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The Worst Kind of Film Ads

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From the title of this piece, you might already trying to decide whether I'm going to be talking about:

- Trailers that give the entire plot of the film away;
- Trailers that are seemingly more interested in the awards their actors have previously earned than telling us anything about this new film;
- Ads for foreign language films that try desperately to avoid telegraphing that fact by not including any dialogue in the trailer.

But in this instance, I'm talking about none of those things.

Recently at work there was a group email that went around offering a free screening of an upcoming film. All attendees had to agree to was to be filmed and/or recorded afterwards saying what they thought of the film. These would then be used in television and radio ads for the film.

In fairness, the film may be superb.

I don't know.

And from what I could see in the invitation, you could be as honest about the film as you liked. If you think it's hopeless, then you can probably say that. But I wouldn't imagine that your contribution would be used.

But my problem is that, regardless of how good the film is, these are the worst kind of cinema ads.

A trailer may be edited disingenuously, or include the only funny joke in the entire "comedy" film, but you at least stand a chance of making some kind of educated decision about whether you're interested in the film (e.g. the trailer for Pain and Gain made it very clear that I'd rather chew my own arm off than ever go and see it). Yet these audience reaction ads are worse than useless.

It's true that recommendation is a great way to get me to see a film. That might be a critic who I regard highly, or just a good friend whose taste I trust. Even someone who I think has an appalling taste in films can give me valuable information about whether or not I want to see a film.

But random people off the street are useless.

So if your movie ad is filled with happy smiling people emerging from a cinema somewhere telling a camera crew how great the film is, that tells me nothing. I'm certain that I could find a grinning fool who'd tell a camera that Sex Lives of the Potato Men was the best thing ever. Indeed wave a camera in someone's face and they'll happily lie to that camera as convincingly as they can manage to get screentime.

And the same goes for those print or outdoor ads that instead of using newspaper, magazine or established websites for critical remarks, use random people they've found on Twitter. I'm not saying that I implicitly trust anything that Heat, Stylist or the Daily Star says about a film, but I've got a better notion of how high they set their bar than I do @crazydavethecinemagoer or @everythingisjustsobrilliant.

While we're at, horror films that are advertised with night-vision cameras focused on an audience "jumping" does not persuade me that your work is any good either.

Look - I realise it's not easy being a film marketing company. You've essentially got a new "brand" to launch on an unsuspecting public every week. But these lazy advertising tropes fool no-one, and almost certainly don't work.

And for me, they have the worse effect - I tend to think that you've got something to hide and that your film is actually rubbish.

Frances Ha

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Frances Ha is a wonderful little film, but it's almost completely impossible to explain. The story focuses on Frances and her friends, as we see her life as a struggling dancer in New York while she tries to earn enough to pay the rent, and her relationships with those friends.

Chief among those friends is Sophie - "the same person with different hair" - who's relationship with "Patch" is getting serious and in the way of her relationship with Frances.

And so we see Frances' life through a series of stories, interspersed with title cards giving her address as she moves apartments around New York city.

The eponymous Frances is played by Greta Gerwig who co-wrote the film with director Noah Baumbach. She's obviously someone who's going places, since she was superb in last year's Damsels in Distress. And we can only imagine what the abortive HBO adaptation of The Corrections starring her might have been like.

The most obvious comparison of this film is with HBO's Girls with Lena Durham. This film even shares an actor in Adam Driver. But there's a crucial difference. I actually like and care about the characters in this film - and Frances in particular.

I cared about Frances did next. Yes, none of these characters are on the poverty line, and they have aspirational jobs of sorts working for publishers, writing spec scripts (Gremlins 3 - which I believe might actually be coming) or being a dancer. Yet they're not hideous and narcissistic like they are in Girls.

And the character of Frances is just adorable. She's not having it too easy, but she does her best and helps her friends. There's a lovely little vignette when she comes across a younger girl crying in a corridor. So she just sits down with her to be a companion.

Then there's a delightful sequence when the camera tracks Frances as she dances and prances her way along the New York sidewalk. That scene on its own is almost worth it alone.

And that slightly peculiar title? Well you'll just have to watch the film and find out. You really should watch it as it's excellent!

Some Summer Films

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I've not really written a great deal here about the films I've seen recently, and as much as anything, I think that's because I've not been to too many films lately. At least in the cinema.

But there are one or two that I've caught up with.

I should start with Star Trek Into Darkness which I always knew I had to see in IMAX having watched a six minute preview with the first part of The Hobbit last year. JJ Abrams just jumps you straight into the action with an all action set piece. Star Trek purists complain that his version of the series isn't what they remember from television. And it isn't. But it's close enough. The Kirk/Spock relationship is there, and Zachary Quinto in particular is superb. I like Simon Pegg a lot, but I'm really not sure about his abysmal Scottish accent, even though I know it's awfulness might be deliberate.

In this film we get a strange villain in the shape of Benedict Cumberbatch, and he's a damn fine villain. He has deep sonorous voice and frames the piece's terrorist themes very well.

By now the film has pretty much left cinemas but I thought it was worth mentioning.

If there's one horror film that had a profound impact on me when I was younger, it was The Company of Wolves, Neil Jordan's telling of Angela Carter's reworking of folk tales. I can just hear George Fenton's theme music in my head just thinking about it. While I wasn't as excited by An Interview with a Vampire as some were, the idea that he might be revisiting some of that earlier territory with Byzantium meant that I had to see it.

Lately Jordan has been busying himself with the slightly overblown Showtime series The Borgias, so it was good to see him back in the horror genre. Byzantium takes place in an unnamed seaside town where Gemma Arterton's Clara has run away to with her teenage daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan). They are both vampires, although the "V" word only seems to be used in the title of the play the film is adapted from. Clara became a vampire despite it being a "brotherhood" that only lets in men, and her daughter also became one more than 200 years ago. Now they're on the run from that brotherhood and have reached a sleepy seaside town with a disused guest house - named Byzantium - owned by Daniel Mays.

The film's origins in a play are perhaps visible in the scale of the piece. And it's clear that this film was made to a budget probably similar to one episode of The Borgias. But it's dark, and smart. And I really rather liked it. Sam Riley is great as the hunter, and Johnny Lee Miller has a rip-roaring cameo as a navy man who wrongs Clara.

It's not perfect, but it's vastly superior to much of the "horror" we get these days.

