Sunday, February 10, 2008


It was only towards the end of last year, looking back over the twelve months of 2007 that I realised I’d barely been to the cinema at all. There was The Bourne Ultimatum and Transformers, certainly. While there may have been a couple others, off the top of my head they’re pretty much all I can remember.

Obviously there were other new releases like Fincher’s marvellous Zodiac and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, along with the less than astonishing Hot Fuzz, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Die Hard 4.0, but those I waited for once they arrived, sometimes just a few months after their theatrical release, on shiny disc.

Both locales have their pros and cons, obviously. Watching at home you can pause the film to make a hot beverage and have a snack, there’s no travel time involved on the old London Unreliable, and you rarely – if ever – find yourself stuck next to a bunch of knuckle-draggers shovelling popcorn down their cakeholes while loudly asking each other what’s going on. Occasionally though, watching at home, the telephone rings. But I let the machine pick up.

Still, I figured for 2008 I should try and make an effort of sorts. So over the past five weeks or so I tried to catch up with the new releases along with whatever was still around from last year. Pretty much from the get-go I remembered why I stayed home: for the subtitles, stupid! Having messed-up hearing in one ear – from a farming accident long, long ago – since the advent of DTS or whatever else it is that amps up the kablooey explosions on the soundtrack while making dialogue practically audible, sitting in a cinema hasn’t been as enjoyable as it used to be.

As soon as Tommy Lee Jones’ voice-over kicked in on No Country For Old Men, I was already straining to try and get the gist of what he, and pretty much everyone else, was saying. Damn those Texan drawls! I can’t say I’ve read any Cormac McCarthy but I assume the Coen brothers kept closely to the book’s plot given how, with what would be considered the beginnings of a climactic showdown appearing about two-thirds of the way through the film, it doesn’t adhere to the “traditional” movie structure. Because of that, I really liked the idiosyncratic nature of the narrative. Leaving the cinema I was trying to work out the relevance of the dogs.

Michael Clayton had me straining to hear what was going on, since it was almost all talk and only one explosion (repeated twice), although that might have been down to leaving it so long before I saw the film it had been relegated to playing in crappy screens with lousy sound systems. Having missed snippets of conversation here and there, I hadn't got it all figured out by the end. As it stood, really, that was a good thing because it harked back to the likes of Three Days of the Condor and all the downbeat conspiracy thrillers I grew up with. The final shot was the best man-in-the-back-of-a-car-weighing-up-the-consequences-of-his-actions scene since The Long Good Friday.

Given the talent involved, especially Aaron Sorkin on scriptwriting duties and Philip Seymour Hoffman bringing a barely repressed rage to his turn as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, I found Charlie Wilson’s War really disappointing, which was a great pity. That said, it was nothing compared to The Golden Compass, which I watched in stunned amazement. Having caught one of the later trailers for The Golden Compass, probably one of the last to appear before the actual release date, I was wary about the direction the finished film was taking. It was just stunning to see how Chris Weitz and New Line had got it all so hopelessly, horribly wrong.

After all that, it comes to this weekend. There Will Be Blood seemed to be the obvious choice, except it was opening here in London a week before it seeped out into the provinces. I figured there would be more than enough folk lining up to have a gander. Unless I wait until it’s on disc, it’ll wait for a couple of weeks.

For a while I thought about Cloverfield, but having checked its box-office receipts in the US, dropping 68% in its second week and then falling another 62% the following week, I figured it bought the huge opening weekend with all the growing hype and then get caned by bad word of mouth. There was also the fact that it seemed to be going the same route as The Blair Witch Project with the recovered camcorder footage, making it more about concept that characters you can relate to.

In fact, if any of the Cloverfield characters were like those dickheads wandering out in the woods, deserving everything they got for being so utterly fucking useless and dumb, I’d be rooting for the monster. Ultimately, the reason for giving it a miss was because of its eagerness to make entertainment from real tragedy.

I saw Juno instead, which was just utterly magical. There’s really little else to say other than the performances were perfect, the direction was first rate and the script was funny and poignant without resorting to drippy sentimentality. Last night Diablo Cody won the WGA Award for Original Screenplay. The award for Adapted Screenplay went to Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country For Old Men. Whether they repeat the success tonight at the BAFTA ceremony remains to be seen.

Although with Jonathan Ross returning as host, catching the awards show probably means sitting through a couple of hours of him alternating between excruciatingly juvenile jokes and outsight sycophancy while falling flat on his face each time.


At 11:28 pm, Blogger Ian said...

I saw "There will be blood" this afternoon. To be honest I preferred Anderson's earlier work, but BAFTA did the right thing in giving Daniel Day Lewis the best actor performance for his role in this film.

Agree totally with you about Juno. A wonderful film!

Still haven't seen "Atonement" or "La Vie en Rose" (the HD-DVD of the former isn't out for a few weeks yet and the Blu-Ray release of the latter got pulled at the last minute). I've a horrid feeling I'm going to feel that "No Country for Old Men" was robbed of "Best Film" since I'm not a fan of Ikea Knightly and there's only so much praise one can heap on a steadicam operator for doing a good job on a single shot!

At 10:00 am, Blogger Brian Sibley said...

There was so much about NO COUNTRY I didn't get (apart from the dogs and the drawl). I am great admirer of Coen Bros, but this was, to my mind, beyond idiosyncratic and way into infuriating...

CLOVERFIELD at least delivered the goods as described/expected in 75 mins DEAD -- literally!

At 11:33 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

One reason perhaps why we go the cinema less often is because of the shrinking window between the theatrical release and the availability of the DVD.

The Brave One dropped through my letterbox today maybe 10-12 weeks after it was showing in the local multiplex.

Glad you mentioned Three Days. It's my all-time favourite guilty pleasure. The plot, about a secret American conspiracy to invade an Arab country and steal their oil, is obviously absurd. But Max Von Sydow and Robert Redford have some great scenes together.

Haven't seen Juno yet. But Ellen Page was superb in Hard Candy. I thought she deserved at least an Oscar nomination for that, but of course she had no chance given that her character was a nasty piece of work in a dark movie. I can't help wondering whether her 'people' deliberately sought out a sympathetic role in a feelgood film as Oscar-bait.

The fact that only certain kinds of performances win Oscars (disabled people/ good guys fighting Nazis/ kind-hearted unwed moms etc) is just one of the reasons why the whole awards industry is an utter load of bollox.

And you're not wrong about Jonathan Ross.

At 7:14 pm, Blogger Clair said...

Glad I'm not the only one increasingly going 'Eh?' like a granny with an ear-trumpet, at the cinema. Raging Bull I stopped watching as I couldn't understand a bloody word. The Yanks needed subtitles for Gregory's Girl; I think they ought to start subtitling some of their product coming over here, too.


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