After a night out on the tiles with the usual suspects where, quite amazingly, I was actually one of the last men standing while most everyone else had stumbled off home, I’ve spent most of the today trying to track down the names of the advertising agencies involved in a number of campaigns in the early 1970s, which has been a hoot and a half. Taking a breath before trying to get beyond the numerous dead ends that have halted me in my tracks these past hours, here are a couple of items to take note of...
Hopefully everyone regularly reads Roger Ebert’s Journal on the Chicago Sun–Times website. If not, it’s not too late to start. His most recent post – “Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed.” – will interest anyone hacked off with this the current fad in filmmaking as it features a letter from Walter Murch, the award–winning film editor and sound designer, which effectively explains why this nonsense is just a colossal waste of time and money that can’t be sustained.
Having edited Captain EO, the 3D film directed by Francis Ford Coppola that was shown at Disney’s theme parks throughout the 1990s, Murch knows what he’s talking about, so it’s refreshing to hear an unbiased view of the technique’s limitations rather than the tedious grandstanding of certain loud-mouthed directors, coming on like carny hucksters, who wouldn’t need to wrap their product in such stupid irrelevancy if they had come up with something original and involving. As Murch writes: 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain “perspective” relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are “in” the picture in a kind of dreamlike “spaceless” space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.
2011 is, I’m sure everyone knows, marks the 50th Anniversary of The Avengers. Initially conceived as a vehicle for Ian Hendry, whose character enlists intelligence agent John Steed to track down his wife’s murderers, the drama evolved far beyond its original concept following Hendry’s departure. The longest running secret agent adventure series of the 1960s, as Steed moved centre stage and, reinvented as a debonair gentleman, worked with a succession of liberated female partners, from night-club singer Venus Smith and leather-clad, martial arts expert Cathy Gale, to catsuit-clad Emma Peel and trainee-agent Tara King.
Over the years, as the production advanced from shooting live or on videotape in the studio, then from black and white film to colour on location, the series shifted from tough crime thriller towards outright parody. Replacing the real world with an idealised fantasy Albion, Steed and his partners investigated absurdist conspiracies hatched by successive diabolical masterminds in the most innocent and idyllic rural settings. And by remaining quintessentially English, The Avengers became one of Britain’s most successful shows internationally.
Last year the BFI Southbank ran the Brian Clemens: Auteur of The Avengers season and throughout 2010 Optimum Releasing brought out all the surviving, digitally restored episodes on DVD with a fair selection of extras included in each box set. This coming June, the Dept. of Media are holding The Avengers: A 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Classic Television Series at the University of Chichester. The weekend event will include one–to–one and group interviews; screenings with “live” commentaries; panels discussions; a Hellfire Club party; signings and much more.
As well as a special video message from Patrick Macnee and newly filmed interview with composer Laurie Johnson, guests will include producers Brian Clemens and Leonard White; writers Roger Marshall, Martin Woodhouse, Richard Harris, Jeremy Burnham and Robert Banks Stewart; directors Ray Austin, Jonathan Alwyn, Gerry O’Hara, Don Leaver, John Hough and Robert Fuest; actors Jon Rollason, John Carson, Peter J Elliott and Anneke Wills, and of course Julie Stevens, Honor Blackman and Linda Thorson.
Further information can be found at the event’s website.
I may not have been as bowled over by Inception as most everyone else but I was still happy to applaud Warner Bros for putting money into something that was certainly different and a bit more intelligent than the usual pap spewed onto cinema screens. And since it was well–received by both the public and critics – when so many movies are lucky to get even the slightest approval from either – made a good bit of money, and is finding its way into annual award categories, you’d think that those studio executives with the wherewithal to green light projects would have figured out that making films that are new and different could be the way to go.
If they did mull it over during an odd moment between the usual hours of self–loathing the idea obviously didn’t stick, because the boobs at the studio have kicked off this new year by announcing a remake of A Star is Born, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring some singer called Beyoncé. At this point WTF? was reconfigured from “What The Fuck?” to “Why The Fuck?” I mean, really, why? It was only a few months back, appearing on BBC2’s The Culture Show to celebrating the 50th anniversary of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, that Martin Scorsese related the tale of seeing the film in a screening room on the Warner’s lot in the company of the Vice-President of the studio who was thinking of remarking it. After the credits rolled and the lights came up the VP, who like Scorsese was watching it for the first time, declared, “Can’t top that!” and dropped the idea.