Of the two films opening this weekend that I've seen, I can comfortably say that Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is the better piece. As he's explained a lot in interviews (and again in a packed Q&A session after the film at the BFI on Wednesday), he made the film in the downtime between completing principal photography on Avengers [Assemble] and beginning post production on that film.

It seems that for years he's been having actors who are part of his "gang" come around and perform Shakespeare for fun. And for this film, he gathered a load of them and made it, in his own home, in about 12 days.

And you know what? It's really very good. Now I can't claim to be a complete Whedon afficiando as many in the Q&A were. I caught the odd Buffy, and although I tried to get into Angel it wasn't my thing. I came to Firefly on DVD and loved it however. While Dollhouse I also watched late and thought was rather superior. And Cabin in the Woods was good fun. But what I do like about Whedon is that he runs a little against the Hollywood grain. He's rails against the lack of female roles - promising that the forthcoming SHIELD TV series will have plenty. And he can clearly write.

But here, the script is already written (although he has tinkered with it, and reordered it a little), so it's about getting the most out of his actors. The film is set in the current day, but somehow it hangs together anyway, and the language is certainly more accessible than in some of Shakespeare's plays (I'm seeing The Tempest this weekend).

And it's also very funny. While the central conceits in Shakespeare's comedies can sometimes be hard to run with, in Much Ado it's generally believable. And the characters run true. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof (both longtime Whedon actors) play Beatrice and Benedict, and you completely buy into their characters. Across the board, everyone does a great job, although Nathan Fillion's Dogberry, played as an inept TV detective, steals every scene that he's in.

Really funny, and really worth seeing.

I know lots of people were most excited to see Iron Man 3, but despite Robert Downey Jr making Richard Stark a great character, I find myself getting a less excited about the way Hollywood superhero films have been going. You just know that every film is going to end with an "epic" effects-laden fight that's going to take upwards of the last third of the film to complete. Maybe when I was 12 I would have found this prospect thrilling, although I note that films like Star Wars managed to end with fairly tightly filmed endings. So I didn't bother with the third film. I'll probably watch it on TV at some point

Which brings us to the Man of Steel, the Superman "reboot". When I say that the exception to the rule about recent superhero films, is the Christopher Nolan Batman series, then the fact that he's producing this film immediately intrigues me. Yes, it's directed by Zach Snyder who's problem on Watchmen was that he was simply too faithful to the comics. But it makes the film worth of attention.

It seems that everyone is trying to forget the 2006 film Superman Returns with that guy that nobody can remember but who looked a lot like Christopher Reeve. So it's back to basics with this film and we get the full origin story with Russell Crowe as his father dispatching the young Kal-El (aka Superman) from an imploding Krypton. General Zod (Michael Shannon) seems to be attempting some kind of coup against this backdrop, but it fails and he and his co-conspirators are dispatched a far flung jail of sorts.

The structure of Man of Steel is interesting because once on earth we skip Clark Kent's upbringing and immediately see him working on a trawler that's called to the aid of an exploding oil rig. He performs superhuman feats and then has to disappear, only to repeat such feats later elsewhere. He's a drifter of sorts. Just when you think you're not going to get a backstory, we head into a dreamy Kansas world where Kevin Costner is his dad and Diane Lane is his mum. As the film progresses, we get more revealed about his life, as stories of his upbringing reveal Clark's character traits.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is on the case, tracking down Clark, having inadvertently stumbled upon a spaceship buried deep in the Canadian ice. But there's not a great deal about life at the Daily Planet under editor Laurence Fishburne.

Instead Zog arrives back on earth and what then follows is mayhem.

And here's my problem with the film. It seems every tentpole summer film these days has to somehow out-blow-up all the previous tentpole summer films. First, Smallville is nearly completely destroyed, before the action moves to Metropolis.

By the end of an exhaustive, and at times quite dull, thirty minutes or more of destruction, there must barely be a building left undamaged. Entire sections of the city are flattened. Yet do we mourn the hundreds of thousands who must have died? Of course not. They're barely considered.

It's not as though the CGI isn't excellent. But it's just that the shock has gone out of it. Oh look, another skyscraper has fallen down. Yawn. I was just bored.

As I said before with Superman Returns seven years ago, the issue is that you just know that Superman is indestructable. In this instance, it's everything around him that's not.

While I wouldn't expect an action blockbuster like this to be character driven, I never really felt any jeopardy. That's not to say that this is a bad film. But it's not good either. There's not enough humour in it as Superman is generally quite po-faced. And the story means that there's barely time to breathe before some earth-shattering event (quite literally) starts again.

The performances are generally fine. I've never really watched The Tudors, so I'm not familiar with Henry Cavill. He's clearly very square jawed, although at times he felt too clean cut. In Star Trek Into Darkness, there was a much commented on scene where Alice Eve needlessly gets into her underwear. Well I can report that there's a scene in this where Cavill needlessly walks around bare chested in just some ripped trousers. I don't think one equalises the other though.

Amy Adams does the best she can, although the film struggles not to have Lois Lane permanently in peril. Otherwise, it's the effects that shine strongest. It's just that they're called upon too often.

And somebody somewhere has been watching way too much Battlestar Galactica. Everything feels completely lifted from the way they did those effects, with non-stop lens flare, and crash zooms from wide to narrower shots in the action scenes. I honestly thought at times that we were going to zoom into a Colonial Viper.

I saw the film in 3D, but it was unimpressive. I'm never going to be completely won over by 3D, but it was a notably poorer experience than Star Trek Into Darkness.

So overall somewhat disappointing. But I fear this is the way too many films are going. We saw a trailer for Pacific Rim at the start of this film, and I get the impression that it too will have blown up half the planet by the end of the film, as big robots fight it out Transformers-style. And that is not a good thing.

Viewing Options

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Here's a curious thing.

The new Ben Wheatley film, A Field in England, is getting a truly multi-media launch on 5th July, by getting a simultaneous release in cinemas, on DVD, on video-on-demand and on the free-to-air Film4 channel!

Having enjoyed both Kill List and Sightseers immensely, I'm really looking forward to Wheatley's paranoid fantasy set during the English Civil War.

And I'm also really interested and excited by new distribution mechanisms. I've written frequently on the pain of watching films in multiplexes where customer service can be poor, and nobody really cares if your enjoyment is spoilt by fellow patrons. So giving me a choice of viewing opportunities is an interesting idea.

