A few movies that made Adam look to the exit sign.
There have been a few occasions over the years of frequenting the cinema when I have been tempted to cut my losses, and go do something more rewarding with my time. I’m sure most avid cinema goers have on occasion found themselves in the same quandary - especially when you’re in there solo. Now, I haven’t as yet ever left a film part way through it, and I think this is in part down to the wise words of a brilliant film lecturer I had, and his words were pretty much along the lines of ‘all films have something to teach, even the bad ones.’ But boy, have there been some contenders to challenge that!
While a lot of this will read like I’m just slating films I don’t like, I assure you it’s not. I’ve seen plenty of turkeys over the years, but only some of those turkeys have made me wish I’d spent my time and money on something else. The saving grace in some of these showings was that I was with friends, and spending time with them is rewarding in of itself. So, for shits and giggles, I’m going to outline a few recent films in which despite wanting to leave, I remained in my seat… most of the time.
Doctor Strange. The Marvel machine squeezed out a stinker with this. While it was nowhere near the worst film I’ve ever seen, it was still very dull. I was fortunate enough halfway through the film to need the loo. I wasn’t gonna miss much, I knew that. I went, enjoyed the relief, came back, and then proceeded to reminisce about those lovely few minutes as I endured Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch still being totally miscast, spouting the kinds of existential insights that usually come from the mouths of people who hang dream-catchers in their bedrooms, and once misunderstood a book on quantum physics. Films are a form of escapism, I know that, but so are those doors. I stuck with it though as best I could as I was accompanied by a very good friend. I found solace in the words of my lecturer again, as they resonated somewhere inside me. Too bad they didn't resonate in me a little deeper, as I could have done with another excuse to go to the toilet. Thankfully, another form of escape enveloped me… sleep. Okay, so it was a late evening showing, and a few beers had been drunk - but that isn’t usually a problem for a man of my age, vigour, and liver. But give me those conditions and stick me in a dark room, in front of a dull film… and I’ll be out for the count.
The Secret Lives of Pets. Why? Why? Why did I agree to go see this?!! While the first five minutes of the film (pretty much the trailer) were rather amusing, the following 82 were an assault on my eyes and ears. It wasn't helped by the fact that of the two major cinemas here in Manchester, we chose the one in which all audio setup has been configured by someone with no ears - that’s the Odeon, by the way. I would argue that I would actually have left the room had I been on my own, but of course I wouldn’t have gone to see it had I been on my own. Okay, granted this is a film aimed squarely at kids, but I like to think that even a five year old me, would have kindly asked my parents to consider a less bat-shit crazy animated film next time. But still, I tried to take something from it. I'm not sure what, but then again, here I am writing this.
It is of course a little different when you’re on your own; with no companions with wishes to be considered...
Man of Steel. There were more than a few moments when that sign was beckoning me. This was a bad film. A big, lumbering piece of cinematic storytelling, that when not fucking up the rather simple character of Superman, fell back on lifeless dialogue, moronic plot devices, bombastic and tiring VFX, overcooked solemnity, overripe broodiness, and most insultingly of all - disaster visuals too reminiscent of Lower Manhattan on 9/11. I know that modern VFX allows for it, and that our brains now know what such destruction looks like - but the film really seemed to revel in it. It actually made me feel quite uncomfortable. And then came the dialogue that caused me to dislodge my eyeballs as they rolled so far back in my head - Perry White’s heartless (lazily written) observation... “He saved us.”
What?! Look around you... buildings destroyed, thousands dead, families shattered. This film was fucking terrible. Thankfully, this was happening towards the end of the film. But throughout the whole thing, the words from my lecturer rang in my ears. Actually, I was at the Odeon again, so I’m surprised I could even hear my thoughts. I didn’t go and see the sequel Dawn of Justice at the cinema. I approached that months later, online, with a ready finger on the stop control. It took me three days to get through it, a few more to get over it. I’ll spare you further thoughts on it, maybe some other time, some other article.
I could go on, as there are similar experiences going back many years. But I thought I’d keep it to the most recent. So what are the drivers behind people leaving the cinema? I’ve seen it happen, I think maybe a lot of us have. A huff, a puff, up they stand, gather their things, and out they walk… sometimes in groups, sometimes in couples. We’re rarely privy to the reasons, but it does make me wonder. A couple sat a few empty seats to the left of me did exactly that during La La Land. Just a few minutes in… up they got, and down they left. Surely they must have been aware that it was a musical, but perhaps not. Side point: Sebastian's repeated car horn gag was just fantastic at the Odeon! As was the rather painful scene when Mia and Sebastian fall out, and suddenly a fire alarm pierces their awkward silence… well, it was so loud and painful that it might as well have been the cinema’s actual fire alarm! Why do I go there?!
There is of course one big reason why we remain in our seats, we've paid for it. We've handed over money to be entertained, and usually, we’ll grudgingly struggle through a difficult film just to get our money’s worth. But there are times when even this very understandable argument is tested to breaking point. Which leads me to an abomination I saw in 2006. Joining me that evening was my good friend Lea, who shares much of the same film tastes as me...
The film we chose to watch was Ultraviolet, from the same writer and director as Equilibrium - Kurt Wimmer. And while I’ve never been a fan of Equilibrium, arguably it is still a reasonably solid, if quite silly movie. A B-movie really. But Wimmer’s directorial follow-up really cranks up the shit-engine. It is a film that excruciatingly segues haphazardly from one shitty post-Matrix action set-piece to another. And when the bland, repetitive, and often nonsensical action sequences do simmer down, there is some sloppy dialogue and heavy exposition to look forward to. Milla Jovovich in tight fitting outfits was part of the draw I suppose, but sadly the film wasn’t as tight as her garb. William Fichtner tried, but couldn’t lift this film one iota. It is a film I now find hard to describe in too much detail, possibly because I have wiped so much of it from my mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love schlocky B-movies, Z-movies even. Lea and I would often raid the bargain bins for the cheapest, roughest cinematic treats, so please don’t mistake my lack of appreciation for something else. Ultraviolet was such a painful watch though, possibly because it took itself too seriously and had pretensions to be something far more than it could be.
So yeah, it’s a contender for the worst film I’ve ever seen, and I saw it at the cinema in a seat I paid for. We were about ten minutes in, and we were soon mentioning to each other if we should leave, while people around did just that, uttering variations of “Eurgh, fuck this!” as they stood and grabbed their coats. I recall one group walking down the steps toward the exit, complaining about wasting their money. I understood, and I wondered if they asked for a refund. I leaned over to Lea and said (I paraphrase myself as it was 10+ years ago) “Come on, let’s stick it out. It’ll make us stronger. Think of it as a purging of the cinematic soul. Anything we watch after this will be nectar.” So, we laughed out loud, and exclaimed in stifled outbursts at the absurdness of what we were witnessing. We made the most of it with amateur dramatics too, laughing as we pried our eyes open in a sight reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. It was a tough watch. And although there were many moments when we nearly threw in the towel, we did stick it out. We even watched the closing credits.
We walked out on clouds, lifted by our accomplishment.
So, aside from exorcising some cinematic demons, what was the point of this ramble? Well, I suppose there were three reasons:
- To pass on the wise words of my film lecturer, that ‘all films have something to teach, even the bad ones.’
- That even the most diabolical film can still be entertaining if you have the right friends with you.
- To introduce myself to Finickal readers. Hello!
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