Since this is further proof that the studio executives back in the mid–1970s had brains, while the current crop appear to have shit for brains, maybe they should take an afternoon off and head to that same screening room to watch a print of George Cukor’s 1954 classic starring Judy Garland and James Mason called up from the vaults. That way it should soon become clear that they shouldn’t waste the studio’s time and money and actually make something new instead. After all, we already had a remake of A Star is Born in 1976 (which might discount the theory that every studio head had their head screwed on back then), this time shifting the story from the film industry to the music business and featuring Barbra Streisand as the young singer whose career is on the ascendancy, falling for Kris Kristofferson’s long established, self–destructive, star who is in decline.
Questioning the reasoning behind this prospective new version isn’t simply about having an axe to grind with remakes. After all, Cukor’s version was in fact a remake of a 1937 film, produced by David O. Selznick and starring Janet Gaynor as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester and Fredric March as the older, alcoholic, Norman Maine. And just to queer matters further, the William A. Wellman–directed original was so similar is terms of plot to the earlier What Price Hollywood? – also directed by Cukor and co–produced by Selznick – that RKO even contemplated filing a suit for plagiarism against Selznick International Pictures when this new film was released.
Almost a year ago, Brian Sibley kicked off an intriguing discussion regarding which film incarnation of various literary characters people preferred as every generation gets their own particular take on the famous creations of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen and Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson and Lewis Carroll. There was also Alexandre Dumas’ Musketeers to consider and even Conan Doyle’s legendary detective, especially since we had just had Guy Ritchie’s latest cinematic version of Holmes and Watson, with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ extraordinary contemporary take still waiting in the wings. Even if we don’t always accept the new versions, staying rooted to our favourites, there’s always something intriguing as to how the latest interpretation will play out.
Remakes, though, are a different matter, especially when they miss the point of the original. The remake of The Italian Job might have kept the minis racing off with the gold, but without the wit and sheer anarchy of Troy Kennedy Martin’s original that threw an almighty “Fuck you!” to the European Economic Community, which Great Britain was soon to join, the film was a run–of–the–mill caper movie filled with bland characters. But then the most revered film adaptation of The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade and written and directed by the great John Huston, was the third take on Dashiell Hammett’s novel. Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday was the second film based on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s Broadway comedy The Front Page and has never been bettered, not even by Billy Wilder with his 1974 version.
After blotting their copybook with a wholly unnecessary remake of Alexander Mackendrick’s Ealing Studios classic, The Ladykillers, the Coen brothers have currently found critical acclaim with their new version of True Grit. The rationale behind the project was not to remake the film but to produce a more faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel, focusing more on young Mattie Ross seeking revenge for the death of her father. So maybe the unwritten rule studios should adhere to is to only remake a film if they and everyone involved has a valid reason for doing it and can actually improve on the previous version. Now that would be something original!
An ongoing bout of crippling insomnia, now in its third week, along with other major distractions have meant that I’ve missed commenting on a fair few things of late. None of them have really been that important, although I may try and shoehorn one or two in sometime in the near future. I was scribbling something new while I took a break for lunch but that got pushed aside, later, when I belatedly discovered that today the nominations for the 2011 BAFTA Film Awards were announced.
With the odd exception, most years the films nominated are the smaller artistic endeavours, usually ignored by the mass audiences who have spent the previous twelve months gorging on popcorn junk. This means that filmmakers and distributors, though pleased with the recognition, however belated, can immediately slap their nomination totals onto posters or DVD covers (if they’ve already come and gone from the cinemas) in the hope that this sudden attention might help toward clawing back their production and advertising costs, and maybe even have enough to splash out on a fish supper if they eventually nab one of the shiny prizes.
This year the only super–duper big–budget movie in the major categories is Christopher Nolan’s Inception – one of only five of the movies given a nod across the board that I’ve seen so far – which only goes to show that the BAFTAs, like the Academy Awards, have a completely different motivation when it comes to handing out gongs to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Balls, where their modus operandi was expertly deconstructed in the opening monologue of Sunday’s ceremony.