We've seen similar releases to this before. Ken Loach's Route Irish got a Sky Box Office release, and lower budget horror films often get a very short cinema release - sometimes just a weekend - to collect some publicity ahead of a Monday DVD release. Curzon has its On Demand service that lets those not lucky enough to live within easy travelling distance of an arthouse cinema, watch some films on demand at the time of their cinema release (more titles please!).

What's different here is the free-to-air Film4 broadcast. While Film4 isn't an HD channel anywhere aside from Virgin Media currently (coming soon to Sky though?), and it has advertising breaks, I'd have thought this singular route might severely impact on the others.

Yes, some will want to watch the film at the cinema with a live Q&A link-up - the Picturehouse chain is another great little chain (even though it's now in bigger hands). Others might like to own the DVD for their collection. But I can't for the life of me think of a reason why someone would pay for the video-on-demand transmission over the free-to-air broadcast. I suppose you might not be in on Friday night, or you may have neglected to schedule a recording on your PVR.

I'll be really interested to see the results of this, although I can't help thinking that they won't make quite as much money as they might. That said, you have to experiment, and cinema is certainly going to have to adapt to survive into the future. Assuming that we want to see more than Iron Man XXIII etc.

Trance

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A new Danny Boyle film is always something to be welcomed, and given that his last two ventures were the Olympics opening ceremony, and Frankenstein at the National Theatre, it's been a while (although I did see Frankenstein at the cinema).

Trance is a chance for Boyle to really let go of the reigns. In interviews he's said that it was a useful regulator compared with the wholesome celebratory opening ceremony he was doing at the same time.

I say "interviews", because as well as seeing the film yesterday, I had a fairly full evening of Boyle. The screening was followed by a live on stage Q&A with Boyle which ran a fairly decent fifty minutes. And then I got home and watched a further thirty minute interview with Mark Kermode on The Culture Show. And this comes after last week's interview with Kermode and Simon Mayo on their Five Live film programme.

So that's a lot of Danny Boyle. And that's before I get started on the Little White Lies and Sight & Sound features in print!

Of course, I don't want to spoil the plot too much, so all I need say is that James McAvoy is a junior auctioneer who gets involved in the theft of a valuable Goya painting, working with some gangsters led by Vincent Cassel. But he gets beaten about his head and forgets where he's put the painting, so he visits Rosario Dawson's hypnotherapist, who he hopes will help him find the painting.

The film then works through a series of trances, and the story begins to unfold in a non-linear manner.

Boyle's famous for opening his films with dynamism. Think of Renton running down Princes Street in Trainspotting, the kids of slums in Slumdog Millionaire, or Aaron Ralston rushing through the desert at the start of 127 Hours.


Here we get a representation of how a painting would have been stolen in the past, and then an elaborate robbery in the present day. The music is pounding - music being another important Boyle trope.

Boyle told us in the Q&A that he was almost conditioning his audience - putting them into a "trance" as he opened the film that way.

This is a highly stylised film. Two of three main film locations - the gangster's and the hypnotherapist's apartments are unbelievably stylish. But that's very purposeful. And frankly, you don't really stop to think about it too much. The film's plot is being driven firmly forwards at all times.

Boyle said that he did a lot of research into hypnotism, and said that the facts within the film are true - that around 5-10% of the population are most susceptible to it. I must admit that I'm always a little skeptical about how it truly works - and whether it really does. I've seen stage hypnotists, and I always feel that those who take part are a fairly self-selecting type. That said, some are clearly more suggestive than others. Look at the success of cults in getting people indoctrinated.

The performances are great, with McAvoy being convincingly drawn into this world, and Dawson being an atypical character in films of this type. In other hands, the film would have gone a different way, but in the Q&A Boyle said that he didn't want a Hitchcock-esque icy blonde as his hypnotherapist. And although he didn't say it, I suspect he didn't want a Sharon Stone/Basic Instinct blonde either.

We know that Cassel can be a gangster - and Boyle knows that too - but he has another side here as well. The supporting cast all great too. With a colourful crew of gangsters as well as smaller roles all believable.

Is the plot believable? No. Not really. It's a fable of sorts. And I suppose that's why, in the end, it's not right up there with the very best of Boyle. But it's still damned good.

Alex Cox on Kickstarter

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I'm beginning to wonder if my new way of watching films is going to be via Kickstarter. I've now backed two films in the last two weeks. The first was the wildly successful Veronica Mars movie. That was always going to achieve its $2m goal, and indeed it hit its target within 24 hours. At time of writing, it's getting close to double what it was looking for.

The other film, is perhaps more interesting, and the one that's perhaps going to take a bit more work to achieve its goal.

Alex Cox is best known to people of my generation as the presenter of the much missed Moviedrome from a time when terrestrial television showed interesting films (Although I have many more film channels available to me today, I'm not sure the range is what it used to be). I regularly had blank VHS tapes on hand when it was being broadcast.

He's also a director of such films as Repo Man, Walker and Sid and Nancy.

These days he's to be found teaching at the University of Colorado, but for a while he's been trying to make Harry Harrison's Bill, The Galactic Hero. And now he's going to do it, very cheaply, in black and white and on 35mm - a stock that's going to disappear very soon.

What you need to know about Bill, The Galactic Hero is that it was written in direct response to Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Let's just say that Harrison and Heinlein agreed to disagree.

Harrison died last year - and although I've read many of his Stainless Steel Rats books (indeed a reread a few last year following his death) - I've not yet read Bill, The Galactic Hero. I did buy the ebook last week though.

That hasn't stopped me instantly backing Cox's new film. He's at about 20% of his target after two days. 28 days to raise $80,000 doesn't seem impossible does it? In the meantime, here's his new(ish) blog.

Zero Dark Thirty

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As this film came closer to being released I was having mixed opinions about it. There were those stories about how it had overemphasised the success of using torture to tell the CIA what they needed. Then there were stories that it somehow defended torture (a misreading surely).

On the other hand, I'd heard that it was a really good film. Kathryn Bigelow seems, of late, to have specialised in military films. There was the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, and there was also the commercially unsuccessful K-19: Widowmaker set on a submarine.

But aside from the regularly mentioned Near Dark, Strange Days and Point Break, Bigelow has also worked on some of my favourite TV over the years. There are a couple of episodes of Homicide: Life on the Streets which in many ways was the precursor of The Wire; some of Wild Palms the somewhat forgotten mini-series that came just before the thematically similar Strange Days; and an episode of one of the best TV series yet to receive a DVD release, Karen Sisco.

