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.

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