Monday 27 February 2012

Rain drops on roses and GHOULIES & TRANCERS

Right dear reader, let us not delay, I hope you’ve had a good dose of caffeine today as we’re going to visit a lonely goat – high on a hill.
The first full-length film I can recall seeing in the cinema was Robert Wise’s ‘The Sound of Music’. Obviously this was a re-run (it was made in 1965, three years before I was born) so I estimate it is around 1974 when I first got to see Julie Andrews’ yodelayheehooing nun on the run. The glorious Dominion Tottenham Court Road (sadly now a theatre) provided the splendidly grandiose auditorium in which my mother, father and I watched from high up in the circle.  In glorious 70mm, the widescreen canvas below us unfolded a dazzlingly barmy musical romp with Nazi’s trying to trample all over Austria’s edelweiss whilst Maria melodiously conjures up creative culinary suggestions such as schnitzel with noodle: for close on three hours. The programmer at the Dominion back then must have been some kind of sadist because he’d even included a short film preceding this malarkey – as if the programme wasn’t long enough already! The short film was something about Loch Ness and I recall very little about this long-lost gem, except for a brief cartoon shot of Nessie’s head rising above the waters. Clearly the film left an impression on me (‘The Sound of Music’ that is) or at least the music, as the first album I ever purchased happened to be the original soundtrack. We didn’t have a proper stereo back then, only a cassette player, but I played that album continuously until the tape unspooled and reduced ‘So Long, Farewell’ to a disturbing satanic-like drool one day. You know what? I think Jerry Goldsmith really missed a trick when he sat down to compose his symphony for Satan for ‘The Omen’. Don’t get me wrong, Jerry’s score was masterful – but 20th Century Fox could have saved a small fortune on the choir and orchestra’s fees if Jerry had just played them back Julie Andrews’ dulcet tones at half-speed (copyright permitting).
But I digress... 
The Dominion provided me and my father with our first real taste of Dolby stereo when we went to see ‘Star Wars’. For any younger readers who may have inadvertently strayed onto this blog, by ‘Star WarsI mean ‘Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope’, made in 1977, with real models, real sets, (and real actors). My dad (who probably snoozed through most of the films I chose to see) was waxing lyrical about how it sounded like the ‘spaceships’ were coming from right behind him – and clearly keeping him awake (!). He was to get another auditory revelation soon after at the Odeon Marble Arch when the opening crescendo from Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’  exploded from the rear speakers and both dad and I (and probably half the stalls in truth) flew out of our seats in unison. 
I didn’t see that many films at the Dominion (I probably saw more concerts there in the 80’s), but I do recall the very last two films I saw there. A terrific double-bill of B-movie 80’s schlock: ‘Trancers’ & ‘Ghoulies’. From Rodgers and Hammerstein to Charles Band – from singing nuns to toilet dwelling goblins – these, dear reader, are a few of my favourite things...

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Sardines, penguins and bogeys – oh my!

It’s been quite a while hasn’t it dear reader? Firstly, I really must apologise, I did rather go on somewhat about last year’s FrightFest didn’t I? And then, on top of that, I’ve been more or less firmly ensconced on the sofa for the past month utilising my Blockbuster ‘Golden Ticket’. This special offer entitled me to rent thirty DVDs or blu rays in thirty days (sounds positively Jules Verne like doesn’t it?) Well, I didn’t quite manage to watch one every day – I got through twenty-one in fact – but I hope this goes some way toward explaining my recent hibernation. I’ll share my thoughts on a few of my rentals as we go along; I do hope you won’t mind? But, seeing as it’s been a while since we last ventured out to the cinemas of my past, let me treat you to a bit of style; let’s leave Victoria behind us and venture into the West End.
(Judging from the film line-up this image is from 1984)
I can see you’re disappointed, but don’t be. I’ve not dragged you up to the West End (that’s the West End circa mid-70’s) just so we can cram ourselves into one of the four pokey little screens here at the Cinecenta in Panton Street. I just thought that as we are walking past the place I’d share a fragment of a memory from 1976. I was in one of the auditoriums at the Cinecenta with my father. We were probably about to watch Raid on Entebbe’, that child-pleasing heart-warming cuddly family film based on the true story of an Israeli commando assault on Entebbe airport in Uganda to free hostages of a terrorist hijacking. I suspect this was my father’s choice. Anyway, I cannot recall any of this particular film's (undoubted) highlights, but what did stick in my memory that day, and has remained firmly wedged in my subconscious like a piece of wet bubble-gum ever since,  was a trailer for a forthcoming attraction which preceded it.  I can’t even remember the whole trailer, just this: a goldfish bowl falls in slow motion having been dropped from an upstairs banister, and smashes on impact as it hits the marble floor below, scattering the fishes. No prizes for guessing the film: ‘The Omen’, but isn’t it interesting that they felt it appropriate to advertise this satanic Grand Guignol shocker before an ‘A’ certificate film back then? Then again, if my father thought ‘Raid on Entebbe’ was appropriate entertainment for an eight-year old... Perhaps the trailer was one of subtlety and all we were actually shown was that one powerfully shocking senseless waste of aquatic life. Actually, I must point out that according to IMDB, dead sardines painted orange were used instead of live goldfish for the scene (although a real priest was used during the impaling of Patrick Troughton’s Father Brennan on a church spike).
And now, let me tell you about the first three rentals from my Golden Ticket month.