The latter had a strong female character very much like Jessica Chastain's Maya in Zero Dark Thirty. That said, Maya is much more vulnerable.

This new film starts with audio recordings of telephone calls made in the immediate aftermath 9/11 and follows a part of the CIA tasked with finding Osama (or Usama here) Bin Laden. In particular, we follow Maya, based on a real agent, who from entry in the Agency has a single aim in discovering Bin Laden's whereabouts.

She's aided by a variety of people including Jason Clarke's Dan who we first meet torturing a suspect, and Jennifer Ehle's Jessica. Maya is largely based in Pakistan, and it's no cake-walk there.

The passage of time flows, and various real-life terrorism events form waypoints for the story. Yet despite knowing what's going to happen in the end, the tension is ramped up throughout.

The final assault - when it comes - on Bin Laden's compound seems to be played out in just about real time. And it happens without music in almost complete darkness, with lots of infrared footage from the assault team's point of view. It makes the whole section of the film incredibly visceral.

The cast is excellent. I did find it slighly odd that so many non-Americans were in the roles. In one scene Mark Strong and Stephen Dillane are having a conversation together in a corridor, both with American accents. And as well as Ehle, Clarke isn't American either (he's Australian).

Whether it deserves to win Oscars or not is not a question I can answer - although Chastain is superb. But I do know that it's a great thriller, and well worth seeing.

Screwball Continued

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[A continuation of my exploration of Hollywood screwball comedies of the thirties and early forties in the BFI's season. See part one here.]

And so the BFI's Screwball season continues, and I've seen a few more films.

A couple of weeks ago there was an illustrated introduction to the season from Peter Swaab. He's the curator of the season, and his talk was illustrated by clips from many of the films. A very worthwhile session.

The BFI's poster for the season reads "Pacy, racy comedies from Hollywood's golden age" and that's a much better summary of what Screwball films are about than my previous effort. Swaab talked about the various elements of Screwball films.

They tend to be love stories, have relatively few locations (perhaps just two main ones), a depression era setting, and have lots of animals, but very few children. And despite being in the early days of sound, dialogue was immensely important.

One thing I must admit I hadn't realised, was the genesis of the word "screwball" itself. I suppose it has become so ingrained into the language that discovering its etymology is something of a surprise. In fact in comes from baseball and a particular type of throw, perhaps analogous to the googly in cricket. There was a key proponent of it named Carl Hubbell who rose to fame for his screwball pitch in the thirties, and it was his fame that meant the term was adopted to describe a new type of comedy.

Anyway - on with the films!


My Man Godfrey (1936)

This was a real discovery for me during this season. Swaab had nicely teed up the film in his talk earlier that same evening when he showed us the opening scene. It's a remarkable sequence shot in rubbish tip in Brooklyn where down and outs try to scrape a living looking for salvage.

Into this world arrive Alice Brady and Carole Lombard as Angelica and Cornelia Bullock, a pair of socialite sisters who are taking part in a "scavenger hunt" which includes on its list a "forgotten man." In this instance a smart talking William Powell as Godfrey.

Godfrey reluctantly enters the sisters' world and takes on the position of butler in their household. Of course all is not straightforward, and Godfrey has a background that catches up with him. In the meantime, the younger sister Cornelia begins to fall for Godfrey (cue great lines about her not being allowed in his room), while the elder sister becomes jealous and when some jewels disappear, the net of suspicion is cast close.

I think that perhaps my favourite supporting character in the film is Jean Dixon's Molly the maid. She gets all the best lines, delivered in a thick devil-may-care New York accent.

It's a wonderful piece, and has some really sharp comedy, at the same time being a really relevant social piece. Yes, like many a romantic comedy, there has to be a happy ending, and broadly speaking you can see it coming from way out. But that shouldn't deter anyone from enjoying this film.

The film was directed by Gregory La Cava, someone I wasn't familiar with, and who seems to have been fairly prolific in the silent era. It was written by Morrie Ryskind and Eric Hatch (upon whose novel it was based) although others were also involved in its writing if IMDB is to be believed.

As I was watching it, the thought occurred to me that it could easily be remade today (there was a 1957 remake with David Niven taking the Powell role as Godfrey). And then I remembered just how dismal 21st century "rom-coms" are and immediately threw the idea away. It would take a very smart writer to do this film justice today, and frankly you're better off sticking with the original.

The film's available on DVD, although you really need to be careful which version you pick up. After much review reading, I ended up ordering an import copy of the R1 Criterion Collection edition.


Nothing Sacred (1937)

Written by Ben Hecht who based it on a short story, Nothing Sacred is a tour de force for Carole Lombard. A small town girl named Hazel Flagg, she's told that she has radium poisoning and thus only has a short time to live. Her doctor (Charles Winninger) is something of a quack and he's got it wrong. He tells Flagg that she's fine.

However by this point Frederic March's newspaper journalist, Wally Cook, has tracked her down and is looking to save his reputation by giving his newspaper something to support. Fancying a trip to New York, the paper whisks her off and generates lots of support from the good citizens for this poor dying girl.

It's all beginning to get a bit awkward, and all the more so when an additional doctor is brought in. In screwball films, doctors are always heavily accented Europeans with names beginning with E. In this instance, Dr Eggelhoffer (Sig Rumen).

Given that the story could be seen to have no sympathetic characters, Lombard does well to keep us rooting for Flagg, despite her taking both the newspaper and people of New York for a ride. There are the usual moments of farce, but it's a smart and fun film that gets away with it.

Unusually, the film is in colour - despite having been made in 1937 (Becky Sharp in 1935 was actually the first feature film to be made using the three strip Technicolor process, but colour was still very much a rarity at this time). This made it incredibly expensive, and the addition of colour really isn't necessary. Like film noir, the fact that screwball films are black and white is part of their defining features.


Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Now here's another classic. You really simply can't go wrong pairing Cary Grant with Katherine Hepburn. Directed with gusto by Howard Hawks and written by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde (based on the latter's novel), it's the story of a poor innocent paleontologist, Dr David Huxley (Grant), who gets mixed up with a rich young socialite Susan Vance (Hepburn).

The film famously opens with Grant sitting atop a platform near the neck of a brontosaurus skeleton. He's just missing the "intercostal clavicle" (a bone which obviously doesn't exist). He has a very straight-laced fiancée (a demure as you like Virginia Walker) who is clear that his work must come before anything - absolutely anything - even though they're getting married the next day.

