Anthony Stokes on the movies he wanted to love, but couldn’t…
Anybody else ever feel obligated to love a movie before you’ve even seen it? It swept the Oscars, all the critics love it, and your friends won’t shut up about it… And then you see it and while they’re not wrong per se, it just doesn’t have that same effect on you. I am somebody who tries to view every movie objectively. Unless it’s a crowd pleaser or something I’ve been anticipating for years, how I feel going into a movie has no bearing on how I feel walking out. I’ve seen a number of movies that have received acclaim, which I don’t think would have under different circumstances. Had Spike Lee directed Django Unchained with no changes, would people be as enthusiastic? What about if Michael Bay directed Pacific Rim? I take this into my account when judging movies and don’t try to let certain elements influence my opinion. I set my enthusiasm – or lack of – for a movie as soon as the credits start rolling. That said, there are some movies I just couldn’t get into, whether it be because I’m not the target demographic, too much hype, or too high expectations going in, and ultimately I was left could, or flat out disappointed…
Now I can totally see why people love this movie. There hasn’t been a traditional musical like this in a long time and this is very much something that recalls old Hollywood. The sets are intricate and beautiful, the opening scene is one of my favourite scenes of 2012, along with a beautiful song that was so well written Russell Crowe couldn’t ruin it despite his best efforts. The opening was perfect for me because the song was catchy and above all it was short. I’ve been meaning to get into musicals more as a film critic and nothing makes me squirm like a song that goes on way too long. Tom Hooper pulled a fast one on me because every song after that felt really long. Painfully long. Dreadfully long. And it’s not that they were bad – there’s just something that makes me feel silly and uncomfortable when a character goes off by themselves and sings for 7 minutes about something that should’ve been expressed through acting rather than song and dance. I appreciated the artistry and the acting which were both fantastic. What really pushed it over for me was the length. I think it’s rude that directors think it’s okay to have movies that run two and a half hours plus without it being necessary and filling the gaps with things that only appeal to themselves. If you do have a movie go over that length you’d better have fantastic editing so that people won’t notice. But these extended songs in Les Miserables really drove me crazy. Some of them were essential to the story, but a lot of the time it was just regular conversation stretched out and padded by people singing with no background music. It made the movie feel longer than it was. And I was hoping that the revolution would have a Saving Private Ryan-type climax, but ultimately it was pretty standard. Overall I’m glad I saw it, and there’s no doubt that it is a great movie, but you couldn’t pay me to sit through the whole thing again. Unless Hooper releases a “Husband and Boyfriend” edition that’s only 90 minutes.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
This is one that leaves me completely cold and lost. Once again I appreciate the set design, the acting, the direction, the special effects… I just don’t love it as a whole. Part of the reason is the fact that the pacing is horrible in my opinion. This movie is entirely set up and back-story. And when it’s not that, it’s Frodo’s in trouble, with a character yet to be introduced saving him. The way it’s filmed when a new character shows up is head-scratching. The way the camera stops and zooms in with a profile shot as if I’m supposed to know this character, even though there’s no introduction outside of them showing up and using their respective weapons. There’s no steps to really define the rules and mythology of the world on any significant level, making things even more confusing, and there’s not really any character development either. I think this appeals more to fans of the book because they already have a knowledge of the characters and how they’ll figure into the story, so they’re already excited when they see them showing up. It’s like The Avengers without the solo movies to establish back-story and character. And maybe that’s how Peter Jackson got around this behemoth of an undertaking by catering to core fans, but I feel like when I sit down to see a movie I shouldn’t have to read the book it’s based on to enjoy it. And I feel like this could’ve been combined with The Two Towers to make one movie. There’s no extended character development, there’s not really any character arcs, so why draw out the least interesting part of a story? Again, I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t help but feel glad I didn’t pay to see it in theatres.
