Saturday, 30 July 2016

Godzilla @ Toho Cinema Shinjuku

The new Godzilla film Godzilla Resurgence has just been released in Japan. I would have loved to have seen it in the Toho cinema in Shinjuku, which has been designed as a shrine to Godzilla.

The cinema’s main feature is that it has a massive Godzilla head coming out of the roof. I'd read about it, but I didn’t expect that it would be this big/visible at street-level

The cinema also has a tasteful mosaic on the rear side

A few days into our trip, we discovered that you can visit the top floor to see the head up-close 

At the base of the head are these stone carved depictions of the monster in action

The top floor is a hotel, and they have capitalised on the theme. This display greets visitors as they arrive

The hotel also has a little gift shop area and a display of all the Toho Godzilla movie posters. Well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

15 Second Review: Hope Lost

Hope Lost (2015) draws on a premise so familiar that I genuinely spent the first 20 minutes questioning whether I had seen the film before. The story is a mishmash of clichés about sex trafficking rings, treading a path already taken by Eden (2012), Human Cargo (2011), Sweet Karma (2009), Slave (2009), Shuttle (2008), Trade (2007), Holly (2006), and numerous other horror/thrillers during the last decade. Even the cast list (Danny Trejo, Michael Madsen, Daniel Baldwin) reads like a warning that the film is likely to be generic. Yet, amidst its barrage of predictable, unpleasant, and admittedly effective incidents, Hope Lost has a trump card. It does not need an original storyline, because this is a concept movie. The conceit is revealed in the opening, during a scene that takes us to the film’s final set-piece; in voice-over, Gabriel (who is later revealed to be a snuff film director), states that ‘one of the golden rules of cinema’ is that ‘before inevitable doom, there must always be a scene of hope’. This is exactly what the film delivers across a series of increasingly grim events, each of which is preceded by a glimmer of hope: potential escapes, attempted rescues, promise of “a new life”, and so forth. Of course, all are thwarted, as Gabriel promises. None of this is surprising, given that the film is entitled Hope Lost, and we have already glimpsed the protagonist’s fate during the opening seconds. What is notable, however, is that the film is so relentless in its pursuit of this conceit and so irrepressibly bleak. This combination leads to a single question: why would anyone watch such a movie? This meta-commentary is presaged by the overtly cinematic language advanced by Gabriel, the director of the film-within-a-film. The lead protagonist suffers endlessly here, but the film is not designed to make her torment pleasurable for the audience: that is another cliché, one that is proposed by critics who fail to understand the genre. Pleasure stems from rooting for an ordinary person as they attempt to conquer extraordinary adversity. This is the ‘hope’ referred to in the title Hope Lost. It is such a powerful compulsion that, as Hope Lost demonstrates, the filmmakers can rely on the audience to keep hoping, no matter how unreachable the goal appears to be, how often hope is snatched away, or how blatantly the character’s fate is signalled. Hope Lost has its flaws, but the filmmakers’ insistent adherence to the core concept is admirable. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

15 Second Review: Marble Hornets

Marble Hornets is a found-footage web series comprised of 87 entries (or 133 videos, all told) that were originally uploaded to two separate YouTube channels between 2009-2014. One, the ‘Marble Hornets’ channel, hosted the main narrative. The second channel ‘ToTheArk’ uploaded sinister responses to the main entries. The series is split into three seasons of varying length, and the whole saga lasts nearly 91/2 hours. The no-budget series gained attention by becoming an early adopter of the Slenderman mythos, and for offering numerous secret messages (such as flash-frames of numbers that were avidly decoded by a Reddit group). Its success was also helped by the first few hours of footage, which are genuinely unsettling. On paper, the series replicates the techniques offered by other found-footage films such as Noroi (2005), for instance. However, the series benefits from the filmmakers’ inexperience; frequently, the early episodes feel “edgy” because they are made by people who do not quite follow standard filmmaking conventions. Consequently, as the tension rises, it feels like pretty much anything could happen next. Unfortunately, that feeling dissipates before the first season closes. The second series has an interesting premise – filling in details of seven months that the protagonist (Jay) cannot remember – but the series loses its unpredictability, becoming entirely formulaic. Virtually every episode in the season consists of the protagonists travelling to a location and spotting Slenderman (here referred to as ‘The Operator’) as the tape becomes corrupted. The second season also shows ‘The Operator’ too much, and so his presence loses impact. The first season makes effective use of Slenderman’s distinctive look by placing him in the background or in the corner of a frame during a pan; he is there, but only for an instant, and that is much more ominous than seeing Slenderman stood around directly in front of the camera. Perhaps the filmmakers also became more comfortable with how to film the series. The material feels “safer” than the early entries, in spite of the more overt threats faced by the protagonists. The filmmakers also rely on dialogue-heavy scenes in the second season. This was an unwise move as the lead performers – creators Joseph DeLage and Troy Wagner – are not up to the task (DeLage’s performance is particularly stilted). The latter problem continues into the third season, and by the seventh hour I was really wishing that they would start tying up the plot rather than stringing it out. It is also a shame that the final episodes were anti-climactic. Still, there are some nice moments buried in the running time for those willing to engage with it, and the makers should be congratulated for what they achieved with virtually nothing. The whole series is still available on YouTube (one user has kindly compiled a playlist of all the episodes in order for lazy folks like me), and the first two hours are certainly worth a look. I would advise digging into the message boards about the series in tandem to watching each entry: the enthusiasm with which new episodes and fragments of information were greeted by fans is more intriguing than the events depicted in the series itself.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Call for Film Submissions: Ted Bundy Had a Son

