Empire Big Screen Review

Over the course of the August 12th-14th weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Empire Presents Big Screen movie convention. The convention spanned three days (although I only attended two of them) with a mixture of master classes, showcase’s and screenings. Having attended seven screenings (a mixture of old and new releases), a master class and a showcase of new footage, here is my take on the whole event and what I got to see when there.

Friday August 12th

After an early start and collecting my tickets after some time queuing, I attended the first event of the day. Ironically, it was a master class about film journalism. Being given a 45 or so minute talk on how to get into the profession, and what routes are available to do such was incredibly enlightening and well worth giving up my time for. It also gave me the refreshing take I needed to kick me into gear when it comes to my own personal ambitions in the field.

After inspecting the Hollywood Boulevard exhibition and dining at one of the 02 Arena’s many restaurants, it was time to head off for an advance screening (at least for those of us across the pond) of Will Gluck‘s new fuck-buddy romantic comedy Friends with Benefits. I actually had relatively high hopes for the film. The trailer impressed and the buzz seemed good. I, however, left bitterly disappointed. For a film that’s concept is being an ‘anti-rom-com’, it sure as damn just felt like any other romantic comedy I have seen (other than the superb (500) Days of Summer). Timberlake is satisfactory and Kunis is a hoot, but it all falls apart about half way through when the inevitable ‘feelings’ for each other get in the way. Frustrating sub-plots are also aplenty (was there any point in including the story about Timberlake’s dad?) and cliches in abundance, Friends with Benefits is one of the worst films if 2011.

Friends with Benefits – 4.5/10

My final event of the day was an advance screening of Jon Favreau‘s new brain dead actioner Cowboys & Aliens. The best piece of advice I can give to someone wanting to see this film is dumb down all expectations and switch of your brain. That should be enough to enable you to at least get mild entertainment factor out of the film. As a summer blockbuster, it serves up all necessary requirements; high-octane shootouts/action set pieces, big name stars and a plot that hardly makes any realistic sense. Unfortunately for myself, the summer film season is my least anticipated of the year (Summer 2012 is exempt from this). Daniel Craig, who is always a presence, is pretty bland here, just grumbling and snarkily looking at anything that moves (bar Olivia Wilde, that is). Harrison Ford is the only one worth his weight here, and utters the immortal line upon finding out the aforementioned aliens of the title are farming for gold on earth (“What are they gunna do? Buy something?!”). For a 12A/PG-13, it is also a pretty violent affair. All in all, it is a worthy addition to this year’s shockingly poor summer movie season, with Super 8 and The Inbetweeners Movie being the only big positives to extract from it.

Cowboys & Aliens – 6/10

Saturday August 13th

Saturday was a pretty packed day for me, four screenings and a showcase. The day started at 10am with a screening of the new Blu-ray transfer of John Carpenter‘s 1974 sci-fi comedy Dark Star. Having never seen the film, this was the perfect opportunity; on the big screen, and in its new restored glory. I have to say, for something as acclaimed (if little known) it was not great. The whole film is, essentially, a joke. THAT alien. The crew members are one big joke. Despite what I make it sound like, this is not necessarily a criticism. I had a great time watching it. Hell, I may even be enticed into purchasing the Blu-ray on September 19th because of this. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more? Who knows?

Dark Star – 6.5/10

Thirty minutes later I was back in the same screen to view the, also new, Blu-ray of John Singleton‘s black cultural epic Boyz n the Hood. The films themes may be a tad out dated, but it still packs enough of a punch, and taken on its merits as a film, it is quite an achievement. Everyone plays there parts well (especially a game Cuba Gooding Jr.), but you have to think back to how relevant it was when it was first released in 1991 to maximize its effectiveness. It certainly is a worthy addition to the Sony Classics Blu-ray line (which, for those that do not know, is a UK only line of various classics under the Sony/Columbia Pictures label).

Boyz n the Hood – 8/10

After a lengthy break, it was time to get stuck into some more films. Next on the agenda was, what I can only describe as one of the most bizarre, yet brilliant films of recent years. Andre Ovredal‘s Troll Hunter. For those not already aware, Troll Hunter is a ‘found-footage’ style Horror/Documentary (it is hard where to peg this by genre) about a group of students following a man, who they presume is an illegal bear hunter, around and filming is escapades. It turns out, as you may have already learned from the title, that this man is not a hunter of bears. He is, indeed, a hunter of trolls. The fact an American re-make is already in the works makes me sick, and bemused in equal measure. The film heavily relies on Norwegian cultural references and myths. How some American director/studio is going to try and spin this one should be thoroughly amusing. Essentially, the film is best viewed if you are in the mood to see something funny. As virtually all comedies have failed in that respect (honestly, The King’s Speech was more of a hoot than over 90% of specific comedy genre pieces this year) Troll Hunter delivers in spades, if unintentional. The trolls themselves are spectacular, and brilliantly executed in CGI. I honestly could not have asked for more.

Troll Hunter – 8/10.

After having to leave a fantastic question and answer session with the director and star of Troll Hunter early, due to scheduling conflicts, it was time for my first (and only) showcase of the convention. A 45-minute (of thereabouts) session, featuring world exclusive footage of Shawn Levy‘s next lackluster blockbuster, Real Steel. We were all graced with the presence of the director himself (whether that is a good or bad thing, is for you to decide) and shown two full scenes from the movie, and one FX montage. Whilst the films concept seems interesting (robots punching each other to bits), everything I have seen from it so far, leads me to believe that it is going to be like every other Shawn Levy film before it. Rubbish. The first scene we were showcased (not to give away any spoilers) was a fight scene between; you guessed it, two robots. The action does seem interesting; I will give the film that. When one robot was terminated by the other, a large pool of silver ‘blood’ (or I assume it was meant to be blood. Or oil) formed around the ‘bot. The second scene was one where the main robot fighter of the film gets discovered in a scrapyard. Again, it was thoroughly underwhelming. I can honestly say that it is highly unlikely I will be seeing the film, come its (UK) release on October 14th.

So I had one last screening to go. When I booked the tickets, it was still ‘TBC’, and I was totally unaware of what it would be until I started queuing. I was alerted that it was what I had hoped it would be all along, Kevin Smith‘s quasi-horror Red State. I’ll just get this out of the way early on. Red State is absolutely, bat-shit crazy, even more so than Troll Hunter. I would like this review spoiler free, so I’ll keep it short. If you want 90 minutes (well, 88 minutes, to be precise) of the most crazy, ultra-violent, sadistic, funny and, all in all, quite brilliant filmmaking of 2011, this is certainly a good place to start (I won’t say the best place to start, as I bet Drive will be far, far better).

Red State – 8/10.

That concludes a review of everything I saw at the convention (thankfully I missed the final day, where they premiered Fright Night and Conan the Barbarian). Agree with my thoughts on some of the more well-known films? Think I am just as stupid as the plot of Troll Hunter. Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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