The difference with the BAFTA list this year is that remarkably, and thankfully, the “smaller” pictures actually have made money. And I find that really gratifying. At last year’s Oscar ceremony The Hurt Locker may have made Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director but the film itself had the distinction of being the lowest–grossing movie to in Best Picture. Five of the film’s six awards exactly duplicated the BAFTA categories it won so there’s more than a good possibility that the five BAFTA nominations will appear next month when the Oscar nominees are announced.
Lined up for BAFTA Best Film line up are Black Swan, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and True Grit, and all five of them have been raking it in since their theatrical releases in the US and, for all but two films, around the world, far surpassing their production budget. Black Swan isn’t my kind of movie. I liked Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain but from the trailers for his new film it looks like a Dario Argento remake of The Red Shoes. And if I’m going to see a ballet movie I’ll simply stick with The Red Shoes, thank you. Still, over $75m domestic on a $13m production budget isn’t too shoddy. Meanwhile The King’s Speech, which opened here last Friday, has already accrued a worldwide take of nearly $80m on a $15m budget.
Even the bigger films, The Social Network and True Grit, had relatively small production budgets of $40m and $38m respectively. David Fincher’s facebook film has returned nearly $203m worldwide, while the Coen brothers’ take on Charles Portis’ tale of retribution has roped in over $128m in the US while waiting for worldwide distribution. So that leaves Inception, exceeding them all with a worldwide box office of $823.5m, but from a hefty budget of $160. So even including the additional revenue from eventual TV sales and DVD, then offsetting that against money spent on the ad buys, the film that made the most might not have the best investment to return ratio.
And that should get champagne corks popping. Because it’s about time the big Hollywood studios started making these smaller, better movies. It has to be the inflated above the line salaries that really fuck the budgets, otherwise how can you explain nonsense like Little Fockers costing $100m, or The Dilemma, the rather unsavoury looking Ron Howard–directed comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, needing $70m to gasp from script to screen. Still, Universal won’t get as badly screwed as Sony who stumped up the $120m for James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know, which has only yielded a piddling $30m–odd after five whole weeks in American cinemas.
Even of we can’t get the staffers to look interested or the majority of patrons to stop tinkering with their mobiles, shut the fuck up and generally behave, no weak–ass star vehicles for Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Vince Vaughn (and... the list goes on), no less–than–spectacular, empty special effects spectaculars, along with anything else that wastes utterly obscene amounts of money for very little reason at all, might make the cinema a far better place to visit in the future. After all, what’s the point of creating something that both the backers and viewers think is a complete waste of money, or is that the new definition of art these days?
This Friday I have a midday lunch in town followed by an early evening drink. I’m really hoping the former runs long and the latter starts earlier because yesterday I found myself absently scribbling down the afternoon screening times for The King’s Speech. And after being something of an exceptional jerk last month, I’d like to keep my no cinema outings in 2011 promise. At least for a little while longer.
With last month’s severe wintry weather conditions pushing the usual festive madness to even more extremes, and making any kind of external activity either a little adventurous or downright treacherous, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to sit back, put my feet up, and catch up with some of the movies that I’d missed during the year. All too often I seem to bemoan how few times I get to the cinema nowadays. Though not a resolution, every January I tell myself to make more of an effort and I suppose 2010 was no different.
It all started out rather well with a double bill of Sherlock Holmes and Up in the Air, and I suppose that back then I felt, however briefly, that this year was going to be better than the last. But not long after that it all went rapidly downhill with trips to see Avatar, Shutter Island and Clash of the Titans. Though Disney’s The Princess and the Frog lacked some of the magic of the company’s great animations I had grown up with it wasn’t that bad, although the evening was soured by getting the screening times wrong and, missing out on Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo, I made the incredibly ill–judged decision of going to see the wholly unnecessary film version of Edge of Darkness immediately afterwards.