Sent out to play a round of golf with a potential museum benefactor's advisor, Huxley gets entangled with Susan on a golf course. The dialogue sparkles and as Huxley becomes more frustrated, Susan takes a more carefree attitude to what he's saying. By the end of the scene he's being driven off by her in his car, as he stands on the running board.

Into this mix must be added a leopard named "Baby" who loves the song "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", necessitating it to be sung on several occasions, a psychiatrist (European, of course), a dog who takes a liking to a certain bone and buries it, a big game hunter who can do animal impressions, a very mischievous Susan and another leopard - this one not tame and escaped from a zoo where it has given its keeper a mauling.

Grant is at his vulnerable best. Not the assured editor of His Girl Friday, but the slightly put upon academic with few things on his mind beyond work.

Hepburn is simply glorious. Early on there's a wonderful scene at a bar where she's being taught a trick with olives by the bar tender. And then her marvellous jailhouse scene later in the film. She's trying to talk her way out by taking on the guise of a moll - Swingin' Door Susie. It's said that she wasn't sure how to do comedy at first until she was told to play it straight. The laughs just come.

Hawks said later that the problem with the film was that nobody in it was normal and that they were all mad. This really isn't a problem. You simply don't care as you go with the flow. The film also massively overran its production schedule, although it does seem that everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves on set - look at the barely containable smiles of Grant and Hepburn when the farce really gets going.. It's also got to be said that there are double entendres a plenty. You don't have to look too far to find them!

The dialogue is rat-a-tat fast, and the jokes are laugh out loud funny. It really is wonderful to be able to see a film like this in a full cinema of others enjoying it. And it's completely re-watchable. Peter Swaab introduced the film at the screening I attended and has written the BFI guide to the film. He admitted that he's seen it well over twenty times, but he still loves to see it again. The sign of a masterpiece.


Holiday (1938)

You're not going to go too far wrong with a Grant/Hepburn film as Bringing Up Baby, and this is perhaps a lesser known example of their films together. It was made in the same year as Bringing Up Baby, although given the production turnaround speeds of the day, it was probably only shot after Bringing Up Baby had already opened.

The film, based on a play, was written by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchanan, and was itself a remake of a 1930 version.

Cary Grant is Johnny Case who has run into the woman he believes is the girl of his dreams on his travels - Doris Nolan as Julia Seaton. Then he discovers that he's about to wed into a very wealthy family who live in a mansion so big it is has its own elevator! The flighty Julia has a younger sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn) who is much more free-spirited. She doesn't really do things the proper way that a family of her standing is expected to do, and to her family's consternation - although perhaps not her permanently inebriated brother Ned (Lew Ayres) - she prefers to do things she wants.

Edward Everett Horton plays Professor Nick Potter, a role he was reprising from the 1930 version of the film. He's abetted by Jean Dixon as his wife susan, the pair playing confidentes to Johnny.

Horton is one of those faces that pops up again and again in screwballs. He's also to be found in Trouble in Paradise, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, and Arsenic and Old Lace as well as many other films of the era from Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee to Lost Horizon.

I think his performance here is the best of his screwballs. He doesn't just have to pull faces, but go with things and become natural friends with Hepburn's Linda.

Upstairs in the mansion, Linda keeps a more normal room with trinkets from their childhoods. The scenes with Hepburn, Grant, Horton, Ayres and Dixon in that room are the best, and Grant gets to show off some of his acrobatic skills.

A fine film, and although you think you know how it's all going to turn out, you're never quite sure.


Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)

Possibly the worst named film in this season, yet it's quite a cracker, and one of my favourite "discoveries" of this season.

Based on a French play, it's directed by Ernst Lubitsch and has a Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder script.

The film takes place in the south of France, and Gary Cooper's Michael Brandon is trying to buy half a pair of pyjamas. He just wants the top and is offering 50% of the price to do so. This causes a palaver, until Claudette Colbert's Nicole de Loiselle agrees to buy the bottoms.

However she plans to give them not to a husband, but her lover, Albert De Regnier (David Niven).

When the wealthy Brandon buys a Louix XIV bathtub from de Loiselle's father, their paths cross again, and in due course she becomes his eighth wife (only one of the previous seven is now dead). We then get a to and fro between them, with De Regnier resolutely hanging on until all ends well.

The film doesn't seem to have a great reputation with Wilder not being very fond of it, and others seeing it as an inferior example of screwball. But I don't agree. I think it's a rather smart little film. Yes, the plot is wafer thin and it perhaps doesn't have make comments on society that some of the best screwballs manage. But it's good fun, and Colbert is, as ever, just terrific.


It Happened One Night (1934)

This Capra film is considered one of the key films that started the whole screwball genre of films off when it came out in 1934. But oddly, in spite of season curator Peter Swaab using a couple of clips of it during his talk, it doesn't actually appear in this BFI season. Perhaps it has outings so frequently it didn't need another.

However, I did see it on the big screen this month at a very good friend's wedding where we saw it in a lovely Edinburgh hotel's screening room!

It stars Claudette Colbert as heiress Ellie Andrews, and Clark Gable as newspaper reporter Peter Warne. She's on the run from her new aviator husband and her father - swimming to escape from his yacht. With barely any money, she ends up on a bus traveling up from Miami to New York. Gable's reporter ends up giving her help which she has to accept, and they find themselves on the run from her wealthy father with his seemingly unlimited resources to track down his daughter.

The nature of the film's plot means that it varies from the standard screwball set-up, usually with just a handful of locations. Here we get a series of bus-stops, cheap motels as well as the mansions and offices of those chasing the pair down.

Swaab rightly pointed us to a lovely scene in one of those motels when Ellie has to go out to the shower block. In a long tracking shot she passes a very ordinary group of Americans staying there, and for a moment we feel as though we're watching an altogether different picture. She reaches the queue and "naturally" jumps it before the other women put her in her place. That simple scene really humanises her and becomes almost a turning point.

The film feels like it's come only very soon after the Hays Code has been introduced as it gets quite close to the line at times. In particular Gable erects what he calls "The Walls of Jericho" in their motel rooms by virtue of hanging a sheet between their twin beds. The manner in which those walls come down by the film's end is very entertaining.

If you've not seen it recently, do yourself a favour and get hold of it. I couldn't help noticing a stack of them in HMV Oxford Street very reasonably priced. They could probably do with your business right now!


His Girl Friday (1940)

As far as I'm concerned, this is Howard Hawks' masterpiece, and I've now managed to catch it few times on the big screen.

