on screen for the first time, but everything else in the first half hour is just so much standard fodder. The plot is nothing special – CIA treachery, corrupt governments, macho bullshit and male bonding, not to mention the whole ‘women – can’t live with them, can’t kill them’ mentality that’s straight out of a 1980’s buddy movie. Then suddenly, Statham emerges from the top of a speeding plane and machine guns the SHIT out of a whole army on a pier, and suddenly the film goes into overdrive and never lets up. Despite the ’15’ certificate, the body count in The Expendables is astronomical and the action is insanely violent. True, a couple of seconds got snipped to ensure the ’15’ certificate, and I guess there’s no sex and very little swearing, but god DAMN this film is brutal in places. It’s all done in a wildly cartoonish way, and it’s all very funny, but the final act features more fresh corpses than the finales of Commando and Death Wish 3 put together. Stallone pretty much plays it straight, and the minor league Expendables are…well, pretty expendable, but Statham is pretty bloomin’ good! I make no apologies for my surprise as I was never that keen on Crank, thought The One was laughable and am not a fan of Guy Ritchie’s earlier films. Dolph Lundgren is a major reason to see this film – he’s hilarious and enjoys himself immensely, as does Eric Roberts as an absolute scumbag of a villain Mickey Rourke gets some good moments – laughably melodramatic, but he’s plays his scenes with such conviction that he’s difficult to resist. Jet Li gets a great fight scene with Lundgren too. This is a 3 star movie all the way, and it was always going to be that way, given the film’s pedigree – see it with someone who knows the likes of Commando, Rocky IV, Rambo 2 and so on are crap but brilliant and add a few units of booze to the proceedings and you’ll enjoy this one.

The less said about the audio-visual entertainment of the after-event party the better – some sub-Orbital dance noodling set to re-jigged footage of THX 1138 that just made me want to leave early and watch the original on telly. I did end up leaving early, but was too tired to watch THX 1138. Roll on Day 2.