Obviously I have to shoulder some of the blame for making a lot of really bad choices (although the studios too deserve a good shellacking for making bad movies), but by the time I got around to seeing Robin Hood in May I was pretty much done. In that instance it wasn’t the movie, which I loved, thereby putting me in the minority, apparently, but the whole cinema–going experience. Everyone probably has some gripe about trying to watch a movie in an auditorium with uncomfortable seats, sticky floors from spilt soda, poor projection and audio set–ups that really sticks it to the dialogue. Then there are the fellow members of the audience who appear to have left any good manners at home. But when the venue’s staff couldn’t give a shit, close the box–office and make you queue for a ticket at the concession stands behind social Neanderthals who can’t decide which flavour ice cream they want, causing you to almost miss the start of the film, that’s more than enough for me. And this whole enforced 3D experience can fuck right off.
So I fell back on the tried and true stratagem of waiting to see the film on DVD instead. At least then if there’s some arsehole talking back to the screen then it’s obviously me and I’m okay with that. Over the last couple months I eventually got around to seeing the likes of Iron Man 2 and Chris Morris’ Four Lions which were entertaining enough and far better received from the comfort of the sofa than if I had queued to see them at a multiplex. But in the end I knew I’d have to wait until the festive season for any of the bigger, dumber summer movies to be spun out on shiny disc, just in time to be plucked from the shelves and wrapped in shiny wrapping paper because I suppose nothing says Christmas more than a copy of the latest instalment in the tween–moistening Twilight saga.
For some explicable reason I started off with The A–Team. I’m sure there’s a perfectly valid reason for that kind of behaviour, although at this exact moment it escapes me. Even if I had continued going to the pictures I would have given this one a pass. Because as much as I love a caper movie, ones that are devoid of wit and intelligence, instead burying their shortcomings under an avalanche of mindless cartoon violence and sheer stupidity are given a wide berth. Maybe I stuck it first on the list because I figured the titles that followed couldn’t be any worse, which turned out to be not always the case.
I’d never been a fan of the television series and don’t think I’ve ever sat through a whole episode, instead preferring to associate the recently departed Stephen J Cannell with The Rockford Files. Though I’d enjoyed director Joe Carnahan’s Narc I absolutely loathed the crass absurdity of his follow–up, Smokin’ Aces. Though it was obvious this film was going to be closer in temperament to that film, because The A–Team, as a known quantity, had potential franchise written all over it, and had been dragging its arse through a decade–and–a–half of development, I suppose I was intrigued to see the result of all that time and money. It wasn’t good. I’ve seen shell games played out with more panache by the late–night street hustlers on Bourbon Street and the only real intrigue was how the quartet of characters had stayed together so long without killing each other.
The few feeble attempts at humour paled in comparison to the initial guffaw that came even before the film had begun, when CELEBRATING 75 YEARS appeared above Rocky Longo’s familiar 20th Century Fox logo. With The A–Team? Really? It must take a certain warped pride to follow such a proclamation with a $110 million stream of effluvium smeared onto two hours worth of celluloid. Maybe an apology might have been the better option. But then, when you’re a subsidiary of Mephistopheles Murdoch’s News Corp., commerce trounces artistry at every turn, as is evident by the less than stellar tribute video the studio released earlier in the year.
That’s the best they could come up with? Really? Seventy-five years of movie making and they opt for the likes of I, Robot, Mr and Mrs Smith, Australia, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Mrs Doubtfire? Watching it again, I still couldn’t decide whether it was hastily cobbled together by an editor eager to leave for a planned weekend in Big Bear or some unpaid intern who had just ordered a pizza and had to be down at the main gate to pick it up. If they had stayed true to celebrating the studios long, and sometimes distinguished, output rather than turn it into a rather tawdry excuse to hawk some titles that perhaps aren’t pulling their weight in the current home entertainment market, what films should have been highlighted?
When it comes to 20th Century Fox, the only title that immediately springs to mind is Star Wars and that’s chiefly because since John Williams composed its main theme as an extension of Alfred Newman’s celebrated fanfare the two have become virtually engrained, and of course they used copious clips from that one, so that wasn’t any help. Trying to think of others just off the top of my head has left me drawing a blank. Why is that?
Back when I was a kid, watching all those great film seasons scheduled on the BBC it didn’t take long for me to associate Universal Pictures with the classic 1930s and 40s horror films and Warner Bros with gangster movies, Errol Flynn swashbucklers and Bogart in a trench coat. Paramount had the Bob Hope & Bing Crosby Road movies as well as a generous selection of Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder–directed films while Columbia Pictures swung between screwball comedies and David Lean’s wartime epics. United Artists regularly served up further helpings of The Pink Panther and James Bond, RKO delivered Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals and Val Lewton's low–budget horror, along with a fair spread of film noir. That left MGM with more lavish musicals, The Thin Man series, and Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan the Ape Man. But Fox? If the studio had a readily identifiable genre associated with its output it failed with burrow into my subconscious.
