The Week In Screenings Part XXII

Monday, August 15 2011
The Week In Screenings Part XXII

After a relatively quiet week last time around, Alex Kidd, our regular screening correspondent, was out and about all weekend, sampling Empire magazine’s Big Screen event. Here’s his on the spot report…

Thursday night and I’m at the O2 Arena for the Cowboys And Aliens premiere and the first night of the Empire Big Screen weekend. Making the huge leap from one screen in the BFI to a multi-media film weekend the Big Screen certainly had a lot to live up to, did it manage to succeed? I’d say mostly yes.

The Big Screen had taken over the entire Cineworld cinema within the O2, as well as a huge part of one of the cavernous hall areas in the arena. Previously the event had taken place simply within the main screen at the BFI, so this huge jump to a massive event like this was a big step up.

So first night and I’d been lucky enough to manage to get into the premiere for Cowboys And Aliens, as a huge Western fan I’d really been looking forward to this as the advance word was that this was a pure Western through and through. One thing that was great was that the premiere was in the massive Sky Superscreen at the O2, now I’d never been in here before and I had no idea just how big this screen was, it’s gigantic and easily just as impressive to see a film in as the Leicester Square venues; it even has a balcony, it’s that big. It’s odd that Cineworld doesn’t make more noise about this screen, as I’d never realised it was here and as a Cineworld Unlimited card holder I’d have made the trip over to the screen just to catch films here if I’d have known it was this big. At least I know now and I’ll be keeping an eye on what’s playing here in the future, seriously take a trip over tot hat screen, it’s hugely impressive.

Anyway back to the film, we had a brief but funny introduction from director Jon Favreau and stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford (total deadpan humour as always) and Olivia Wilde and then it was into the film itself. Cowboys & Aliens is a pure Western make no mistake, it just also happens to feature Aliens, which is just as much fun as it sounds. What I really enjoyed about it was that for the most part it takes itself really seriously, not hamming things up, there’s no real comic relief side-kicks, though Sam Rockwell does well with his character’s comic lines and for the most part it sticks to traditional Western motifs and themes. Also the real stand out is that it’s by far Harrison Ford’s best performance in years, here he reminds you of why he became such a big star back in the 70s and 80s, he’s charismatic and tough as nails all the way through the film, it’s great to have him back. So Cowboys And Aliens was great fun, not the best film of the Summer – it’s been a really strong year – but a totally welcome super solid film.

Friday afternoon and I was back there for the first full day of the Big Screen, with events happening across all 10 screens of the cinema, plus the Indigo venue turned into a screen; there’s a huge amount to choose between at any one time, I’d decided to try and prioritise getting into preview screenings over anything else, as great as the film studio presentation are, I find that I like to see films as cold as possible, meaning not watching clips before I see the film, and these presentations are packed with exclusive clips, so I was determined to catch as many films themselves as possible over the weekend.

First stop on Friday then was a fascinating panel featuring Human Centipede director Tom Six in discussion with author Kim Newman. Tom is right in the middle of appealing against the BBFC refusing to give his Human Centipede 2 a certificate, they’ve said even with cuts they can’t allow it to be seen in this country. This insightful talk let Tom tell his side of the story and allowed him express how he feels and also how this affects his film. It was really interesting to hear about this straight from the person involved right in the middle of the time that it’s happening.

Then it was straight into a preview of The Devil’s Double, the true tale of the man who had to become Uday Hussein’s body double during the 1980s. Star Dominic Cooper was on hand to introduce the film and talked briefly about the challenges of playing both Uday and his double Latif. It’s a fairly solid film that really plays up how dangerously insane Uday seemed to be, but the main thing to watch the film for is Cooper’s remarkable dual performance, it’s hard to think of the two characters being any more different, Uday’s unhinged insane banter and Latif’s cool withheld demeanour are so clashing that it’s hard to think it’s the same actor playing both roles.

Then it was back in the gigantic Sky Superscreen for something I’d been really looking forward to, the first episode of the upcoming Sci-Fi TV show Terra Nova. This was probably the best shot that this show was going to have, the massive screen and super loud sound system there really made the show look good, but sadly for me it just didn’t work. Set in the years 2149 mankind has destroyed the earth with pollution, though a remarkable discovery reveals a wormhole that goes back in time 85 million years. A small band of humans is sent back in time to set up camp and to build a community where more future people can come back and live and escape the dying Earth. It’s a great premise and the show certainly seems to have had a huge budget as its genuinely impressive visually, but the story itself is so quite bland and generic, which is a shame. Oddly enough Terra Nova really resembles the recent BBC Sci-Fi show Outcasts, both feature humanity attempting to start afresh elsewhere, with both communities facing threats both from within and from forces unknown. The show will certainly make a splash when it airs on TV and should find a loyal following, it just needs to be more unique f it wants to catch me as a viewer again.

