Thursday, 30 April 2015

Why I'm Not Seeing As Many Films As I Used To

Even five years ago I used to see at least one movie a week and often two. Hollywood blockbusters; American indie movies and Dogwoof documentaries; French and Japanese art movies. However, now I think about it, I prefer my films to be set in a city, to be about independent and emotionally-uninvolved people, and to have that indefinable aura of cool. Hence Quo Vadis Baby, Hinterland, Electricity, Polisse and for thatr matter, the Denzel vehicle The Enforcer ((check)). Family dramas, especially if set in poor countries, horrors, invincible psychos, Northern Ireland, creep movies (Harry, He's Here To Help) and anything "gritty" involving the English underclass... thanks, I'll take a pass. I usually see the Oscar Worthies as well.

Anyway, now I barely see one a month. Weeks can go by and nothing takes my fancy. As I write, the last film I saw was John Wick. Before that was Appropriate Behaviour. The last one I thought was wonderful was Hinterland. But then I’m a sucker for imaginative and creative cinematography.

Some of this is simply that I’ve seen several thousand films, and a lot of movies are re-makes I don’t need, or want, to see. Some is that there are a lot of Marvel movies, and I have a limited appetite for superheros and large-scale CGI. I have, as I write, also burned through about thirteen episodes of Elementary S2. This is because it is a well-written series with good stories, photography, acting and Lucy Liu. For some time now, some of the best acting, stories, scripts, photography and set design has been on television, in the top-end series, some of which have per-episode budgets that would fund the entire British film industry for a year. I don’t need to go to the cinema to see good visual story-telling.

What’s happened to all those French and Japanese movies? Why do the Curzon’s, Everyman’s and the ICA all show the same films? Are they all owned by the same company? The ICA can't be, by definition, but they can all be staffed by the same generation of cool kids. It is a truth little recognised that when your life is less than ideal, you don't like movies about people whose lives are better than yours, unless it's fantasy or costume drama. Given the low standard of living of the current generation of cool kids, none of whom can afford an un-shared roof over theiir heads, they are going to be choosing, and even making, films about very poor people living in very hard circumstances. Hence the popularity of films set in favelas, Russian wastelands and countries with a lot of very poor soil, like Iran. For further proof, see the comments about the films playing at the Curzon Soho recently.

To make my points, let’s take a look at what was playing at the Curzon cinemas the week I first drafted this.

A LITTLE CHAOS (12A): Versailles gardens were the dream of Louis XIV (Alan Rickman), but were realised by landscape architect André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts). Charged by the king to design the most opulent gardens in history, the ordered Le Nôtre takes a chance on Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslett), a talented but chaotic gardener. Though their temperaments initially clash, arguments soon give way to something else in this lovely, sumptuously realised period drama, the second film directed by Alan Rickman. Verdict: NO. JUST NO. I don’t like costume dramas, and this lacks any historical veracity in the story. It sounds horribly self-indulgent. And I’m supposed to care about how Kate Winslet creates chaos doing gardens? Really?

HOME FROM HOME: CHRONICLE OF A VISION (15): Edgar Reitz (director of the Heimat Trilogy) continues his visionary journey through German history with a domestic drama and love story set against the backdrop of a forgotten tragedy. In the mid-19th century, hundreds of thousands of Europeans emigrated to faraway South America. It was a desperate bid to escape the famine, poverty and despotism that ruled at home. Verdict: PASS. Domestic drama and love story. Also Germany.

CHILD 44 (15): Tom Rob Smith's novel was inspired by the real-life case of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, but moved the action back a couple of decades to the dark days of Stalin's Russia. Daniel Espinosa's faithful adaptation stars Tom Hardy as a disgraced army officer who takes it upon himself to hunt down the killer after a friend's child is one of his victims. The result is a top-notch thriller, capturing the spirit of Stalin's regime and featuring an impressive international cast. Verdict: MAYBE. I would have seen this as a matter of course ten years ago. Kinda not in the mood mostly for something this dark now.

FORCE MAJEURE (15): A model Swedish family - handsome businessman Tomas, his wife Ebba and their two beautiful children - are on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular, but during lunch at a mountainside restaurant an avalanche suddenly bears down on the happy diners. With people fleeing in all directions and his wife and children in a state of panic, Tomas makes a decision that will shake his marriage to its core and leave him struggling to reclaim his role as family patriarch. Verdict: NO. Family drama, I bet based on subtle mis-understandings. I can hear the words “How could you?” already. Sometimes I wonder if any of the people who write these stories have ever been involved in a serious incident. People in real life do not behave in a “dramatic” manner. But I could be wrong.

THE SALVATION (15): The European western, once a staple of 1960s and 1970s cinema, has been missing from the screen for some time, so it's great to welcome this thrilling, atmospheric film from one of the great original Dogme 95 directors, Kristian Levring (The King is Alive). Mads Mikkelsen is on spectacular form as a farmer who kills his family's murderer and finds himself battling a tyrannical gang, its psychotic leader and his enforcer, played by a gleeful malevolence by Eric Cantona. Verdict: MAYBE: Again, it’s a tad dark for me right now. I’ve seen enough psychotic revenge stories.

DARK HORSE: THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF DREAM ALLIANCE (PG): An inspirational true story of a group of friends from a working men's club who decide to take on the elite 'sport of kings' and breed themselves a racehorse. Verdict: NO. JUST NO. “Inspirational”. “Working Men’s Club”.

COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (15): The lead singer of Nirvana and reluctant posterboy of a generation gets his first ever fully authorised documentary feature, blending Kurt Cobain’s personal archive of art, written word, music and never-before-seen home movies, with animation and revelatory interviews from his family and closest confidantes. Following Kurt from his earliest years in Aberdeen, WA, through the height of his fame, it creates an intense and powerful cinematic insight into an artist who craved the spotlight even as he rejected the trappings of fame. Verdict: MAYBE. A couple of years ago I would have watched this. I thought Gus van Sant’s movie Last Days was haunting.

GLASSLAND (15): In a desperate bid to save his mother from addiction, and unite his broken family, a young taxi on the fringes of the criminal underworld is forced to take a job which will see him pushed further into its underbelly. But will John be prepared to act when the time comes - knowing that whatever he decides to do his and his family's lives will be changed forever? Verdict: NO. JUST NO. English underclass drama with a futile story. Anyone who tries to save someone from addiction is onto a losing fight. So either this film is unrealistic or has some silly denoument.

GENTE DE BIEN (12A): Eric lives with his handyman father in a poor district of Bogota. A client takes pity on them and invites the two to spend time in her county villa over the Christman holidays. Tensions rise during their stay and Eric witnesses the disparity between rich and poor for the first time. Bryan Santamaria (Eric) is outstanding as our guide through both worlds in Franco Lolli's sensitive drama. Verdict: NO: It’s a film about the economic and class differences in Bogota and the story has an implausible premise (“a cleint takes pity on them” indeed!). Fake drama and political posturing.

WOMAN IN GOLD (12A): The latest film by Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) features an impressive all-star cast led by Helen Mirren. It tells the story of Maria Altmann (Mirren), a Holocaust survivor who fought the Austrian government to retrieve Gustav Klimt's painting of her aunt, 'Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I', which was confiscated from her family by the Nazis. It was a battle that took her, along with her lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), all the way to the US supreme court. PASS: I’m supposed to care about a rich woman getting back one of the most valuable paintings in the world? This relates to my life how? Exactly?

WHILE WE'RE YOUNG (15): Noah Baumbach's follow up to Frances Ha is an exploration of aging, ambition and success stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a middle-aged couple whose career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) enters their lives. Verdict: MAYBE. But only because Amanda Seyfried. And because Frances Ha was a neat little film.

JAUJA (15): Viggo Mortensen continues to balance his career between high-profile films and more intimate dramas, of which Jauja is an excellent example. In this metaphysical road movie set against the intoxicating landscape of Patagonia, Mortensen plays a desparate man searching for his young daughter, who eloped with her lover in the lack of night. With a jaw-drapping final act, it channels Herzog and Jarmusch's Dead Man whilst offering up breathtaking visuals. Verdict: PASS. But ten years ago, I would have seen this as a matter of course.

WILD TALES (15): Inequality, injustice and the demands of the world we live in cause stress and depression for many people. Most face them on bended knee - but some of them explode. This is a film about those people. Comprising six stories of apocalyptic revenge, Wild Tales is a blackly comic series of vignettes on what it means to lose control. By turns shocking, hilarious, violent and preposterous this exhilarating thrill-ride produced by Pedro Almodóvar is one that you're never going to forget. Verdict: It’s always a cause for concern when they promote a film on the basis of the producer’s name. I saw the trailer, and it looked interesting.

DIOR AND I (12A): Frédéric Tcheng's documentary is behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Raf Simons' first haute couture collection as the new artistic director of Christian Dior fashion house. Melding the everyday, pressure- filled components of fashion with mysterious echoes from the iconic brand's past, the film is also a colourful homage to the seamstresses who serve Simons' vision. Verdict: PASS. Seen enough fashion-world documentaries now, thanks.

CINDERELLA (U): In the age of revisionism and reboots, it's heartening that Kenneth Branagh has recognised the innate beauty of the story of Cinderella, one of the best-known fairtales. Verdict: NO. JUST NO.

HOME (U): When Earth is taken over by the overly-confident Boov, an alien race in search of a new place to call home, all humans are promptly relocated, while all Boov get busy reorganising the planet. But when one resourceful girl, Tip, (Rihanna) manages to avoid capture, she finds herself the accidental accomplice of a banished Boov named Oh (Jim Parsons). The two fugitives realise there's a lot more at stake than intergalactic relations as they embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Verdict: NO. JUST NO.

You may love some of these. I’m not saying the films aren’t worth you watching. I’m explaining why I’m not hugely motivated to see them. I don’t read a lot of contemporary novels either. I don’t think this is about “contemporary”. I think this is about the stories today’s film-makers are telling.

So let me tell you about the Year I Didn't Buy A Shirt. It was a long time ago. I looked in the menswear windows and nothing caught my eye. I began to think there was something wrong with me. That I needed to change what I thought was worth wearing. However, the money did not leave my wallet. About half-way through the next year, I bought some more stuff for my wardrobe. My tastes hadn't changed, and still haven't. But they were selling stuff I wanted to buy. It happens. This lot of cool kids will get jobs somewhere else in the Arty sector, or even maybe just proper jobs, and the next lot will come in and choose something else.

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