04 March, 2009

Something Bad To Say

It's worrying when you find yourself liking a whole string of things in a row. If you're anything like me at least; you start worrying about whether you've lost your critical faculties, or about the extent by which you've been influenced by media hype. Film-wise, this early stretch of the year can be a mixed blessing - all the Oscar-worthy pieces are trotted out and the self-doubt begins to blossom.

These posts, another will follow shortly, really aim to say there are films, and there are films. On the one hand, films can be well made, roles well acted, stories diverting, scenes good-looking. Films can be good. But just now I can't help but feel that doesn't cut it. Here are 3 such:

Milk was good. Very good really. The case of Harvey Milk was always going to be one that deserved a very careful and meaningful treatment. And combined with Sean Penn, it was an unsurprising Oscar-role. Extremely watchable and with a great cast, Milk had the epic scale I'd hoped for, and yet a refreshing focus on the story - which is a good one.

A little self-consciously worthy, but it's very difficult to avoid that in a human rights film, during awards season, with such a long list of notable names in the cast and with Gus Van Sant at the helm. He's good, but he does veer a little towards the sentimental. In spite of that gripe, I was very pleased with it.

Frost/Nixon was fun. It looked good, and seemed well written - the to-and-fro between Martin Sheen, Frank Langella, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell and Matthew MacFadyen filled a happy couple of hours. It did feel a bit like a film convinced of its tale's own significance but which never bothered to relay that element to the audience. I laughed - out loud even! - a few times, but still, on the walk home it left little to think about (other than Michael Sheen's ability as a mimic - The Damned United is also released soon). Ron Howard continues to bemuse.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was nearly 3 hours long. This bloated love-story-with-a-twist isn't without its good moments, but it's hard to see why anyone felt it deserved such epic treatment. To the credit of the filmmakers, the 'curious' situation the backwards-ageing Brad Pitt finds himself in is made to seem natural within the film, incidental to his romance with Cate Blanchett. But this new focal point isn't actually that interesting - Benjamin and Daisy don't seem that fated, or tortured, or even important.

I also found myself wondering why there was so little colour in the past. I appreciate that 'the world of the '50s wasn't awash with neon lighting. But this film seemed to exhibit a pathological fear of colour, or bright lighting. THE PAST IS BROWNY-GREY! Combined with its length, the overall impression was that I'd taken a 3 hour nap.

I thought of David Fincher as a maker of snappy, punchy films. Alien3, Se7en and The Game were pretty dynamic and fully enjoyable. Fight Club even more so, a really excellent modern film. Benjamin Button, combined with admirable drag Zodiac, really screams that he should stay the right side of the 140 minute mark.

Three films, many positive points between them. But something missing from each. It does occur to me that these are very similar story types. Well maybe - it is awards season, so the major releases are rarely irreverent and frequently pretty wordy, po-faced pieces. Sort of like old paintings left out in the sun. Later I'm going to tell you what I loved instead, and hopefully put a bit of effort into working out why.

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