I remember first discovering one Sunday night in 1990 when Channel 4 showed the film at 9pm (yes - that's the sort of thing Channel 4 broadcast in peaktime back then). I've been enamoured of it ever since. I'd just urge you to seek it out on a the excellent Columbia DVD rather than the vastly inferior public domain prints that litter Amazon and eBay.

When I saw it in the BFI, I'd completely forgotten about the opening caption card at the film's start that seems strangely resonant post-Leveson:

It all happened in the "Dark Ages" of the newspaper game -- when to a reporter "getting that story" justified anything short of murder. Incidentally, you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press today.

Ready?

Well, once upon a time--

Where do I begin with this? It has Cary Grant in one of his best roles ever as Walter Burns, newspaper editor who's trying to win back his ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell). It's based on the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur stage play The Front Page, and it had already been made into a film, although Charles Lederer wrote the script for this film, and it seems to have been director Howard Hawks' idea to change the sex of Hildy and make her Burns' ex-wife.

It's clearly this relationship that makes the film fly, and the dialogue fly with it. Hawks had Lederer write an overlapping script such that the bits that overlapped weren't important, and the key parts were contained mid-sentence.

And has Rosalind Russell every been better? She's got the sharpest of sharp dialogue - you really believe that she's the main "man" in the press room. The other journalists bow down before her. She commands the screen and drags you along with her.

The repartee between her and Grant is a joy to behold. In one scene in the press room later in the film, you can just see on hers and Grant's faces that they're having a blast making the film.

Ralph Bellamy is beautifully cast as Bruce Baldwin, the harmless insurance salesman that Hildy is due to marry the very next day.

The film pokes and prods and the inequities of local politics with a corrupt mayor and his lackeys essentially trying to execute a prisoner to win favour just before an election. While Burns seems to have no morals with regard to getting his way and selling papers, there's an underlying morality at work in this film.

The sequences that take place in the press room of the prison are sometimes technically marvellous. Reporters from rival papers snap their lines down the phones in brilliantly timed turns. This was technically hard to do given the state of audio-recording technology of the time.

And there are loads of in jokes - you can read them on IMDB or Wikipedia - but my favourites are when Burns is describing what Bruce Baldwin looks like: ""He looks like that fellow in the movies, you know... Ralph Bellamy!"

And later Burns says that the last man who crossed him was Archie Leach (Cary Grant's real name from his Bristolian upbringing before he departed for America).

Overall it's a film that just keeps on giving. Just writing this makes me want to go back and watch it again.


Bachelor Mother

This was the first in Ginger Rogers double bill shown in the BFI season, and in neither film did she do a great deal of dancing. Only recently the BBC has been showing the Astaire/Rogers RKO films, and they are indeed timeless classics.

But there was more to Rogers than those films, and we see that in two very different roles in these films. In Bachelor Mother, she plays a young shop assistant, Polly Parrish, who works in Merlin's department store. It's Christmas Eve, and after a tannoyed message of thanks from Merlin Snr., she discovers she's being laid off from her job at in the toy department. She's only been there a few week's but it's not a great Christmas present.

During her lunch break, she heads out to an employment agency and on the way back interrupts a woman who's abandoning a baby on the steps of a nursery. Polly immediately picks up the baby to ensure it doesn't fall down the steps, yet inevitably the nursery suspect the baby to be hers. Despite running off, they track down her department store employers.

Enter David Niven as Merlin Jnr - something of a playboy - who is charged with giving Polly her job back, along with a raise, and returning the baby itself. And so, she becomes a "Bachelor[ette] Mother".

I said that Rogers doesn't do a great deal of dancing in these films, but there is a very funny dance competition sequence that takes place in the Pink Slipper nightclub. Was that a pun based around the "pink slip" that Polly has been given?

Rogers' character is strong-headed, but still uncertain enough to back down and adopt the baby. And Niven is perfectly cast as the young man who, inevitably, falls for her. It's all fluffy silliness and not at all bad for that.


Roxie Hart (1942)

I'm not a great fan of musicals and have never seen the stage musical Chicago, nor the film version of it. So it was only when I started watching this film that the name suddenly clicked somewhere in my head and I realised that this film, like the more recent musical, was based on an earlier stage play - Chicago.

To say that this is a light film doesn't really do the word "light" justice. It's practically filled with helium. The film opens with an hilarious series of newspaper headlines showing the injustice of a Chicago legal system that seemed to be routinely freeing women who'd murdered men, but locking up men doing the same.

The film uses a framing device of a then contemporary newspaper reporter detailing proceedings from years earlier when all of this was happening

We get a very different Rogers in this film - she's a gum-chewing, stockings wearing wild-child full of sassiness - Roxie. She practically runs the prison that's she's been thrown into for murdering her husband, and has everyone eating out of her hand.

There's a fine supporting cast in the film - notably including Phil Silvers as a press photographer who leads his pack of cohorts to capture everything salient in the case.

And of course Rogers gets to a bit of dancing, with a lovely short tap routine on the metal staircase of the prison.

The film ends in the centrepiece courtroom scene where Roxie is being coached by her lawyer Billy Flynn (Adolphe Menjou), and she constantly ensures she shows the jury plenty of leg. The live courtroom radio commentary is entertaining, sponsored by a patent remedy for all known ailments. And every time something dramatic happens, Silvers' photographic team leap forward to capture that moment.

Very silly, but a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


Sullivan's Travels (1941)

Being a Preston Sturges film, this is much more famous than many of the films showing in this season. Oddly, however, it was a title that had somehow previously eluded me.

Joel McCrea plays the eponymous Sullivan, a movie director who's had enormous success with such films as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey Hey in the Hayloft. His studio's execs would quite like him to make Ants in Your Plants of 1941!

There are many things to love about this film. It's the film that begat "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" - the terribly worthy film that Sullivan aspires to make rather than the frivolous fare he's been making hitherto.

Then there are lots of in jokes about Hollywood - meeting Lubitsch and the fact that nobody in Hollywood has done a real day's work.

It does feel a little different from many of the films in this season, and were it not for some of the wisecracks that Veronica Lake's "Girl" comes out with, I think you'd be hard pushed to really call it screwball.

There's an early chase sequence when a studio land yacht that's following Sullivan in a boy's home-built "tank" that has plenty of slapstick.

And there's the last third of the film, where humour seems to be a distant memory while we appreciate the suffering of prisoners condemned to hard labour in fetid plantations.

