It would be easy to be cynical about the event, essentially a three-day promotional junket hosted by Empire magazine and BFI Southbank in which film-makers pitch upcoming projects to a room full of core target-audience members. But I found the sense of collective anticipation contagious, and happily surrendered to the relentless barrage of trailers, clips, onstage Q&As and preview screenings that followed.
Part of its charm lies in the slightly eccentric eclecticism of the programme. A sober discussion with the producers of Never Let Me Go segued straight into a screening of Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables. Stomach-churning footage from Saw VII preceded a panel event in honour of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawntreader.
Of the preview footage on display, the opening sequence of Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried was especially intriguing. The film, which caused a bidding war following its premiere at Sundance this year, takes place entirely within the confines of a coffin. Ryan Reynolds plays an American truck driver who finds himself buried alive in Iraq with a mobile phone and lighter for company. Cortés claimed his intention was to make “North by Northwest in a box”. His delivery implied a certain degree of irony, but the material on display was undeniably pulse-pounding stuff.
As for the films that screened in full, Stallone’s mercenaries-on-a-mission shoot-’em-up The Expendables is crass, exploitative and at times incomprehensible due to some spectacularly mumbly performances. But it packs a healthy amount of violent old-school action and (possibly unintentional) humour into its brisk 103-minute running time, making it a reasonably diverting alternative to the earnest comic-book adaptations and overlong CGI showcases that have become the multiplex staple in recent years.
Joe Dante retains a degree of fanboy credibility thanks predominantly to his 1984 hit Gremlins. His latest effort, The Hole, is a noble attempt to pack state-of-the-art technology and old-fashioned chills into a family-friendly package. But whilst it generates a handful of creepy moments, it lacks the irreverent spirit of his best work.
Edgar Wright, fresh off the plane from Los Angeles, was greeted with a hero’s welcome on Sunday as he introduced Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – about as appropriate a closing film as one could pick for the Movie-Con crowd. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, in which Pilgrim battles the ‘seven evil exes’ of love interest Ramona Flowers, offer a wry depiction of Toronto hipster culture filtered through a vibrant retro-videogame aesthetic. The film brings the monochrome panels of its source material to life splendidly, and Kieran Culkin is spot on as Scott’s ‘cool gay roommate’ Wallace Wells. The inherently repetitive storyline grows tiresome towards the end, as Wright appears to run out of steam and begins to recycle some of his neater visual tricks. But on balance it’s an eminently likeable film which ensured that Movie-Con III ended on a celebratory note.