Sunday, 11 March 2012

Films that Everyone Loves but I Hate

Taste is an amorphous, subjective thing, and often separate from the recognition of quality. My favourite film, for example, is Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future, but I'm well aware that it's far from the best film ever made, or even that I've seen. I think you can argue that The Godfather, The Maltese Falcon and The Seventh Seal are objectively 'better' films, but they simply don't conjure in me that magic combination of excitement, nostalgia and wonder that Back to the Future does. That said, Back to the Future is a fine, fine film and if you don't like it you probably need to seriously rethink your life. Films have different meanings for different people, and though I've never bothered with it myself, I understand that The Rocky Horror Picture is a huge cultural touchstone for many people, as is Dirty Dancing, or for others, The Lost Boys, which though I like very much, doesn't strike the same chord with me as it does with many people. However, in the last ten years or so, there have been a few films released that not only utterly disappointed, bored, or angered me, but also, baffled me with their phenomenal popularity. It's not enough that the following films irritate me on their own merit: their incessant and inexplicable popularity exacerbates my already considerable irritation. What's worse is that my dislike of these films is overwhelmingly in the minority, garlanded as they are with major awards, box office success, audience adoration, and critics clamouring to heap praise on them. I have carried around this irritation for years, and now its time to get rid of all that bile, once and for all. What follows are a few examples of popular films that I hate. Enjoy!

1) Pirates of the Caribbean

Following the double disaster of the third and fourth films in this interminable franchise, most people seem to have woken up to the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean is shit. In 2003, when the snappily-titled Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was released, everybody just couldn't wait to say how wonderful, and fun Johnny Depp the film was. Of course, PotC came out when everyone was for some reason obsessed with Depp, but his mugging here just underscores the fact that Depp had long since become a parody of himself, giving a predictably 'wacky' performance as the 'hilarious' Captain Jack Sparrow. PotC was supposed to be a fun, swashbuckling adventure in the tradition of Indiana Jones, but for me, it was just another forgettable action film with boring, staid fight scenes and special effects, a flat, cliched script, and dull characters. And that's before we even consider this charisma vacuum:

Orlando Bloom practising his trademark vacant expression 
Mercifully, Orblando's career seems to have faded back into the ocean of grey from which it emerged, but the boring memories linger on. The mere sight of his cloudy eyes triggers an uncontrollable chemical reaction in my stomach that makes me want to smash the little squirt's squashed-up face in. Here is an actor, so devoid of any discernible personality, talent or ability that he is capable of physically sucking the fun out of any scenario. This guy has starred in movies about pirates, dragons and mythological epic battles and still Bloom can never be found doing anything remotely interesting. Not that that matters in Pirates of the Caribbean, because nothing remotely interesting happens in any of the films anyway.

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Being a Shithead Hipster Summer is one of the more offensively vacuous little turds to have recently passed through the guts of Hollywood. Focussed-grouped and market-driven away from any real wit or insight it was packaged as not only as a romantic comedy for guys (switching the stereotyped genders of the cookie-cutter leads around), but also as one that's really honest about relationships (by following the romcom formula to the letter until the end when He doesn't get Her after all). (500) Days of Boredom tricks audiences into thinking they're seeing something original by having the male lead go all gooey over 'wacky' go-to MPDG Zooey Deschanel, a pernicious force of manufactured kook that is about as intriguing and stimulating as a box of all bran with googly eyes glued on to it. Unfortunately for the terrific actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Slow Dying stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The writers show that his 'character' is creative and sensitive because he's into The Smiths, and he, like, wants to be an architect, or something. The whole film is like an Ipod advert: it's all very shiny, and wants you to think it's all new and touchy-feely and individual, but really it's the same old commercial vomit they've been serving you for years, except now it's got hand drawn titles and massive earphones. If you want an honest, sincere romcom, just watch High Fidelity instead, it does more or less the same thing except with a bit of class and heart, unlike this vapid garbage.

Zooey Deschanel
A box of All Bran with
googly eyes glued on it

3) Gran Torino
I wanted to like Gran Torino. I really did. Clint Eastwood is one of my favourite actors, he's a great director, and the prospect that this film would probably be the last one in which he acted was simply tantalising. It's a shame, then, that what we got was an overly-simplistic fable about a crotchety old racist who learns to love through an unlikely friendship with a Hmong youth who lives next door. Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski teaches Thao the value of manual labour and resisting peer pressure, while Thao teaches Kowalski the power of inter-racial fwiendship. Eastwood hams it up as Kowalski, grumbling and growling his way through a performance that is best described as self-parodic, and while the central premise isn't completely without merit, stories of the friendship between a grumpy bastard and a cocky kid have already been done about eight bazillion times.

An example of the subtlety of Clint's performance in Gran Torino.

To be fair to old Clint, he's got a damn fine track record, and he's responsible for some of the best films of his generation, so I'm almost willing to let this one slide. Almost.What I dislike most about Gran Torino is that the film's message seems to be that out-and-out prejudice is wrong, but casual racist language is fine. Hey, it's just banter, it's what working class stiffs do, right? For example, in one particularly cringeworthy scene, the Polish Kowalski exchanges insults with his Jewish barber, before explaining to Thao that it's ok, because they're both immigrants, just like Thao (oh, the IRONY!). Later, in front of Kowalski, Thao is encouraged to verbally abuse the foreman of a building site in order to win his respect, cos hey, this gook's just one of the guys like the rest of us!  Thanks Clint, all these complex urban racial / generational / immigrant / economic tensions could be solved by a bit of simple manly banter. Why didn't I think of it before? Thank you Clint, thank you.

4) Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings can fuck right off. I am fucking sick to death of Frodo and his stupid concerned little face, Gandalf's declarative speechifying and Sean Astin's irritating little lickspittle histrionics. My problem with Lord of the Rings is twofold: primarily the series' intolerable self importance: every overlong scene, every meaningful glare, every overwrought bar of the score that is so utterly satisfied with its grandness, its power, its unquestionable gift to the cinematic art, is profoundly irritating. Secondly, it's the squawking fans of the franchise that seem to rise up like some army of the nasal every time that you so much as hint that you don't have the comically tautological extended editions on repeat in your DVD player. If you're an especially rabid fan, you're probably already foaming at the mouth, confused and enraged that I should dare to desecrate the holiest of holies. You may even be blindly thrashing around your darkened bedroom recklessly knocking over your Warhammer figurines and tearing your World of Warcraft posters off the wall, as panic-stricken, you scrabble  through mountains of tattered copies of  Advanced Dungeons and Dragons manuals and H.P. Lovecraft novels in a futile attempt to make sense of this heresy. The Star Wars prequels that you've got hidden in that compartment at the back of your wardrobe are beginning to shake and moan eerily. Even now, across the land, mountains of tarot cards are being knocked over in blind fury, autographed boxsets of Deep Space Nine are being rent asunder by dozens of gnashing, halitosed teeth. Xbox controllers are smashed, dreamcatchers ripped from their hangings, dousing crystals shattered into plastic shards, and burning incense extinguished by an unstoppable wall of shrill bleating. All because most people have failed to realise that Lord of the Rings is claptrap.

This is honestly the first image that came up when I googled 'Lord of the Rings fanboy'.
All of which amuses and aggrieves me in equal measure because I honestly do not understand these films' astonishing popularity. I think the word 'pretentious' is over-used, but I also think the word 'wank' is probably quite underused so I'm going to compromise and call Lord of the Rings pretentious wank. I only ever made it about half way through the first half of the first book, and then gave up because I noticed a moth doing something more interesting. As a matter of fact, a moth doing nothing would be about as compelling as any given moment in Lord of The Rings because nothing ever happens in it. By the way, running across hilltops every other scene to bombastic music doesn't count, nor does stopping to have something to eat, and nor does the obligatory and entirely predictable third-act battle rendered on such a ludicrously grand scale that's impossible to actually care about anything other than the spectacle. There is basically no emotional development in Lord of the Rings. Oh, Frodo feels out of place when he gets back to Hobbitville after his boring adventure? Well, I'm glad you took nine hours to develop that, because I don't think I quite would have understood the existential ramifications of the human capacity to outgrow one's origins without nine hours of wandering around moping beforehand. The only character that is remotely interesting is Gollum, and even he's mostly rubbish.

Don't even get me started on the notion that Lord of the Rings is any kind of serious, important cinema. No. Now, under normal circumstances I'm prepared to accept the significance of any old trash, given its social and cultural context. Even the risible Twilight, as searingly atrocious as it is, is still important as a cultural phenomenon. And so it is with Lord of the Rings. Yes, you can bang on all you like about its incredible popularity, and its profound influence of fantasy literature and related media. In fact, do bang on about that, I'm sure it would make for a really interesting analysis of contemporary fantasy sub-cultures. But don't, for Christ's sake, try to tell me that LotR is anything other than exceptionally well made exploitation cinema. Yeah, I'm aware that I said it's exceptionally well made. Only a fool would deny that Jackson's adaptations are extremely technically proficient, but that doesn't mean that they're either enjoyable or meaningful as narratives. Look, before you choke on your tongue again: I like trash. I like films with titles like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, and House of Dracula, but I'm not about to argue that they're an authentic exploration of the human condition. And don't give me any of that crap about Tolkien 'creating a whole new world' or inventing new languages. Star Trek did that for decades, and the more that series became obsessed over inconsequential minutiae and pseudo-philosophy, the worse it became. Brevity is the soul of wit, and Tolkien would have been better served developing recognisable, fully dimensional characters instead of figuring out how to render Elvish verbs in the perfect tense, or the difference between an ogre and a troll. Who honestly cares about this stuff? How does it make the story more compelling, or meaningful, or exciting? It's all just fluff, spun to fill the gaps left by a boring story and largely uninteresting characters. 

I told you he was rubbish.

Ironically, Jackson was a perfect director for this material precisely because he's an exploitation director: his early films Braindead and Bad Taste deliver exactly what you'd expect, and his last major film was a very good, if bloated and sentimental, remake of one of cinema's greatest exploitation movies of all time, King Kong. Lord of the Rings is an exploitation film with a huge budget, and that's it, regardless of what the legions of fanboys say. And you know what? For those of you that enjoy this particular brand of schlock, I say fill your boots! I like shite too, so enjoy, if that's how you get your kicks. For the more vocal fans, I don't want to be rude, but please, will you just shut up about how great Lord of the Rings is? There are so, so many more insightful, exciting and better-written films out there that it truly boils my piss when I hear for the ten thousandth time that Lord of the Rings is someone's favourite film. How is that even possible? Have they not seen any other films? Just watch Harry Potter instead. It's miles better.