Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's great? Ok, I'll take your word for it: Films I just didn't get

Everyone has at some stage in their film going life been told by a friend or family member that "they just HAVE to see this film", only for you to see it and come out thinking "huh?". At other times you will mention a film at work, and just before you say how you couldn't believe what a stinking pile of shite it was, some co-worker will let out a squeal and state to everyone in attendance that that film is their absolute all-time favourite movie ever.

Similarly critics will glow about a film and you will think it incredibly dull - this is more common, mostly because some critics always seem to be drawn to incredibly dull films and think if it's dull it must be good.

But that's what is great about film - I can love a film like Glengarry Glen Ross and my wife can think it the most horrible movie ever made (note to the guys out there - don't take your girlfriend to see a hard hitting David Mamet film about dodgy real estate salesmen, and think it will be a good date movie). But when film is most wonderful is when it seems like it is you against the pervading view of everyone else. There's no cache in hating say, Austin Powers: Goldmember, even though you have a mate who thinks Fat Bastard is pure comic genius.

But best of all, because it's just opinion, you can't be wrong!

Below are my Top 5 "I just didn't get" films of all time.

1. The Piano.

Now look; I'm no dummy. I have read a few literature books in my time. I've done a bit of study. I can happily read poetry. I can happily read poetry written by women. Heck I think Sylvia Plath is the greatest poet since the Second World War. But, oh my God, I hated this film.

I have seen a lot of films in my time, but The Piano is the only one I have ever fallen asleep during. And I saw it in the afternoon, so it wasn't like I was tired from a long day.

Here's what David Stratten said of this film about a deaf woman who is only able to articulate her feelings through a piano that is set in the wilds of pre-colonial New Zealand:

Jane Campion's third feature is a visually sumptuous and tactile tale of adultery set during the early European colonization of New Zealand.... "The Piano" confirms Campion as a major talent, an uncompromising filmmaker with a very personal and specific vision.

Well far better for me would it have been if her personal vision had been kept to herself. An absolute snorefest, and yet it scored 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. So many friends (and I have to say all women) have told me how the film is so layered, so poetical, so tragic, haunting, subtle, amazing, incredible. One even told me I probably need to be a woman to really get it. Well fine. I don't get it, don't want to, and (to be honest) will never try to.

2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

In my last couple of years at high school whenever I went to a party at some friend's house, invariably as the night wore on, Rocky Horror would find its way into the VCR and the party would dissolve into people reciting the lines of dialogue, singing all the songs, and me off in the corner pretending to still be enjoying myself. The same thing happened a bit as I moved onto university, and at that point I would always make myself scarce.

I have to admit to not minding the first half hour of this film - I really like the song played over the opening credits. But after Frank'n'Furter arrives, I'm preparing myself for a long hour to come. The middle section is the worst - like a boring university film school attempt at being edgy. The humour I find weak, the songs, so-so - don't mind "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night", by Meatloaf, but the actual scene in which he sings it in the movie is so pathetically dumb that I would always be looking around the room thinking "don't you guys see how lame this all is?" (They didn't).

When I was in Year 11 I worried that my not getting this film doomed me to never being able to be cool in that I don't care for mainstream tastes kind of way. But now I know it just meant I had good taste. It's certainly one movie that never touch-a, touch-a, touched me.

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Oh the film beloved by film lecturers at universities the world over - so much texture; look at all the symbolism, the hidden meaning, the photography, the score... err has anyone pointed out the dullness?

Apparently it needs to be seen on the big screen. Apparently it is great to watch while stoned. Apparently it is just sooo deep.

Nope sorry, it's a boring couple of hours of pop-psycho drivel. It's a sci-fi film for those who like the "sci" in their sci-fi. It's a sci-fi film for critics who hate sci-fi films. Personally I think Starship Troopers is better than this (it sure as hell is more fun).

Open the pod bay doors HAL... and let me out of the damn cinema.

4. The Green Mile

Like pretty much everyone I thought The Shawshank Redemption was fantastic. I'm not sure if I like it as much as I once did, but it is still a pretty special couple of hours of cinema. And so when the previews for The Green Mile came out I was pretty excited. At the time I downloaded the preview (took about an hour I think) and was really excited. This was going to be good.

After seeing the film I turned to my wife (who had been equally bored) and said, well there's three hours I'll never get back.

On imdb this film rates 8.3/10. I gave it 1/10. I hated it - and I mean hate. I was angry that I had paid to watch this 188 minute over-reaching story about nothing. Oh yeah, so heart felt and so deep. Please, it's a freaking stinker, that should have been an hour shorter - I mean they spend a good half hour chasing the damn mouse "Mr Jingles" for no good reason (I guess it helped build the mouse's character, because God knows we need a film where the mouse has character).

By the end I was ready to sign a petition supporting the death penalty; I certainly was ready to avoid seeing any more films made by Frank Darabont. And I guess that is one blessing about this film. Because I hated this so much I didn't waste another three hours watching The Majestic.

I was at a party a few years after seeing this, and someone said how The Green Mile was their favourite film. I blithely stated how much I hated it (I was in a mood to be a bit argumentative). The person then stated how they also loved Pay it Forward. I didn't bother arguing - such people are beyond reason.

5. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

To be honest I could have put here Being John Malkovich, or Adaptation because I think all three of Charlie Kaufmann's screenplays are vastly over-rated. I choose this one, because it has probably got the most popular reception.

The thing about Kaufmann's films is that to me they seem amazingly try-hardy. They also seem to me to be pretty amazing so long as you haven't read any literature written since WWII. Nothing he has done should impress anyone who has read any Jorge Borges - try Labyrinths if you really want to blow your mind. The guy was messing with memory and time and truth only about 60 years ago.

But look, props to Kaufman for trying to push film to "new boundaries", but would it kill him to write a character who was actually likeable? Here's a love story, and yet I didn't give a damn whether the two leads end up together. Sure Jim Carrey is good, but while watching I couldn't help thinking how the Carrey role could have been played by Nick Cage, or John Cusack, and then I thought how interesting it would have been to see Carrey play the Cage role in Adaptation, or Cusack's role in Being John Malkovich. But of course this is because Kaufman's male protagonists are always the same - they are all him.

His films lack heart. Malkovich lacks sense (really what the hell is it trying to say, or is it just weird for the sake of being weird?). Adaptation was obvious, but apparently because he came up with the idea of doing a film about how hard it is to write a film he is suddenly clever.

And yet I'll keep giving his films a go. I'll get out Synecdoche, New York (even if the title is very wanky). But to be honest, I found Stranger than Fiction, written by Zach Helm, more interesting and better told, even though it was often referred to as "Kaufmann-lite".

So that's it: five films I just don't get. No doubt there will be more (and there are many others I could mention - The Wizard of Oz for starters). But hey, that's why film and opinions go so well together.

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