That said, even the most rudimentary search reveals the diversity and quality of the studio’s more distinguished output. For instance there’s FW Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, which won the award for Unique and Artistic Production at the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1928, and the film version of Noel Coward’s Cavalcade, winner of the Best Picture Oscar five years later. Other Academy Award–winning productions like John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley and The Grapes Of Wrath, The Hustler, Planet of the Apes and M*A*S*H, joined Sunrise by being selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, along with Miracle on 34th Street, My Darling Clementine and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Even though they didn’t make the Library of Congress’ list there’s also An Affair to Remember, the musicals Hello Dolly!, South Pacific and The King and I, the first pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler. More recent titles include Alien, Broadcast News and Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon, which chronicled the interactions of a group of disparate characters in Los Angeles well over a decade before Paul Haggis covered pretty much the same ground with Crash, crucially replacing Kasdan’s wit and gentle humour with the sort of po-faced sermonising that sent the movie disappearing up it’s own fundament long before the credits rolled.
Rather than simply falling back on the sort of utter guff directed by Roland Emmerich or starring Will Smith (or worse, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Will Smith) shouldn’t clips from even a handful of these films have found their way into a proper tribute, or do they no longer serve a purpose? Anyone old enough to have seen any of the titles would be reminded just how godawful most new releases are, while the mouth–breathers who make up today’s main cinema–going demographic, and resolutely ignore anything made before they were born, would no doubt respond to their appearance with a querying “Huh?!”
Though suspecting some entertainment might have been eked out of giving The A–Team another spin, this time listening to the audio commentary to see whether Carnahan would make a stab at justifying the film’s worthless existence, it didn’t seem worth wasting any more precious time on. So I wasted more precious time on something else instead. As well as an aversion to daft television series, I spent the 1980s and 90s trying to steer well clear of the crass action movies featuring moronic, monosyllabic, muscle–bound lunkheads, although the memory of being taken to see Cobra still gives me chills. The upshot of this was that any novelty value The Expendables was supposed to have was totally lost on me.
With its bland production values, if this was meant to be a throwback to the movies that helped make stars of the veteran actors, well before most of them ended up looking like whole sides of beef thrown from the back of a refrigerated truck and run over by all the traffic behind it, shouldn’t it have also embraced the filmmaking practices of those times before CGI crippled invention and the violent videogame aesthetic pushed acts of brutality to extremes? There was a real ingenuity to, say, Dick Smith’s makeup effects for The Godfather, making a scene like Sonny Corleone’s almost balletic death throes during the tollbooth ambush utterly unforgettable. In The Expendables the truly expendable minions were instantly turned into a pixel purée by rounds that were almost artillery shells, with a repetition that negated the initial shock value and frittered away any dramatic currency. Still, I suppose I should be thankful they hadn’t bothered to cast Jean–Claude Van Spam.
In the lackluster hinterland between Christmas and the New Year I tried to fill two hours of the yawning void with Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Obviously that too was a big mistake. Unaware of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels, which is something I can happily live with, but all too aware of Michael Cera cornering the market when it comes to playing slackers, which is something I can happily live without, all I can remember of the wretched experience is that the film seriously needed a course of methylphenidate to make it even remotely bearable and, like Kick Ass before it, made me realize “I’m getting too old for this shit”, (a phrase I’ve never used before and hope to never use again).
Before that, however, came How To Train Your Dragon. I can’t say I was expecting much. Over the years I’ve found myself in a love–hate relationship with Pixar and Dreamworks’ computer–generated animated features insomuch that I love the former and hate the latter. After the unappealing Antz the studio had a well–deserved hit with Shrek, delighting in filling the frame with such barely contained vitriol for The Walt Disney Company that the film appeared to be influenced more by Kim Masters’ scathing The Keys to the Kingdom than William Steig’s original fairy tale. But once the studio got that off its chest successive features lazily fell back on celebrity stunt voice casting, painfully obvious gags that wouldn’t have made it into an episode of The Flintstones let alone The Simpsons, and an over–reliance on contemporary pop culture references that were dated before each film finished production.