Shane Ryan is currently putting together a new film Ted Bundy Had a Son, which is part of his Amateur Porn Star Killer series. The film is a pseudo-documentary that reflects on the Amateur Porn Star Killer films as if they were depicting real-world events. 

Shane is currently looking for submissions from anyone over 18 (worldwide) who would like to contribute, even if you are just shooting on an i-Phone

If you are interested in submitting, full details can be found here:

The history of the series' killer (Brandon) can be found here: 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

15 Second Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters is finally here, and it is exactly what it should be: a fun and funny movie. I mean that in the best possible way. Does anyone want a serious, thought-provoking Ghostbusters? I sure as hell don’t. I want to be entertained, and Ghostbusters absolutely delivers. The film zips along at a well-judged pace; it does not seem rushed, but it also does not feel like a two-hour movie. The script is a hoot, the story is appropriately cartoonish, and the cast are well-suited to their roles. The film’s secret weapon, however, is Kate McKinnon’s performance as Holtzmann. McKinnon manages to steal every scene she appears in – I mean that literally; every damn scene – and that is a truly impressive feat given the comic talent involved in this film. Is Ghostbusters perfect? Of course not; some of the jokes don’t land; the cameos are forced; and there are moments where the CG doesn’t quite work (in fact the “green screen” is apparent at several points during the climax). Was it “as good as the original”? What a stupid question. I have seen the predecessor dozens of times, and my fondness for it has been cultivated gradually over the last thirty years. No new Ghostbusters film could hope to dislodge my nostalgia goggles. On initial viewing however, I enjoyed the 2016 iteration of Ghostbusters much more than I have ever enjoyed Ghostbusters 2. I sincerely hope that the kids seeing this new Ghostbusters will come to regard it with the same affection that so many children of the 80s have for the original. Don't listen to the haters, Ghostbusters is a blast. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

15 Second Review: The Lesson (2014)

First, I ought to clarify that this review is about Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s The Lesson, not Ruth Platt’s The Lesson. I saw both in close proximity, and Platt’s film really did not cut it for me (so I'll say no more about it). Grozeva and Valchanov’s film, on the other hand, is a meticulously constructed tale. I have not felt so frustrated for a lead protagonist since watching Oliver Stone’s U-Turn (1997). As with Stone’s movie – and this is the only salient point of comparison – The Lesson’s central protagonist faces a n unrelenting series of misfortunes. Individually, most of the mishaps are relatively minor, but cumulatively they are torturous: I spent most of the film desperately yearning for one of the protagonist’s efforts to pay off. I will not reveal whether she ultimately succeeds or not (as that would spoil the “fun”). However, I will say that while the climax is somewhat outlandish, the final scene is an understated black comic masterstroke: not only did it make the slightly implausible precursor palatable, but it also offered a neat reward for making it through two excruciating hours of escalating calamities. The performances and cinematography are restrained, and that only adds to the film’s constricted atmosphere. Recommended, but only for those willing to hold their nerve for the movie's wry "lesson".

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Sion Sono's Whispering Star Exhibition

While I was in Japan, I got chance to visit Sion Sono's first solo art exhibition at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art (for info, follow this link). The exhibition is designed as an accompaniment to his film Hiso hiso boshi (The Whispering Star, 2015). I love Sono's films, so I'm really glad I got to see it (the exhibition finishes tomorrow). 

Here are some photos of the exhibition:

Hachiko is a National symbol of loyalty (for anyone unfamiliar with Hachiko's story, here is a video - be warned, it is a sad tale). The statue is modeled leaving its stand, which is particularly powerful in context (the Watari-um is in Shibuya):

Concept work and screenplays:

The exhibit included every storyboard from the film (555 in total), which Sono sketched 25 years ago. Sections of the film were playing in the room, serving to demonstrate how gifted Sono is in terms of bringing his vision to the screen:

The yellow boxes are parcels that are being delivered by the film's lead protagonist. Each box was sealed and contained a mystery object.

Here is the trailer for The Whispering Star. I cannot wait to see the full film. The sections I have seen are really intriguing

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Now on Twitter

I've finally buckled and joined Twitter: my handle is @DrSteve_Jones
I plan to be more active on there than I have been here of late, although I'll still be posting longer pieces and updates to this blog.

Thanks to my colleague Sarah Ralph, we also now have a Twitter account for the Media group at Northumbria: our handle is @Media_Northumbr