This is a film I’m certain wouldn’t have got any attention had it not been a Coen brothers movie. Had the Coen brothers’ name not been on it, nobody would have been thinking Oscars. Let me say that I have a love-hate relationship with the Coen brothers. I love The Big Lebowski, love No Country for Old Men, and I love Fargo, but the rest of their movies that I’ve seen I just don’t get the hype. I see the appeal and why people like them, but I feel like the Coen brothers are quirky for the sake of being quirky. In other words, kind of pretentious. The Big Lebowski is the only one of their comedies I actually find funny. So when I heard True Grit was unlike the majority of their other movies, I was looking forward to it. That said it felt like the Coen brothers holding back; all the great things that are in every good Coen brothers movie – great characters, acting and dialogue – all gone. It has great actors in it who are okay, but not up to par with their previous performances Even the editing was off – scenes would end suddenly as if there was a punchline of a funny quip that always left me scratching my head. And a movie can be slow if it’s creating tension or building up to something, but this felt like a flat line. Not a bad movie, just unworthy of all the accolades.
2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick was a brilliant filmmaker. A lot of his techniques and innovations are still used by filmmakers today. I have the utmost respect for the man, his legacy, and his work but some of his more famous movies left me cold. I named all three because to me they all have similar problems. Namely pacing, length, and really stretched out, boring second acts. Kubrick’s style had a lot to do with tension and hanging on to certain shots for an uncomfortably long time. My problem is that this deliberate style has diminishing effects that run out very quickly. My favorite of the three is definitely A Clockwork Orange because it’s so iconic and it has a really epic character arc that justifies some of its length. The question filmmakers need to ask themselves when they’re watching the final cut is “is all this necessary to the film?” Kubrick didn’t have that thought, just like a lot of directors today don’t have that thought. Had The Shining been a director’s cut I’d give it more points. I expect indulgence and scenes that don’t necessarily go anywhere or play into anything with a director’s cut. But honestly The Shining didn’t need to be any longer than 90 minutes. And I’ve never even finished 2001: A Space Odyssey. The opening put me to sleep the first few times, and after that the cold and unfocused direction left me uninterested. I appreciate 2001 and A Clockwork Orange for their atmosphere, attention to detail, and the concepts and themes displayed throughout, and while Kubrick did a great job directing The Shining, I find the script, acting and everything else to be really dull. It wasn’t scary or disturbing and it’s incredibly dated and so over the top with the cinematography and soundtrack that it’s hard not to find it amusing. I can see why these movies appeal to people, but they’re just not my cup of tea I guess.
Now keep in mind this is widely regarded as the best movie ever made. No other movie has reached the level of accolades and praise as this film. And I’ve got to say by today’s standards it’s good, but not great. If I’m not wrong the first 40 minutes is a wedding. Not that the wedding is essential to the plot, it’s just where all the important characters are introduced. In a book it’s okay to fixate on minor details and give minor characters lots of focus, but a movie should only focus on things that play into the overall story. The reason to me that Goodfellas is the best film ever made is that no scene establishing a character is over a few minutes long. If something needs to be shown it is done with flair and efficiency so that it leaves an impression, but doesn’t stop the momentum. Maybe I expected too much from The Godfather, but when people said it was the best movie ever made that’s more or less what I expected, and I’m not going to pretend that’s what I got.
I plan on revisiting a few of these movies so that I can soak them and give them another chance. And in no way am I saying that these movies are overrated, as they all have wonderful things about them. I remember before seeing The Shining I saw it got nominated for a Razzie and was taken aback, going purely off what I’d heard about the film and from the clips I’d seen on television of the internet. Upon actually seeing the movie I felt like it was a little more justified. I was already hard-wired to love the movie before I had even seen it. I looked back at how many times I’ve stood up for a franchise or movie that I’d never seen and decided to make it an effort not to form opinions based upon what I’d heard from others. I just can’t help but feel like maybe we critics aren’t as objective as we should be. If I’m trying to say anything here, it’s that you can be entitled to your opinion, but just make sure it’s yours.
What movies left you feeling cold? Let us know in the comments below…
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.