Thursday, January 13, 2011

Love Film?

Low budget, yet charming and brilliant.

Last week I signed up for a trial of Love Film, the home delivered DVD service. Evidently if I watch ten movies they'll send me a £20 Amazon voucher.

There's nothing special about that, except that regular readers of this blog might have noticed that for a, uh...erm, cultured man, I seldom mention films. Books get a regular look in, as does philosophy, painting, photography, occasionally music or even documentary; but almost never the movies.

It doesn't help that I loathe going to the cinema. I wish I had a fiver for every time I'd been told they aren't smokey anymore, that you get a lovely big seat, that I'm missing the big screen experience...  Yes, yes, thanks for the advice, but I still hate it. The fact is I don't like the sitting in the dark, next to complete strangers, eating popcorn, not being able to get up, or have a beer - all for the sake of the inane rubbish that is popular cinema.

All right, that's bit overstated, and cinema is only one way of watching films - hence the attraction of  Love Film. But in truth I'm not hopeful of getting my voucher - for despite years of trying, I honestly find most popular movies to be dull. Or if not exactly dreary, then formulaic, dumbed down and over-hyped.

This week for instance I watched Guy Ritchie's version of Sherlock Holmes.  It's perhaps not the best example because it's in no way a 'bad' film - but let's be frank, neither is it the cerebral thriller you might expect - in fact it's a sort of Sherlock Holmes meets Pirates of The Caribbean with added mumbling and special effects.

And if I'm honest I find the vast majority of popular films to be much the same. Slumdog Millionaire was entirely predictable; The Harry Potter movies are too dreadful to discuss; and as for the spate of pixar-style animated tales...zzzz

The problem with having this view - apart from being considered a social outcast - is that it is often positioned as snobbish. Maybe that's true, but it's not as if I only watch art house movies or look down on anything remotely populist. I could list hundreds of accessible films that are not dumbed down - just great stories, well scripted, beautifully filmed and believably acted. Films like (to take a very wide spectrum of styles) Doctor Zhivago, Local Hero, Cabaret, Zulu, The Remains of the Day, Cool Hand Luke, The Graduate, The Great Escape, The Deer Hunter, Saturday Night Sunday Morning, Out of Africa, Annie Hall...  Carry on Camping (OK maybe not that one)

Of course, those are all (more or less) famous examples of fine film making. But is it just me, or are movies like these becoming rarer? I genuinely don't know the answer to that. Perhaps I'm more out of touch than I realised; perhaps there are dozens of films being produced which I would enjoy - films that presume a little intelligence and artistic sensibility but don't require a doctorate - that engage us beyond the special effects and action sequences - that ultimately, we might actually remember.

Love Film tell me I've got nine more films to watch (as if the maths was that hard). So if you come across any good ones, could you please let me know.


  1. Great post. Might I suggest..."The Last Station"..Christopher Plummer (Canajan heh!)and the incomparable Helen Mirren...about Tolstoy's last year before his death. Think you would like that very much.

  2. Try 'The Duellists'.
    Superb photography...and I'm not a film fan.

    I a creepy sort of way... Bunuel's films...and things like 'The Full Monty', watched inadvertently, have moved me...though that could be down to the context I applied to it as much as to the film itself.

    As to cinemas!
    I remember accompanying my mother to the cinema when young....normally totally off putting stuff, but 'The Guns of Navarone' is a constant memory.
    Not for the film...but for the other viewers.

    At that time the local town boasted five loony bins: the residents thereof who had shore leave would pass their time in the cinema.
    They had a lot of time to pass and they came prepared.
    For the seance at which I was present, there was a lady in front of us who was reading a broadsheet newspaper when light from the screen allowed....when it didn't she would lay down the newspaper and attack bag after bag of crisps...

    A gentleman used the light of the gun flashes on screen to clean his plimsolls with a sort of tube and sponge device....

    Another gentleman - not enamoured of institutional food - had acquired British army self heating soup tins and was accordingly heating and imbibing...

    So when the film became a cult Christmas view on the television, I always felt a ghostly company with me in the same room.

    I would like to see the Eastwood Second World
    War might make my day!

  3. Movies are dumbing down unquestionably. They are rarely seen as an art form these days, more a way to bring in revenue or keep the discontented masses asleep. If you can accept that movies are now purely for idle entertainment you'll get on with them fine... but if you're looking for that sharp, nugget of genius that exposes a universal truth - try poetry.

  4. There are plenty of good films out there. Some of them are even British! The most recent good film I saw was 'Of Gods and Men' - but not out on DVD yet. How about 'The Secret in their Eyes', an Argentinian thriller? Or 'Skeletons', which is a lovely British film (if you don't mind quirky)?? Going back a bit, a Spanish film called 'Being Human' (nothing to do with the BBC series) is hilarious; a US film called 'The Station Agent' is great. I could go on...but I won't...

  5. Not a film fan myself, and never go to the cinema for similar reasons... hate being in the dark, next to people I don't know, hate being enclosed, and frankly, just don't like the idea at all. I have been to the cinema possibly twice in my sixty years, and the last time was when I was 19! Been to the theatre to a show once, and that was when I was 17 and it was to see Tom Jones in concert because my boss's daughter had tickets!
    I guess I just get bored and that's why I don't watch films.

  6. Bren - The Last Station sounds excellent; I shall add it to the Love Film list

    Fly - ah , the Duelists, one of my all time favourite films and a perfect example of what I miss.

    Lu - thanks for those suggestions; I do like quirky, and I do particularly like both British films and what is sometimnes refered to as World Cinema. It is primarily the Hollywood blockbusters that leave me cold.

  7. Try 'In the Mood for Love' (bad title, very beautiful images), 'The Squid and the Whale' (bad title, very funny family dynamics), and 'Morvern Callar'.