Now that computer animation has reached the point where, given enough time and money, any damn thing you please can be rendered in all its gigabyte glory, without a good story and well–developed characters to bind everything together what appears on screen becomes nothing more than very expensive moving wallpaper. For the discerning viewer, Dreamworks have never hit the heights achieved by Pixar because they blithely ignored investing both story and characters with a real emotional heart. Based on Cressida Cowell’s series of children’s books featuring Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, aka “the Dragon Whisperer”, How To Train Your Dragon mercifully dialled down on the usual shtick but just couldn’t let go of the snarky teen dialogue that kept me at arm's–length.
In the plus side it was a vast improvement on Monsters vs. Aliens, which I tried watching on a few occasions over the summer, usually giving up somewhere around the twenty–minute mark. In terms of content, How To Train Your Dragon felt like the closest Dreamworks have come to producing a more traditional Disney animation, although I’m not sure whether that was because it amplified the moral of the story more than usual or came down to the fact that visually Toothless, the injured Night Fury dragon befriended by Hiccup, constantly reminding me of a less maniacal version of Experiment 626 from Lilo & Stitch, also co–directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois before the studio showed them the door.
With those films out the way, all that was left were the two big hitters from the summer to catch up on: Toy Story 3 and Inception. There’s a lot to be said about film trilogies and belated sequels, most of it not good. Apart from a very few rare exceptions, they’re another bad example of commerce striding in bold as brass and punching artistry square in the face. They may be a easy way to bring in some extra cash but a really botched follow–up can tarnish the original, violently raping it’s initial inventiveness, with The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mummy trilogies being prime examples. And did we really need Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Or the soulless Star Wars prequels? Or... well, fill in any number of blanks yourself.
At least Pixar have enough of a reputation for audiences to know they’re not out to be fleeced by carpetbagging hacks, and though this third film may not have seemed necessary after so many years, it brought closure to the tale of Andy’s toys with marvellously astute creativity and taut storytelling. If the studio had released Toy Story 3 a couple of years back it would have really bowled me over, but coming in the wake of Wall–E and Up it felt like two steps back. Whereas both those films have instances in their begins, middles and ends that can still reduce me to a blubbering wreck, in Toy Story 3 there was only one point – when the toys all join hands, finally accepting the especially unpleasant fate they expect to befall them – that there was a slight tightness in the throat and a moistening of the eyes, but it didn’t go beyond that.
If the big emotional payoff didn’t pack the same punch as those previous releases I can only put that down to personal circumstances. As a wee lad I didn’t have a lot of toys to play with, which I should say was through choice rather than some kind of Dickensian deprivation, preferring to build model kits, play board games and, more importantly, read and draw insatiably. Moving at regular occasions during my childhood as my folks changed businesses, meaning new houses and new schools, any totems of those salad days started to get left by the wayside early on. The succession of new environments meant that contemporaries came and went with an almost alarming rapidity, regrettably inuring me to people leaving in my later years, which figures in the subtext of those final scenes.
Since they didn’t get to me the same way a worn–out robot yearning to hold hands or an old man carrying the weight of his life on his back did, it may mean I need to watch Toy Story 3 a few more times for it to sink in. Before then came the new film from Christopher Nolan. I don’t think I need to go on and on about how much I loathed The Dark Knight, which went on and on far too long, repeatedly bludgeoning home the moral dilemmas that I got the first time, thankyouverymuch! While The Prestige was far better, going to see the film having been informed in advance there was a big twist, though not knowing what it was, meant that from the get–go I was trying to work out the angle rather than sitting back and enjoying the story.
A summer movie that requires audiences to actually think for a change is certainly going to get press attention, especially when people’s brains have been deadened by far too many seasons of mindless blockbuster escapades. The problem with the one or two films that, if we’re lucky, annually stand head and shoulders above the rest, is divorcing them from the attendant hype to avoid disappointment. Even though it wasn’t my thing, probably the reason I wasn’t swayed into buying any of the original line of Star Wars toys, helping George Lucas make his millions, was that after seeing the movie, that first time as a pre–teen, I walked out of the cinema feeling that it hadn’t lived up to expectations.
