Sunday, 31 January 2010

The "Worst Movies Ever"?

It's official! A new poll has found to be true what we'd hitherto only suspected: Joel Schumacher's 'Batman & Robin' is the worst film of all time. That is, at least, according to the readership of the UK's Empire Magazine, the votes of whom have formed the basis for a "50 Worst Movies Ever" poll on the magazine's website. Aside from the winner, the list includes the likes of 'Transformers 2', 'Year One' and 'The Pink Panther 2' from the year just gone, aswell as high entries for the 1980 film 'Raise the Titanic' and 'Highlander 2'. Ok, now I know that such reader polls are to be taken with a pinch of salt. But I'm not going to diminish this list, but instead I think it is worth our consideration for a number of reasons.

Firstly, if anything this list is more interesting as an indication of what is currently very unpopular rather than what is really historically the "worst movie ever" as the title claims. Most bad films are, of course, seen by very few people (Michael Bay's output seemingly acting as the exception to the rule) and hence a really bad film will only appear on the list if it has achieved a certain notoriety as "so-bad-its-funny", a type of film ably represented on this list by such camp favourites as 'The Room' (must-see trailer below!), 'The Avengers', 'Battlefield Earth' and 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'. Generally, though, the films on this list are of a certain technical standard, with reasonable levels of acting and direction (though sadly not in the winner's case). Therefore the list is really "which big studio movies didn't people like?"

Secondly, the list provides an insight into the watching habits of readers of the magazine and gives a decent impression of the publications target demographic. Aside from the aforementioned "Plan 9", there aren't any films on the list which pre-date the 1980's (that's right: the first eighty years of cinema were near faultless). It's really gone downhill since the eighties though: a whopping thirty-seven of the fifty films listed (that’s 74%) were made in the last decade! However, this is an understandable lack of perspective in the list, given that Empire’s readership are probably reasonably young and have seen more films from this period than any other (or at least remember them more vividly). We can see this "last thing you saw" syndrome in full affect in earlier lists too. Michael Medved's reasonably famous book "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way)", published in 1978, features numerous films from the 1970's, including films like 'The Omen', 'Exorcist 2' and the innocuous disaster sequel 'Airport 1975'. Doubtless a similar poll conducted ten years ago would have included ‘Waterworld’, a film absent in this new list and seemingly forgotten (or reclaimed) now. Of course, these lists need to have well-known, contemporary films on them if they are to appeal to a wide audience, so in that respect they are brilliant for their publishers. A reader who finds some obscure, straight-to-video horror film or a forgotten silent movie in the list is likely to feel alienated and may stop reading altogether.

Thirdly, it is perhaps most interesting to consider the oldest films on the list as being there on merit, as enduring examples of bad film. George Lucas's ill-fated 1986 adventure film 'Howard the Duck' features, as does 'Superman IV', 'Jaws: The Revenge' (the one starring Michael Caine) and the disastrous 'Heaven's Gate'. The 1990's throw 'Showgirls' and 'Street Fighter' (one of four video game adaptations on the list) into the mix. These films seem to have earned their place on this list. There also seems to be a number of people who have used this list to express an agitation with the diminishing returns offered by many sequels, a sort of protest vote: 'Spiderman 3', 'Matrix Revolutions' and 'Blade Trinity' are all examples of instances where a once-popular franchise has run out of goodwill from the cinema-going public the third time around.

Finally, if the films on this list are representative of which sort of bad films people have paid to see, and not simply the definitive "worst ever", then it paints a depressing picture for UK cinema. Only two UK films make the list ('Swept Away' and 'Sex Lives of the Potato Men'), whilst the remaining forty-eight are American imports. You could see this as evidence that American films are inferior to those imported from elsewhere, or to those made on these shores, but in reality this seems to confirm the dominance that Hollywood enjoys at the UK box office. Yes, it seems funny to decry UK film and wider world cinema not making more of an impression on this list, but it would have been encouraging to find that people had been drawing from a deeper, more-varied pool of movies.

All in all, an interesting list, whatever you think of the choices.
To read the full list for yourself visit Empire's website here, and then kindly return and share your thoughts on the results on this blog!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

It's official: 'Avatar' IS the king of the world

How about that then? 'Avatar' has overtaken 'Titanic' to become the highest grossing movie of all time. Of course, the ticket prices have gone up since 1997 (and 3D ticket prices cost even more) so this doesn't necessarily mean more people have seen 'Avatar' (yet), though I'm sure it's still got time. After all, it has only been out for six weeks and it will get a boost after it wins all the Oscars in March. It may even benefit from increased replay value due to the fact that we are yet to have true 3D in our homes, with some seeing this as the last chance to experience the film in this way.

I didn't think 'Avatar' would be as popular as 'Titanic'. Sure it has had a lot of publicity and then there is the 3D which will have peaked a lot of people's curiosity, but 'Titanic' arguably had an equal balance between romance, action and historical interest, whereas 'Avatar' is more skewed towards the action. Well, I was very wrong indeed, and not for the last time, I'm sure. Whatever you think of the film it has surely been good for the industry and should be praised for getting people into cinemas at least.

