Let's talk about movies.

I’m a movie geek as well as a music geek (although if the two central tenants of my id were to fight, music is about three times bigger than movies) but I often find myself getting more excited about upcoming movies, and talk more about movies than I do about music to my non-nerd buddies. I guess it’s because being told a story is a much more cerebral pleasure to music, which is far more primal. Music shouldn’t be trying to tell us a story, it should be a quite literal emotional rollercoaster where all of the work is done by the listener; movies are a different kettle of fish, doing so much more of the legwork for the audience. I watch so many more movies in the home than I do in the cinema. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly: If I want to watch a foreign movie after the week of release, I have to get the DVD, because those films get shown at Edinburgh’s excellent Film House, but not for long (and the cost and arseache of going all the way to the other side of town to see an expensive movie is usually the clincher). If I want to watch a non-star studded movie, I usually have to go all the way into town because my local suburb cinema shows about five mainstream movies for eight week stretches (unless a big hitter comes along, like Transformers or Potter and totally clears the place of anything else). Listen cinemas, I know cash is tight, but there are thousands, nay, millions of people who have either already seen Harry bloody Potter and maybe want to watch something else, and millions more who couldn’t give two shits about the latest movie in the undead franchise that even J.K. Rowling’s increasingly indulgent and indecipherable internal mythology cannot kill. Maybe more people would go to the cinema if you had a fair selection of films instead of just Hollywood glut, if you had a screen walled off for showing classics all the time (no, no re-issues, classics – maybe you could do an email vote thing on your website as to what movie you should show for a week at the time. Or if you had ushers watch the crowd of idiots I usually have to share a screen with so they don’t get to noisy or phone each other. Maybe if the ushers were to then clean the screen between movies to make the cinema a nice place to be. Maybe if you didn’t charge the going price for a used Land Rover for popcorn and a drink. Maybe if you had a bar where I could wait before my movie instead of forcing me to take my business across the road.

Secondly: Like everyone I know, I have a TV the size of the back of a van. High definition and everything. And as loathe as I am to admit it, I have become a home-watcher. Used to casually pausing a movie to answer the phone or talking through movies and rewinding at a whim. I like the cinema model. I think art ought to be appreciated without distraction, and sitting in a darkened theatre were the art is just about the only thing you can focus on seems as good a way as possible to get those goals. But home viewing offers more. I can select any movie I own, and a DVD costs at the most a tenner, so even without the popcorn economy it is cheaper than seats in a theatre. And a ten pound DVD can be enjoyed just as well by eight people as by me on my tod. And watched again as many times as I see fit, and loaned to people. And watched at six am. And I can get the cinema experience by putting off the lights and switching my phone off (and throwing day-old popcorn around my flat and hiring someone to stand up and go to the toilet, and cough, and chat blithely about who the killer might be even though we know that information will be revealed during the course of the plot, and elbow me in the side while reaching for their coke, and pouring myself a coke and burning a twenty pound note for the privilege).

It is a combination of push and pull. Cinemas give me no reason to go to them, and DVD offers so much more. We also have to thank DVD, because it gave us a different kind of movie. We are used to movies that can be watched many times, and indeed fandom and those IMDb pages that list continuity errors encourage multiple viewings. DVD also allows movies to be preserved, and seen by many people, which as I extrapolated before, cinemas are spectacularly failing to do. Some films also don’t get a cinema release at all, or a damn short one, and you can miss them first time around. I’m going to talk about two recent movies, neither of which you can see at the cinema, both independent and not that cinematic and both available on DVD widely. I urge you to seek them out because you will get something out of both of them.

We’ll start as we mean to go on, by talking about Monsters. Gareth Edwards debut effort is a searing political monster road movie, but it isn’t, it’s a little indie-spirited character study about two people on the road that just happens to contain giant beasties. The film makes some great points and works as a companion piece to the sublime District 9. The story concerns a photojournalist having to escort his bosses daughter through Mexico; their voyage is complicated by how six years ago a NASA probe crashed to earth, bringing with it big octopodian monsters that resemble Godzilla-size Kthulu and turn the US-Mexico border area into a closed state where monsters roam and human travel is not advised. The monsters (now firmly residents) appear stirred up about something, and the feeling is of more of a war than a pest-control mission. The US military are engaged in combating the monsters. The film begins on the Mexico side of the containment zone where poor people exist in constant fear of the monsters. On the American side of the zone, there is a massive dam-like wall. An obvious connections with the current immigration and border dispute are writ large. On the simplest level it works as a thrilling monster-road movie and the exciting turn towards the focus on character. It plays like any indie-spirited road movie – with added monsters. Director and writer Gareth Edwards said that the film was a response to the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout the film nobody seems very bothered about the monsters in any immediate-peril way. If Cloverfield depicted fictionalised monster September the eleventh (and it is pretty hard to deny) then Monsters offers us a fictionalised monster Afghanistan. It is a fascinating world to be dropped into and the excellently three-dimensional performances from the two leads around whom the entire movie revolves makes it believable and compelling. What sets Monsters apart, and the chief reason we’ll be talking about it in ten years time, is the industry-changing way it was made. Filmed on location with an ad-hoc script and locally-enlisted extras, the film (a big monster road movie) cost half a million pounds to make. While it isn’t as visually bombastic as the landscapes of Avatar were, I doubt you could get a cup of coffee on a normal monster movie set for half a million. The coolest thing, he did the (excellent) special effects on a home computer, not a massive computer lab and an army of nerds. Monsters will hopefully spawn copycat effects movies on a tiny budget rather than leaving Hollywood to ruin them all.

The other film is high-concept Buried. One of my favourite movies of 2010 and an entirely different proposition. Imagine being locked in a coffin, buried in the ground. That’s Buried. It takes a cue from tough Israeli war drama Lebanon, and a bit of thriller Phone Booth, with both character and camera trapped in a tiny space for the entire runtime of the film. I don’t want to say too much because in many ways the film relies on the audience not really knowing what is occurring; but Ryan Reynolds (excellent actor in the right role) is locked in a coffin, with a phone and some other items. The film in many ways owes a debt to Saw and is almost Hitchcockian in its execution. What amazed me is how much mileage Buried gets out of its gimmick, Lebanon felt fully out-of-ideas by the end, but Buried manages to never leave the confines of the coffin (just as our hero doesn’t) for the full 90 minutes but manages to incorporate a conspiracy, a hostage drama, a mystery, a high-tension race against time, moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, romance and a pseudo fight scene; all while keeping the audience tense and claustrophobic. The one criticism you imagine could be rallied is that it isn’t very visually stimulating, looking at a single guy in a box for 90 minutes; but it isn’t a gripe that ever comes up. Between the phone screen and the lighter and several other things, the lighting is constantly changing, the coffin is shot from every conceivable angle. The entire film is a tour-de-force in how to kick the ass of a mainstream thriller while being stuck with a shoestring budget, by having one killer idea and the will to execute it.
If you do see Buried, think about this. It isn’t a film about being locked in a coffin or anything else – it’s a film about the horrors of being put on hold.

Written under duress by Steven.

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