So that was Friday down, the screenings were busy but O2 itself seemed quite quiet, I was really interested to see how things ran on what could be a much busier Saturday.

Back there on Saturday for 30 Minutes Or Less, a dark comedy about a slacker pizza delivery driver, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who manages to find himself with a bomb strapped to his chest and having to rob a bank for the people who put it there. It’s a dark, dark comedy and that’s really funny in places, what really stood out is how the characters just get on with the awful predicament they find themselves in, there’s no soul-searching and moaning they just get on with it. Need to rob a bank? Well let’s get my best friend involved as well.It’s well worth a watch when it arrives in UK cinemas from October. That was one of the great things about the Big Screen, lots of the screenings were quite far out from their release dates, letting you see films really early.

Over the three days there were also a series of surprise secret screenings, these were super busy as everyone wanted to get in, so I thought I’d take the easier path and just watch the regular screenings. I’m not sure what the first secret film was but the other two were Drive and The Debt, so maybe the first one was another film starting with D?

Next up for me as the body-swap comedy The Change-Up, an often used idea but I think this is the first time it’s been done with two adults swapping bodies, though I could be wrong. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are two best friends with very different lives, one night they accidently wish for each others life and lo and behold they swap bodies. I wasn’t looking forward to this too much from the trailer but it actually turns out to be better then I thought, the trailer really highlights the comedy and gags, but there’s quite a bit of heart and character in the film, which wins out in the end, there’s no real surprises along the way but it’s a good solid watch and should please a lot of people. 

Interestingly on the Saturday even though the screenings were busy the O2 itself didn’t get as packed as I thought it would be, I guess it’s so huge that it would take tens of thousands of people to really make the pace packed, which was actually a good thing as it meant it was really easy to get around over the weekend.

The on to the final day – Sunday. First up was a retro screening of Dario Argento’s 1982 classic Tenebrae, introduced by one of the leading experts on the man and his films, journalist Alan Jones. I really wanted to make sure I got to this screening, the chance to see one of Argento’s films on the big screen in the heart of the O2 was too much to pass up. Alan provide a fascinating and insightful intro to the film and also did and equally interesting Q&A session afterwards. It was so great watching Tenebrae on the big screen, I’ve seen it several times before but never at the cinema, plus they’d turn the film up LOUD so the amazing Goblin score really kicked in loud. It was a fantastic screening and it did a good job of highlighting how diverse the mixture of films playing at the Big Screen really was.

After that it I went into the Memories Of Alien panel talk, which featured three members of the original Alien production crew and was hosted by author Ian Nathan whose new book Alien Vault was being launched at the Big Screen. I’ve always been a huge Alien fan and this was a fascinating talk, after all these years there’s still fantastic stories about the making of the film that I’ve never heard, I enjoyed this session so much that I stayed behind to buy the new Alien Vault book and get it signed, it’s a really fantastic looking new addition to the Alien world. Did you know the Nostromo was originally yellow? Amazing stuff.

Then for me my final event of the weekend was the Conan the Barbarian 3D fan premiere hosted by the new Conan himself Jason Moma. I’d seen the trailer for this a while ago and I loved the look of the film, but something just didn’t sit right for me with the new Conan himself, he didn’t look big enough or tough enough. Sadly this is exactly how the film is, everything around Conan is good and well done, it’s just Conan himself is the weak spot in the film. It’s not that he’s bad as such, just he doesn’t strike you as the lead character, he’s more like the second in command instead of the lead. The always great Stephen Lang has a great time though as the leering villain, with able support from Rose McGowan and Ron Perlman, it’s a fun watch but it really needed a strong lead man.

So that was Big Screen 2011 for me, I had a great weekend, watched several fun films, got to see a few great panels and also discovered the gigantic Superscreen at the O2. For the film companies the Big Screen certainly seemed like a great opportunity to let people know about their upcoming releases, hopefully in 2012 we’ll see even more activity and exclusives being unveiled to the audiences. I certainly think I’ll be back in 2012.