Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Ten Films in Ten Days

I've recently taking to going to the cinema as a way to pass time during the day. When I tell some people that I like to go to the cinema alone, they look at me as if I have a third arm, but really, going to the cinema is a solitary activity: talking is actively frowned upon! Anyway, I found myself going quite a lot, and in order to amortize the cost, I decided to get myself a Cineworld Unlimited card. This card entitles the bearer to unlimited cinema, as one might expect, for only £13.50 a month. It therefore pays for itself if you go twice a month - I have regularly been going more than twice a week. Bargain.

One catch, you can only get one of these cards by signing up for a twelve-month contract, and I have almost no idea what I'll be doing in three months time, never mind twelve. I therefore made the completely rational and considered decision to get the card anyway, and let future me worry about paying for it. I then figured that: hey, I only need to go about 20 times and it's paid for the entire year. I then figured: hey, why not go 20 times in the first 20 days, then I'll have 345 days worth of free cinema!

Yes, I realise that this doesn't actually make any sense, I do understand the concept of sunk costs, but it sounded like it might be fun, and I'm all for fun. So, in the past 10 days I have been to the cinema 10 times, to see 10 different films. After each one I took brief notes: my reviews come after the fold, along with my reflections on the somewhat ridiculous project.

By the way, for those of you who know me, and know that I'm currently supposed to be writing my thesis, and are wondering what impact this has had on my progress, well I can say for certain that I've not made any less progress in the past 10 days that I did in the previous 10. For those of you who know me a little better, no, that isn't actually a trivial statement.

The Dilemma

I mostly chose this film because it was on at a convenient time (something of a theme through the rest of the week, and my interpretation of "convenient" might have started to get slightly broader). It was... ok. The only bits anyone actually laughed at were the slapstick, and I couldn't quite genuinely believe in some of the really stupid things Vince Vaughan's character did in the name of keeping the plot moving. His relationship with his girlfriend in particular just wasn't believable, and his reasons for lying to her remain utterly unfathomable.

Tangled (3D)

Standard Disney. There isn't really that much more to say. The wicked stepmother (not technically an accurate description, but I can't be bothered to think of a better one) reminded me of Ursula, the hero reminded me of any other Disney Hero, and Rapunzel reminded me of any other Disney Heroine. It was no Aladdin, but I would imagine that everyone's favourite Disney film is just whichever one they happened to see when they were at the age to appreciate it best. On the other hand, it was a lot more fun than Toy Story III.

One thing I did notice is that the only actual good 3D effects came in the adverts at the beginning. In particular, the advert for the 3D Panasonic TV looks awesome - why don't the people who make the films hire the people who do the adverts to do their effects for them?

Black Swan

Surreal ballet psycho-drama. Probably the best surreal ballet surreal ballet psycho-drama I've ever seen, but frankly a little too weird for my taste. Natalie Portman is good, but her character is the sort of part people play when the want to win an award, slightly crazy, which also sums up the rest of the film. Also, while I'm not capable of telling the difference, I can imagine real ballerinas being slightly chagrined at the idea that Portman could possibly be dancing well enough to get the lead part in Swan Lake - did she use a stunt double who could do ballet?

The King's Speech

Colin Firth goes all out to win an Oscar as King George VI, struggling to overcome his speech impediment. All I can say about this film is that you won't be disappointed if you go see it. On the other hand, I also doubt very much if you'll be pleasantly surprised. The best part about it, in my opinion, is the clever title. It's well-acted, well-scripted, and generally well put together drama. If you like this sort of thing, you'll like it. I'm gradually coming to realise that this sort of thing isn't really what I enjoy at the cinema.

Morning Glory

Relatively low budget Rom-Com in which Harrison Ford plays a grumpy old TV reporter who's forced to do breakfast television working for Rachel MacAdams as the bright-young-thing executive producer. Not the sort of thing I would ever admit to going to see normally, as a single heterosexual male, and, quite simply, by far the most fun I've had in the cinema in the entire 10 days! I'm not sure if this was just an exceptionally well-done romantic comedy, or if I just really enjoy romantic comedies, but it was light, funny, actually genuinely touching (I really did care what happened at the end... contrast this with the supposedly "sublime" Brighton Rock). The slapstick was funny, but didn't distract from the plot, and the characters were enormously believable.

Inasmuch as a film like this can be accused of having "themes", one of the big themes was "news vs. entertainment", with Harrison Ford's character constantly griping at having to do lowest-common-denominator stuff when he had won Pullitzers. Well, the feel-good ending (I don't think that counts as a spoiler) tried to convince us that "entertainment" has its place too. The film as a whole couldn't be a better poster-child for that.

The Mechanic

Mindless violence and action scenes courtesy of Jason Statham. One thing that did bother me was the complete lack of any sort of interesting plot. I know that having no sort of interesting plot is pretty much a cliché for this sort of film, but I generally enjoy the sort of ridiculously contrived plot twists that these films have to offer - this one didn't have any that I can even remember.

