|About Time, negativity and warm feelings inside|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Monday, 16 September 2013 12:46|
When it comes to cinema, I'm increasingly of the opinion that emotions are what matter the most. As bad as a film's script or editing might be, if a movie moves you - elicits a genuine emotional response - that means it's doing something right.
Richard Curtis' About Time was met with much derision when it was released earlier this month. The story, for a time travel tale, went beyond mere paradox to simply bring illogical - only men could travel back, we were told, minutes before a woman hopped along for a ride. But while the timey wimey was more than a bit wibbly wobbly, the film's exploration of loss, parenthood and fate were properly, genuinely moving.
It's about Bill Nighy and Domnhall Gleeson more than it's about time or romance or anything else - when `Bill and his boy play ping pong with each other near the end, I welled up. Properly, genuinely welled up. You could argue that it's because the movie is a cynical button pusher but in this case, I think that says more about the person with the buttons.
Yes, Richard Curtis is very good at pressing them - he's had practice - but it works because, whatever his failings are as a writer, he cares. Not about money or tricking people into feeling something - that wouldn't make anyone well up. He cares about sentiment. Genuinely, properly cares. That voice over at the start of Love Actually? That's probably him in the shower.
So why bother fighting it? Because negativity is in this century. It's the thing to do. Take Oblivion, which came out on DVD last month. It was swiftly branded as naff by viewers. Why? Not because of its beautiful visuals and fantastic world building, but because it has plot elements that are reminiscent of other sci-fi films. One particular British indie has been cited in particular, even though Oblivion was written before it. It's an understandable comparison, but one that's unfair. Not just because Oblivion didn't copy this other person's idea, but because their film did it much, much better.
A lot of people took the same line, complaining about the film's lack of originality - despite the fact that it was actually an original film in a year stuffed with sequels and remakes. The same is true of Elysium, Neil Blomkamp's sci-fi that wasn't as good as District 9 - and was therefore dismissed as a disappointment, despite its equally impressive world building, admirable political message and barmy array of weapons. The complaint, as someone I follow on Twitter put it, is that Hollywood doesn't make interesting new films any more and simply recycles old ones. Of course, when two came along that were exactly that, people complained anyway.
You can see the headlines already. "Online film fans in negativity shocker." It's almost not worth pointing out - until you think that maybe that's a sad thing. Negativity is so easy to adopt as the default tone these days. Scathing one-star reviews are something people enjoy reading and writing - but why? I was always a big fan of Peter Bradshaw's legendary takedowns in The Guardian. Not because they were negative but because they were well-crafted pieces of writing. The same is true of his positive reviews. WIth people like Charlie Brooker exemplifying that snarky persona done well, we now have a string of other writers like Stu Heritage following suit.
Meanwhile, over on radio, the (excellent) Mark Kermode reviewed Pain & Gain with one of his Kermodean rants. He painted the film as blacker than black, a foul creation made by a horrible man - and lots of people celebrated someone delivering such a takedown. It's had more than 55,000 views on YouTube in the last two and a half weeks.
I'm no huge Pain & Gain fan, but would people have reacted differently to the film - and, specifically, that negative review - if it wasn't directed by Michael Bay? Would they also celebrate some of the film's (few - but still existent) positive elements, such as Dwayne Johnson's hyperbolic performance?
The negativity hit a crescendo when About Time was released; mostly because it was the same week when the One Direction movie came out. For the premiere, they had to close Leicester Square because of the crowds of excited teens. And you know what? Good for them. On Twitter, though, it was the subject of snarky jokes. Humour is one thing, but phrases such as "Ban One Direction fans from Twitter" began to trend. Some might be a little more zealous in their fandom than others, but hating on someone because of something that they like? What's the point in that? Do the same people mock their parents for being swept up in Beatlemania when they were younger?
And, of course, I should probably mention Twilight at this point. At a work dinner a few months ago, a colleague mocked the films - not because he had seen them, but because it's the thing to do. Let's be clear: I don't think New Moon is good, but the first Twilight film (and the third) both have some excellent things about them. Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts brings up the subject in a debate between two of his characters and hits the nail on the head with this line: "You think it's cool to hate things. And it's not."
By all means, call a spade a spade. Be funny about it too. But I'm a firm believer that all spades have the potential to be great: where a younger me might once have been excited about the chance to laugh at one that misses that mark, now the thought of a bad spade is mostly disappointing. I try hard not to forget that spades can have good qualities too: a pretty handle, or a well-made shaft, or a polished veneer that... ok, I don't know anything about spades. But when a film like About Time makes me do a man cry, I don't dismiss it as button-pushing. I enjoy feeling something. And I think that's pretty cool.
You know, not that I want to be negative about negativity or anything.