  8. I have to admit, I agree with every word you've written and I can't even remember the last film I watched all the way through on TV, as for recalling the last time I was at the cinema, I can't.

  9. I am a film dunce too (actually you may feel insulted by that, I don't mean it that way!). I have so many friends who love film that I feel quite guilty about my failure to engage. It's like being tone deaf. There is not much else that doesn't from time to time excite me. I have even learnt to love opera, in small doses, and any form of live theatre gets me going even if it is not wonderfully executed. Film somehow is too far away, too diluted, like making love with pyjamas on. Ian bought into one of these schemes with a new film a week on DVD. Somehow I was always doing something else: blogging, reading, knitting socks, having a bath. We never got to watch together and eventually he gave up in disgust and began watching them by himself on train journeys. At least I am not the only one.

  10. I have very ecclectic tastes but they rarely run to Hollywood fare these days. I concur regarding both the Last Station and The Station Agent.
    I'll think of a few and leave them for you.

  11. I've since remembered 'the lives of others' a really brilliant German film from a couple of years ago; and another good British film, Venus.
    Your list must be looking quite good now!

  12. Well I'm not sure that we have the same taste in films... whilst accepting that films have been dumbed down, I confess I don't mind a bit of escapist nonsense.

    But I thought that Moon was out of the ordinary when it comes to films with a science fiction foundation. You might give it a try.

  13. Ahh I see my friend Lu has been in already and given a number of suggestions I'd thought of for you. I'd add The Fall to her list. Worth it for the opening sequence alone. The director has a very visual approach too which might appeal to your painterly muse.

    I love the cinema. I was taken to see Zulu at the age of 4 which I loved. My packet of Paynes Poppets remained untouched as I sat entranced by the colours and sounds. The second film I saw was the Wizard of Oz a few weeks later. Not a success as I was frightened by the witches stripy socksand hid under the seat most of the time. Didn't stop me from wanting to follow Dorothy over the rainbow though. After that a trip to the cinema was a weekly treat and an escape. An immersion in another world.

    Besides, if it wasn't for the cinema I wouldn't be here. My parents met when the film they were watching broke and they got chatting to each other whilst it was repaired. My dad offered to walk my mum home and the rest is history. So there can be a good side to sitting next to total strangers!

  14. Hi Mark. Some years ago, in my quest to find more interesting and watchable film, I turned to ‘world’ or ‘foreign language’ films. In particular for me – the French, who are so capable when it comes to human issue and tragedy material. For what its worth, here is a tiny, tiny selection of film titles that in my opinion, are very well made, convincing and thought provocative, often low budget yet highly watchable. If you don’t like sub titles of course, just scroll on down to the next comment!:

    “Tell No One” - is an exceptional film, very much a ‘cerebral thriller’ to quote your own phrase. Multi layered, clever and unpredictable. One of my all time favourites. French 2006

    “The Beat My Heart Skipped” – Great story and acting by the central character Romain Duris. French 2005.

    “I’ve Loved You So Long” – Possibly resident Francophile, Kristin Scott Thomas’s best film to date. To me this is the type of ‘human drama’ film that the French excel at. Simply superb. France 2008.

    “The Visitor” – Once again a great and touching human story, slow moving but fully engrossing with superb performances by the central characters ‘Richard Jenkins’ (oscar nominee for this) and Israeli born Hiam Abbass. USA 2007. Funny, this is an English language film set in the US, although I first saw this film in Toulouse after mistakenly buying a ticket for another film altogether. Fifteen minutes into the wrong (French) film, with no sub titles (My French is not that good) and I started to realise I’d cocked up riotously, dashed out of the cinema chuckling to my self, bought the correct ticket and joined this film five minutes in, with the benefit of an ‘original language’ screening and French sub titles.

    “The Motorcycle Diaries” – A brilliant factual biopic of a motorcycle road journey the young 23 year old Che Guevara made in 1952, during a semester before completing his medical degree. His experiences on this 5000 mile journey through South America with his best friend Alberto, were to become his calling for the life and causes he subsequently turned to as a result of the poverty suffering and injustices he witnessed during this epic road trip. Beautiful photography and film making at its very best. Argentinean 2004.

    “36” – Highly entertaining tough French police thriller set in modern Parisian suburbia, starring the two biggest male stars of contemporary French cinema: Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu. France 2004.

    “Layer Cake” – Hugely stylish and entertaining London gangster thriller. Allegedly made for a mere £3million squids and first time directed by Matthew Vaughn who had previously produced “Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels”. How he pulled off such a superior film with a ‘big film look’ I don’t know. Another great showcase for the Brit film industry. British 2004.

    “Sideways” – One of the best comedy drama scripts from the last decade. Just a delight of a film set around the Nappa valley wine region of California. U.S. 2004. Hugely watchable.

    “Ronin” – Great thriller set in France. U.S. 1998.

    I’d better stop here. That’s assuming you’ve even read this far!! I could go on for several more pages but you’d probably end up sticking your head in the oven, and long before the gas got to you, you’d go deaf from the sound of your own screams!

    Thanks for your post here and for all the other film suggestions from other ‘commenter’s’. I too am a big fan of ‘The Duellists’ and for the same reasons of the photography. Just wish they’d digitalise remaster it now. Ridley Scott launched his global career on the back of this one.

    I’ve just noted ‘Lu’ and ‘Zoe’s’ suggestions cos I’ve never heard of most of them, so thanks for those tipsters. Was tempted to hire ‘The Last Station’ recently, so I will now. Ta.

    Hope you get at least one good evening out of something here Mark.

    Phil – ‘The Numb Bum Club’.

  15. I have blogged a bit on this today, there are a few recommendations.