The Week In Screenings Part XXXI

Tuesday, October 25 2011
The Week In Screenings Part XXXI

Another hectic week from our regular correspondent at London’s multiplexes and screenings rooms, Alex Kidd. The past seven days has seen the former HMV staffer move from remakes and horror to London Film Festival fare, including the notorious surprise film. What was it? You’ll have to read his latest missive to find out what was up the organisers’ sleeves…

There always seem to be so many films released each week that it can be hard to keep up with everything, so Monday night I decided to do a double bill to catch up with two films that I’d been really intrigued by: Texas Killing Fields and Footloose.

Texas Killing Fields seemed to spring up out of nowhere, the first I’d heard of it was when the poster appeared on the wall at my tube station, I’d not even seen a trailer for this one either online or before a film. Boasting a strong cast, including Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, I looked it up online only to find it’s the debut feature film from Ami Canaan Mann, the daughter of Michael Mann, so count me interested straight away. On Monday night I head over to one of the few cinemas it’s playing, the Cineworld 02, which I’ve been going to more and more recently. The one problem with this cinema is that they’ve done away with the ticket counter entirely; you now have to queue behind everyone buying their popcorn and snacks, which can take forever, especially tonight as there seems to be some sort of free popcorn offer on. Anyway on with the film, how is it? It’s OK actually, a fairly solid start as a debut film, the first 30 minutes is very intriguing but the rest of the film slightly sags after that. We follow police partners, Worthington and Morgan as they start to investigate a series of murders taking place in their sleepy small town deep in the heart of Texas. Though it’s an original script the film has the feel of a police procedural book and slowly unravels its story as we get to know more about the characters and their pasts. It probably would have been a stronger film if it had stuck more to the thriller elements than getting tied up with the characters but it’s still a very solid watch and should do well as it’s a strong genre and a very strong cast.

After that I went straight from that screen right into the remake of Footloose, which I was really looking forward to. The original is great fun and I have such clear memories of seeing it when it first came out, so I was looking forward to going full circle and watching the new version at the cinema as well. What had really got me itching to see this was that for once an interesting director was attached to a remake, Craig Brewer, the man behind Hustle & Flow and the truly unique Black Snake Moan, and he does an amazing job here. Yes I really loved this film, Brewer brings such a sense of soul and authenticity to the production, which is what’s really missing from so many of the recent wave of remakes we’ve been getting; it genuinely feels like someone cared about the production and tried to make the best film possible, which really comes across on the screen. It’s a great update and mixes in parts of the original with some fantastic updated sequences and the cast are great – here Ren is played by dancer Kenny Wormald who’s cast as a pure vintage teen outsider, all quiff, white t-shirt and blue Levis, he’s perfect in the role. In fact the majority of the young cast is made up of up and coming actors, which also adds to the sense of it being a real movie instead of a just a vehicle for some teen idol. It’s a huge amount of fun and really worth seeing, it left me wishing that more remakes were done like this: by people who could bring something new to it and a sense of caring about the original material. 

Although we’re in the middle of the London Film Festival I’d not been able to make it along to many films this year so it was great to be able to catch Return, which had been picked up by Network Releasing and was playing as part of the festival. This very current drama focuses on the effect that returning from a combat zone can have on everyone around you, here Kelli (Linda Cardellini) returns from a tour of duty and tries to pick up her old life, but things begin to fall apart for her almost immediately.

It’s an arresting character drama centred around a very strong performance from Cardellini, also the always excellent Michael Shannon is present as the husband who’s moved on since she went away to serve.

Thursday night and it’s Paranormal Activity 3 time! With no press screenings at all I wanted to catch this straight away as I’m a huge fan of the series, the original totally freaked me out the first time I watched it and against all the odds part two turned out to be inventive and scary as well. So what did part three hold for us? Well more of the same, and although not as scary as the original, it’s still an amazingly creepy experience which some truly memorable sequences in it. Here we go back right to the origin of the story and it’s time for the 80s VHS cassettes to get dusted off as we look back on the strange events that started all the activity. The film itself really now only uses the found footage format as a jumping off point to show us the eerie events that are taking place, the first took its time to explain and rationalise the use of cameras, here it’s just a means to an end, not say it isn’t good, I really enjoyed the film, just that I think the filmmakers are now far more playful with the format and happy to step outside of its confines. It’s been great to see these three films as they come out, I’ve always been far more intrigued by supernatural horror than violent horror, and that fact that this third entry in the series stills feels fresh and scary is a great achievement.

Next up was We Need To Talk About Kevin, I’d not read the book it’s based on but I seen the trailer for this quite a few times and was really looking forward to it. The line from the trailer that really interested me was the one about the people on TV watching TV, which really struck a chord with me. Here director Lynne Ramsay takes a fractured approach to the narrative, skipping backwards and forwards through the story, so that we can slowly put the pieces together for ourselves. Tilda Swinton is Eva, a successful travel writer who never manages to bond with her son Kevin. He in turn grows up to become a manipulative and dark child, only ever seeming to see the bad in everyone and everything. Events lead up to Kevin committing an atrocious crime, which leaves Eva alone and an outcast in her own community. It’s certainly a powerful film and visually very inventive, but I did find it hard to relate to the characters, everyone feels so distant and remote. It certainly should do well though when it arrives on home entertainment, both via reviews and word of mouth.

Steven Soderbergh has always been a fascinating director, jumping from big budget productions to indie-produced features yet always making the exact films he wants to create. With Contagion he’s produced possibly his most real and horrifying film to date, one that manages to jettison the usual trappings of Hollywood and replace them with something far more real and disturbing. We follow the path of a deadly virus as it slowly sweeps across the globe, growing each day and slowly brings the world to a halt. Here’s where Soderbergh takes a left turn and throws out all the previous conventions that films like this have, everyone acts professional, there’s no accidental spills in the lab, there’s no hero yet it’s one of the most gripping and enthralling films I’ve seen this year.

Final film of this week was the annual London Film Festival Surprise Film, which after missing last year’s, the first time in 10 years I couldn’t get in, I was determined to catch this time around. I’m always attracted to the Surprise Film by what a gamble it always is, you never know what it’s going to be, although it’s always something new and usually a crowd pleaser. So what was it this time? Damsels In Distress, the new film from director Whit Stillman, his first since The Last Days Of Disco, way back in 1998. Even though it’s been years since his last film there’s an instant sense of his individual style and sense of cinema at work here as we enter the world of Violet and her University friends. A world populated by good causes, sharp dialogue, over-analysis of boyfriends and wonderfully dream-like dance sequences. It’s a hyper stylised narrative that never seems to connect with the real world, or really want to, it’s quite happy to carry on in its own unique style and it’s all the more original and welcome for this.

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