The camera loves Lake, and so do we. Early on, when Sullivan is discussing his planned film, the crass executives keep pointing out that his film needs to have sex. Lake very much provides that in this film. The petite Lake was several months pregnant during production, but you wouldn't have known it, and it's a shame that beyond some of her film noir work, her personal battles meant she didn't make more films.

Sullivan's Travels always feels it's walking a tightrope between trying to deal with poverty in a humane way, and not producing a Hollywood version of poverty. Sturges had a very clear message that he was trying to convey with this film. And the scene set in a black church where the prisoners are allowed to join the parishioners for a film screening is remarkable in the way it handles race. I can't think of another mainstream film of the period that has black characters in such a role. The black cook on the aforementioned land yacht, hamming it up in his kitchen galley getting covered in cooking stuffs feels much more usual.


Midnight (1939)

Going to all these films has really opened my eyes to a few actors and actresses. Many of the supporting character actors occur and then recur. But if there's one actress I've really learned to love in these films, it's Claudette Colbert. I now realise I really need to watch more of her work.

In Midnight, Colbert plays a down at heel dancing girl, Eve Peabody, who's always on the make. Having stowed away across the Atlantic, we find her as she wakes up in a third class carriage on the Monaco to Paris train. She only has the ballgown she's wearing, 10c and Monaco pawn ticket to her name.

She's lucky enough to run into a Hungarian emigrée taxi driver, Tibor Czerny, played by Don Ameche. Despite Czerny's better judgement he drives her around Paris looking for singing gigs at one of the nightclubs. He's smitten by the smart talking Peabody and offers her somewhere to stay. But she makes a break for it and manages to crash a society siorée. There she gets involved, at first without her knowledge, in a complicated scheme concocted by John Barrymore's Georges Flammarion who is trying to win back the affections of his wife who is taken by the suave Jacques (Francis Lederer).

This all involves Eve adopting the name "Baroness Czerny" - it being the first name that pops into her head. There's a lovely scene where the smooth Jacques insists on accompanying the "Baroness" back to her hotel. Having randomly chanced upon the Ritz, she's certain she's going to be found out as she approaches the hotel.

Something of a farce then plays out in Barrymore's mansion located somewhere near Versailles, as Tibor reappears, having conducted a citywide search for Eve incorporating every Parisian taxi-driver.

The plot is silly, and you wouldn't want to stop and think about how some of these people are behaving for too long, since it wouldn't make a great deal of sense. But director Mitchell Leisen ensures that the film has a wonderful joie de vivre, and Colbert is simply breathtaking. Her expressions are lovely, and the film's writers, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, have given her some killer lines. She has throwaway line after throwaway line which are laugh out loud funny. This truly was a wonderful discovery.

Sadly, it doesn't seem to have had a UK DVD release, but there is a US edition that got a release and seems to be available.


I'm into the home stretch of my January screwball season now. There are a couple more bookings that I have at the BFI, and then a handful of DVDs to catch up with. I suspect that I could continue watching films for much longer, although tracking them down may become harder. Anyway, this has proved an excellent way to start 2013!

Screwball

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Screwball

If there's a genre films I really love, it's screwball comedies.

His Girl Friday has always been one of my favourite films, and alongside Bringing Up Baby, epitomises what I love in the genre. The rat-a-tat dialogue, strong female characters, the prevalent design - lots of art deco, and in general the sheer delight. These were films that had to entertain a public suffering the great depression, and they were fast and made with flair.

With directors like Howard Hawks, George Stevens and Preston Sturges, and actors and actresses like Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert, alongside some sterling character actors in supporting roles, these were vibrant films that also addressed the prejudices of a nation.

And as 2013 starts - Happy New Year - the BFI Southbank is running a season of these gems, including some lesser known titles that I've certainly never seen. Despite loving the genre, I've never really studied it and looked beyond the obvious films.

So as well as the aforementioned Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, and other more popular films like The Philadelphia Story and Mr Deeds goes to town, some lesser known films are being screened.

According to the introduction from season curator Peter Swaab, arguably screwball could begin with Trouble in Paradise from 1932.

I'd never seen this, and as this BFI season starts in 1934 with the films usually considered the start of screwball era, I decided to look out this Ernst Lubitsch film that I feel I probably should be familiar with. Fortunately Eureka released it very recently on their excellent Masters of Cinema label, so I settled back to watch it on DVD.

Released in 1932, before the Hays Code came into place, it stars Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins as essentially a pair of crooks who run into one another in a hotel in Venice. In due course the action moves to Paris where Kay Francis is Madame Colet, owner of a successful perfume company. Made in 1932, it perhaps addresses the depression more than most, with plenty of parts of the plot talking about the derpivations being suffered by the populace. There are multiple references to pay cuts, and the outrageousness of spending a fortune on a diamond encrusted bag, even if you're able to afford it. None of this prevents the film still being set in glamourous locations and first class hotels of course. But that's key to films of the period - these were fantasies to allow viewers to forget their day to day suffering.

As a pre-code film, there are lots of hints of out of wedlock relationships and double entendres, all meaning that the film does come across as a little more risqué than other films more frequently viewed on TV. This is another subject for another time, but the impact of that code is truly remarkable, and while clever filmmakers like Hitchcock worked around it - think of the kissing scene with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Notorious, or the final shot of North by Northwest. Well worth watching.

At the BFI I've so far seen a couple of their screwball films. Twentieth Century probably counts of Howard Hawks' first effort. The film was released in 1934 and stars John Barrymore as a superbly over-the-top theatrical impressario Oscar Jaffe who discovers Carole Lombard's Mildred Plotka for his next stage production. After a tricky start, everything goes well until Plotka (or Lily Garland as Jaffe has renamed her) ups and leaves for Hollywood. The second part of the film is set a train - the Twentieth Century - from Chicago to New York, and that's where the real fun begins, with the film at times being a farce. I particularly loved the dry lines Roscoe Karns is given as the permamently drunk right hand man of Jaffe. The film was based on a play by Charles Bruce Mullholland, but was rewritten by Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur, both of whom would later go on to work on Hawks' His Girl Friday based on their own play.