However long you wait for hype to wash away there’ll always be a residue of anticipation that lingers like a faded stain, but I tried to come to Inception with clean hands and a memory flushed from comments that it had thematic comparisons with The Matrix and Avatar, with characters finding themselves wired up to live another life, or was too damned complicated to understand on the first viewing. As it turned out Inception didn’t appear to be as labyrinthine as I expected. Calling Ellen Page’s newly hired dream architect Ariadne was the one instance where it made me wince for trying to be too clever for it’s own good and discovering Leonardo DiCaprio was being vexed by a dead wife brought up the horrible aftertaste of Shutter Island, but it was all good.
Except, in the end, however clever the concept, particularly the idea that within each successive dream–within–a–dream exponentially affords more time in an increasingly unstable environment, after so much set up the resolutions didn’t feel that satisfying. Obviously the massive budget required a mass appeal blockbuster but as the credits rolled I was left wondering whether the idea might have had far more substance either in prose or as a television serial. Instead of any comparison to other movies, Inception reminded me most of Channel 4’s Grand Designs and an episode that showcases a rather unique and remarkably well–constructed property that upon completion turns out to be something I could admire but not particularly want to live in.
So that was it: a half dozen films to round off the year. I guess in total I didn’t see much more than two–dozen new releases either in the increasingly unfriendly environs of the local multiplex or from the comfort of my home sofa. Thankfully times have changed so that if you fail to catch a movie during its theatrical release it means waiting a couple of years before it ends up on television, unless it comes back around as part of a double bill. Just before I settled down to start watching this final round up, Filmography 2010 appeared on YouTube to helpfully show me how many titles I had missed, and how much catching up I had to do if I wanted to put in the effort. (Although to be fair it does include a number of features yet to be released over here).
Apart from being a handy guide to what came out last year, hopefully the piece has been watched by the folk who keep posting their supposedly jokey mashups on YouTube so that they finally learn there is actually a real art to editing. Of course juxtaposition can be funny, but it’s even funnier if you cut it just right. While the difference between a good filmmaker and a bad filmmaker is huge, the difference between a good editor and a bad editor is a yawning chasm that can kill the end result stone dead.
Although the reel reminds me to look out for The Social Network, which I assume will be coming to disc sometime around Easter, around the 3:20 mark there’s a clip from what was probably one of my favourite new releases of 2010, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ The Ghost. It was the film I should have seen instead of wasting time watching Clash of the Titans (where no titans actually clashed), so I had to wait for the DVD. And it was well worth the wait. A cracking Hitchcockian thriller from start to finish, it benefited greatly from taking the ending of the book, which worked brilliantly in print, and replacing it with an utterly superb visual resolution.
Of course in the end it comes down to sitting back and watching something I’m going to enjoy. Tagged back in the summer by Stephen Gallagher to list the films that I’ll watch any number of times and finally responding at the beginning of September, not long afterwards Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal started popping up at regular intervals on ITV4’s schedule and every time, no matter how late it started, I’d find myself watching it. So maybe the answer is to stick with what you know or have something to go back to when contemporary movies fail.
This year I suppose there’s no point resolving to make a better effort, again. 2011 may be starting out with the usual BAFTA–bait like The King’s Speech and the Coen Brothers’ True Grit but down the line there’s a wholly unnecessary, third Transformers movie, even more unnecessary Pirates of the Caribbean nonsense, and another go at Conan the Barbarian, in 3D, which makes me bilious just contemplating it. So I’m beginning to think that if I ever make it to the cinema in the next twelve months it might be an idea to simply stick to foreign language films.
A year or more since I bought The Lives of Others and Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long, the DVDs remained unwatched on the shelves. It’s not that I don’t want to see either of them, it’s just that a subtitled film requires more attention. Watching at home, where sometimes I’ll watch a film from my desk, there are more reasons to momentarily takes your eyes off the screen and accidentally miss vital plot points. As much as I tried to make an effort watching The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on DVD there were a good number of instances when I was reaching for the remote to replay a scene or two. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see.
So, in brief, my favourite new releases of the year turned out to be Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and The Ghost. But the best experience I had in a cinema in 2010 turned out to be this.