Mr Popper’s Penguins (2011)
A previously partaken but still perfectly passable piece of popcorn pleasantry, Mr Popper and his penguins still raised a smile when revisiting it on home viewing. Jim Carey partially reins in his usual over-the-top clowning and elastic face gurning and his performance is all the better for it. He does raise a couple of genuine laughs along the way but rather wisely leaves the majority of the comedy to the adorable penguins. The plot is standard family fare, but the young leads are far less annoying than one can reasonably expect in formula film-making of this kind, and Angela Lansbury is, as always, good-value and immensely watchable.

Horrid Henry: The Movie (2011)
It pains me to say this as I generally appreciate and enjoy films which appeal to the younger audience (I’m a big kid at heart). However, I would struggle to find anything remotely recommendable about ‘Horrid Henry’ for an adult. It is rare for me to watch a film and feel so disconnected from the material from start to finish (apart from the Twilight saga of course). The irony is this rental was my choice – my 6 year old daughter was completely disinterested when I took the case up to the counter. Having had to practically bribe her into watching it with me on the sofa she sat completely enthralled from start to finish (as I thought she would) and bestowed it with a “10 out of 10” score when it had finished. Angelica Houston, together with a fine ensemble of British comedy talent (and Richard E. Grant), is criminally wasted as Henry (who, on this outing at least, didn’t appear nearly horrid enough for my taste), progresses from flicking bogies to saving his school in 90 tediously uninspired minutes.  I’m just thankful I didn’t waste good money taking my daughter to see this in 3D in the cinema. Is this the moment when the transformation from young-at-heart open-minded daddy into old baggy-eyed Barry Norman begins? I do so hope not, and on that note I would just like to state for the record that this film can boast without question or indeed any fear of contradiction whatsoever – the singularly most realistic bogey ever shown on screen.  
Stake Land (2010)
‘Zombieland’ without the laughs (except the zombies are actually vampire-zombie hybrids or something).  Actually despite my apparent dismissive glibness ‘Stake Land’ is a superbly crafted, sombre post-apocalyptic road-movie with art-house sensibilities. The tone is perfectly judged and the minimalist dialogue coupled with the evocative deserted widescreen landscapes convey a convincing bleakness to the proceedings.

Right, well I guess are trip will have to be continued next time.

But as we leave the Cinecenta I must just point out that unlike most of the cinemas I will recall in these blogs, this particular one is still standing and is very much still functioning as a cinema. It’s now owned by the Odeon chain, 
but at one time or another it was owned by Star Cinemas, Classic Cinemas, Cannon, MGM, and ABC. It was also Europe’s first four-in-one cinema and it’s been projecting flickering images onto its four silver screens (on and off) since 12th January 1969. [Nowadays it goes by the name of the Odeon Luxe Haymarket.]   
Oh yes, and I’ve just remembered, if you do happen to attend this cinema, please try not to stand up during the film. I recall patrons blocking the projection beam with their heads during a screening of ‘Jackknife’ (1989) with Robert De Niro. (I mean Robert De Niro was in the film – not sitting with me or blocking the screen you understand).