Much less well known is Theodora Goes Wild which seems to have been Irene Dunne's first screwball film, with her playing the title character. Living in a very conservative small town, she has also managed to hit the jackpot under the nomme de plume Caroline Adams with a sensational potboiler called "The Sinner" which is a runaway bestseller. But the book's success does not go down well in her hometown, and when Melvyn Douglas - a louche book designer who works at her publisher's - comes to town, the pack of cards looks like it might all come tumbling down. As Dunne's character begins to shake off her small town shackles she begins to "go wild" and needless to say, the tables are turned later on in the film. The "moral" of the film seems to be that letting go, or "going wild" isn't that bad a thing and everyone should loosen up a bit.

Interistingly, in both these latter films, drunkeness is played for laughs. Irene Dunne's character wants to prove that she's not square and drinks just about everyone else under the table when she goes out with her publisher and his wife. While the aforementioned Roscoe Karns character gets the best lines by virtue of being drunk the whole time (although the BFI notes to the film which include extracts of a Hawks interview suggest that it was Barrymore's drinking that actually lost the production a day at one point). It feels that drinking with no "bad" consequences would be clamped down on a little more later.

I look forward to seeing plenty more films in this season, and perhaps a couple more on DVD too.

Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Master

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Beasts of the Southern Wild is a truly remarkable piece of cinema. We get a mix of magical realism alongside an almost conceivable life in the southern tip of Louisiana - "the Bathtub." The young Hushpuppy (a truly amazing performance from a five or six year old Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her dad (Dwight Henry) somewhere out on their remote island. Well I say that she lives "with" him, but at the start of the film they each have their own cabin - all supported by stilts since theirs is a part of the world that floods.

Hushpuppy has learnt from a school teacher who has an interesting line tattoos, of the aurochs, an ancient species of cattle. And we see the creatures encased in ice in the Antarctic, ending up being freed as the cap melts. At least in Hushpuppy's mind's eye.

With the melting ice cap comes the flood that brings desolation to their community, and the real adventure begins.

I was absolutely enraptured by this delightful tale. You have to set aside preconceived notions of how the world should exist, but it really doesn't matter. This is a fairy tale - a wondrous one.

The fact the film was shot on relatively low-fi 16mm film just lends it a texture and realism that also means that this is one of the most beautiful films I've seen in a while as well as one of the best.

The Master was a film I was really looking forward to seeing. Paul Thomas Anderson's film about a cult leader (not completely unlike L Ron Hubbard), whose group follow The Cause (not completely unlike Scientology) has been sounding intriguing for months. And with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams in the leading roles, there was an awful lot to look forward to.

We're in the run-up to Christmas, and because Hollywood believes all the members of the various academies the dole out awards have memories like sieves, they save all their best stuff until now.

I was looking forward to it.

And it's good. But perhaps not quite as good as some would have it. The performances are spectacular, although Phoenix's performance is definitely an acquired taste. And even though the premise is at times balmy, it's somehow believable. The fact that other cults have similar backgrounds to this fictional one does lend it that believability.

But the film also drifts occasionally and you're just not sure where it's heading in the end. Indeed, having seen it, I'm not sure where it ended up.

I really don't want to say an enormous amount more, because I just don't want to spoil things, but it does drift along at times.

That all said, it's still well worth seeing. And it is remarkable to imagine that someone could talk such bilge, and yet do so with enough conviction that so many are carried along is his wake. Indeed a recurring image of the film is the wake created by a boat in the ocean.

I went to see The Master in its exclusive 70mm presentation at the Odeon West End in central London. Unusually for a film in this day and age, they're giving it an exclusive two week run in a single cinema before it gets opened properly. And since there are very few screens that are still able to project 70mm prints, I wanted to see it in this environment.

Later, when the film gets a broader distribution, other prints will either be regular 35mm, or more likely these days, digitally.

Without seeing the film side by side with a digital version, it's hard to tell the difference, although the colours are rich and there are well defined black levels - all things that digital projectors can struggle with. One thing I very much did notice was the reappearance of cue marks - those circular marks that were placed on reels to alert the projectionist when the next reel should be played in. As I understand it though, even with 70mm films, these aren't necessary any longer. But I guess that the print I saw may someday be played on a system that can't handle a single platter - or indeed Odeon's set-up requires different reels to be used.

Unfortunately, despite these optimal screen conditions, the same can't be said for the sound. Now that's not to complain about the sound system in the cinema I saw it in. I've no doubt that it's fairly state of the art. But the problem was leaking sound from the other cinema. You see the Odeon West End is a pair of twin screens. A conversion in 1988 saw the old cinema's circle converted into Screen 1, while the stalls was converted into a slightly larger Screen 2. This is where The Master is being shown.

However the film that's currently playing on Screen 1 above it, is Taken 2. And while I can't vouch for the film as I haven't seen it (although I heart that it's awful), what I can attest to is the sound it makes. It's loud. Very loud. And it seemingly keeps the upstairs screen's sub-woofers very busy.

The Master doesn't have any car chases, explosions or indeed action sequences. So it has no loud sounds to dull out those leaking from upstairs. And instead, we're left with low rumbling noises throughout the film. It was really distracting and off-putting. Really disappointing.

The other thing to say about The Master is that it's poster is genuinely awful. It's distributed by Entertainment Film Distribution (EFD), and unfortunately, they seem to produce terrible film posters. You tend to know if a film is distributed by them by the fact that large proportions of the poster are taken up by review excerpts. This has been the case for years, and often affects their DVD covers too.

Of course The Master has had some excellent reviews, and there is no shortage of 5 star reviews to clutter up the poster with, all from reputable outlets. So The Guardian and the Telegraph rather than Grazia and Shortlist.

Now to some extent, I can understand a film advert in the newspapers making use of these. But unfortunately they tend to overwhelm the rest of the poster. And if you happen to wander into Leicester Square, you might not actually be able to tell what the film is that they're talking about. The title is completely obscured surrounded by curious imagery - a Rorschach test inkblot with a pair of eyes.

The words "The Master" are almost completely obscured on the posters I've observed on tubes and trains.

Putting all these quotes outside the cinema in the West End seems completely stupid. As I say, it's the single screen in the country projecting the film in 70mm. People seeing the film there are unlikely to be passing trade. They will have made the trip to see the film especially. These people have already been sold into seeing the film. Those 5 star reviews are unnecessary.

Looking around Leicester Square, the Odeon across the way that's showing Skyfall was unadorned with glowing reviews - even though they'd be easy to see. And Taken 2 in the adjacent screen is just showing a massive picture of Liam Neeson. OK - they might have struggled with quotes for that one, but it still looked much more striking.

Well worth seeing despite it all.

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