Apparently it is the first part of a planned trilogy. Will it go the way of the 'Star Wars' prequels where the first film grossed the highest and people didn't come back for more? Or will it do what Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings have done and gross more and more with each release? In other words, will James Cameron have the top four highest grossing movies of all time on his hands in the next decade? We will have to wait and see. We shall also have to wait and see how 'Avatar' affects the world of film production in general. Will Hollywood studios greenlight a whole raft of 3D, live-action movies in the next few years? Is 3D here to stay? I'm sure the debate about the future of 3D movies has really only just begun.
My short review of 'Avatar' was published on the Splendor Cinema blog and can be read here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The latest Dukes/Splendor podcast is here!

That's right, it's that time again. Last Friday Jon Barrenechea and I sat down to discuss 'A Prophet' and 'Up in the Air' and, as usual, there was some general chatter about film distribution. You can listen to the episode here or by downloading it from iTunes (where you'd be a fool not to subscribe).

Jon also makes some interesting points about protection and exhibition of domestic cinema, which he goes into in more detail on his blog (with regards to the "banning" of 'Avatar' in China). The man makes a lot of sense.

Apologies for some issues with sound quality this week. I have found an external mic, and it will hopefully be better next time.
Finally, for those with an interest, I have just started a "sister" blog to this one with a focus on video games. Please give it a look, if you are so inclined.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

'A Prophet' and racial tensions in recent French cinema

Yesterday I listened to a radio interview featuring the French director Jacques Audiard, whose prison drama 'A Prophet' was Sight & Sound magazines film of 2009 after topping their annual poll of international cinema critics, ahead of such films as 'The White Ribbon' and 'The Hurt Locker'. What struck me about this interview was Audiard’s response to questions about the films scenes of violence, as he stated that it was not so much the violent acts themselves that had shocked viewers in his native France, but that an Arab (Malik [left] as portrayed by Tahar Rahim) was committing them. It was this statement which has caused me to wonder whether there is a movement in modern French cinema, united by its depiction of racial tension in an ethnically diverse modern France.

Indeed other recent internationally successful French films portray a similar picture of France to 'A Prophet', whether it’s within the inner-city classroom depicted in Laurent Cantet’s 'The Class', or a middle-class, white Frenchman’s journey through a seedy Muslim criminal underworld in the thriller 'Anything For Her' or in the frequent depictions of racial abuse and violence seen in last year’s 'Mesrine' films. And whilst Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s 'Amelie' was criticised upon release for doing to Paris what 'Notting Hill' had done to London in terms of racial representations, his latest whimsical fantasy comedy, 'Micmacs', depicts France as a place where socially marginalised misfits (amongst them a black Muslim) must do battle against nefarious arms dealers, who we learn via an amusing office desk photo reveal, are chums of Nicolas Sarkozy. If these films, when viewed together, form a picture of a modern ethnically diverse France which is divided along racial lines (as well as economic ones), then perhaps they have a point. You need only look back to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s surprise rise to prominence in 2002, as his Front National party (in many ways the French equivalent of the BNP) polled second in the Presidential election, or to the huge race riots of 2005, to see some recent historical evidence to support the version of France represented in these films.

Is this view of France a hallmark of modern French cinema? I must admit I am living in a vacuum with regards to French film en masse. The French film industry is responsible for a great many films which receive little or no international distribution, the content of which I cannot assess with any authority. Perhaps the films which tend to be exhibited outside of France are the ones which seem to offer some kind of commentary on modern France for outsiders.

So what of British film? Aside from the odd film like 1999’s 'East is East' or 2007’s 'Brick Lane', British cinema seems not to share French cinemas preoccupation with issues of racial difference. Is this because Britain is more tolerant than France? Or rather, is it because we are still more focussed on social class (as in the work of Andrea Arnold, for one example)? Or is this simply because we are not engaging with the issue? I’d be extremely interested to read any views you might have.
'A Prophet' is screening every day until Thursday the 28th of January at the Duke of Yorks Picturehouse in Brighton and is rated 18 by the BBFC.

Friday, 22 January 2010

My big important opinions

I must admit I'm a little self conscious writing this: my first transmission into the blogosphere (surprisingly spell check agrees that it’s a word). This is mostly because having a blog in the first place sounds like I’m shouting “come and read my big important opinions”. I feel a bit arrogant and a little presumptuous to be writing my thoughts on here. So why am I doing it? That’s a question I’ve just asked myself.

There are many reasons why I am writing this blog. Partly it’s because I see this as something to keep me thinking and writing (since graduating from University it has been easy to do little of either). Partly it’s because I usually feel at odds with what I read in film journalism. I love to read Sight and Sound every month and I listen to my fair share of film podcasts, so I’m not against hearing other people’s point of view on film at all, but I disagree so often with so much of it that this blog is hopefully going to be a healthy outlet for some (until now) impotent rage. Mostly though I need this forum because I almost take it personally when I hear someone dislike a film I am really attached to. For instance I could scarcely contain my bewilderment when a film tutor told me she had walked out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 'Punch-Drunk Love' in the cinema. It is this indignation which is to be the driving force behind much of what I write on this blog. Well, that and my sincere love of the art of cinema.

It is with this in mind that I humbly, scratch that, egotistically invite you to hear my big important opinions.

Also, stay tuned for the latest Duke of York’s podcast. As always I’ll be talking with (and sometimes over) art-cinema manager, and the author of the excellent SPLENDOR CINEMA blog, Jon Barrenechea.
Thanks for reading!