A Little Bit of Heaven

Another romantic comedy. There is pretty much nothing to this film, and for some reason, which I can't yet quantify (I'm clearly not quite ready to take over from Roger Ebert) I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as Morning Glory. Kate Hudson (who, incidentally, doesn't look at all like a Hollywood Actress to me - kudos) is lively enough as the main character. She is diagnosed with a terminal illness and then, for some utterly unfathomable reason, Whoopi Goldberg appears as God and grants her three wishes. The God bit really does feel as though it's bolted on to what would otherwise be a perfectly serviceable rom-com, which I think might have been part of what bothered me.

Brighton Rock

The posters claim this film is "wonderful" and "spellbinding", if I hadn't been sat in the middle of a row, I would have walked out halfway through. It's gruelling, depressing, and the characters just aren't interesting enough for it to be worth it. First there's Pinkie, who in the space of less than ten minutes (on-screen, but only a couple of days in his world) goes from being afraid to pull a knife on someone to beating the guy to death with his bare hands, for no apparent reason (I've no idea if Graham Green does this transition better in the book). Then there's his pathetic, whining, annoying little girlfriend who, frankly, needs to grow a pair - it's pretty hard to feel sorry for her when you can't possibly begin to empathise with her. There's also the girlfriend's boss who goes from being generally aloof to running around town doing whatever she can for the girl, again, I'm not quite sure why.

All in all, I don't think this film was well done, but I don't think this is it's major flaw. I think it's major flaw is that films like this just aren't fun. I once had a serious argument with a French teacher about a French film called La Vie de Jesus. She claimed the film had an important message to get across, I claimed that that was all very well, but it was so damned depressing that no-one would manage to watch the whole thing to find out what the message was. I'm not sure Brighton Rock has a serious message, but it certainly suffers from the latter problem. Do not watch.

How do you know?

About thirty seconds, ago, I was about to press post. I counted the films in my list, and noticed that I only had 9. I looked back at my notebook in which I've been keeping notes on the films I've seen, and found this entry for "How do you know?" (rom-com with Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson): "meh".

I think that pretty much sums it up. It was an entirely unmemorable but not at all unpleasant way to pass a couple of hours. Rudd is pretty good as the vaguely believable not-too-perfect male lead, and the whole thing has excellent production values, but, I managed to forget I'd seen it, and couldn't manage any more than "meh" even immediately after coming out - you can certainly afford to wait for the DVD.

The Fighter

My dad is down for two days, which is part of the reason I'm having a hiatus today (the other is that I've been doing "maths-busking" training all afternoon). He has his own Unlimited card, and had been warned in advance that he would be being dragged to see one of the films that I hadn't yet seen. In the end, time constraints meant that we chose to see "The Fighter" at the O2, despite dad's misgivings about watching a boxing film.

I'll leave the first part of the review to him "Well, I'm glad you made me go see that, it was one of the best films I've seen in ages". Later on "I even enjoyed the bits with the fighting". It's basically a character film, following the lives of two brothers. I'm not quite sure what the name is for the genre: filmed almost like a documentary, and based on a true story, but with actors playing the real people: maybe "reconstruction"? The characters were real. You actually care what happens to them. Christian Bale deserves to be nominated for whatever he got nominated for for this film, not only does the character he portrays have exactly the right mix of charisma and pathos for the "boxer turned crack addict" that he's supposed to be, as the end credits roll, we are shown a brief clip of the real Dicky Ward, and Bale has him down to a t.

The characters were very real and the story was inspiring. Definitely my second favourite of the films I've seen so far, but I'm willing to admit that by most people's standards, it would probably be rated as the best.

A few final thoughts

You may have noticed that I claimed earlier I'd be seeing 20 films in 20 days, and wondering why this post isn't entitled "20 films in 20 days: part 1". Well, I've revised my goal downwards - I still aim to have seen twenty by the end of the month, but once a day is going to start to get in the way of me having a life if I try to keep it up.

One thing I've learned from the past ten day is that whatever method I use to predict in advance which films I'll enjoy is currently seriously broken. There is no way I would have seen either The Fighter or Morning Glory if I hadn't been doing this, and they stand out as streets ahead of any of the films I actually did see.

I've also firmed up my belief (which I guess I already had) that I really shouldn't bother reading reviews of films before I go see them - the sort of things I enjoy at the cinema just aren't the sort of things people who are paid by the word to write about films claim to enjoy.

There are several films I like the look of coming out in the near future - I'm sure there will also be some excellent ones that I don't like the look of. Now to figure out how to get to see them.

1 comment:

Ben Franklin said...

"the sort of things I enjoy at the cinema just aren't the sort of things people who are paid by the word to write about films claim to enjoy." - couldn't agree more John!