The Picture Palace
Here is my review of Michael Bay's new film Pain & Gain. It is set to the tune of Yesterday by The Beatles.
I guess we can agree The Rock was okay
And Armageddon was your passion play
but I've lost faith in Michael Bay
You have made Transformers one to three
But Mecha balls are not my cup of tea
And it's a crappy trilogy
Pain & Gain, robot free, but sleazy as hell,
plot that makes no sense in a film that starts to smell
I have been a massive fan of The Onion for a long time. I remember first getting hooked on the satirical website when I worked for a dotcom firm in London in the late 90s and early noughties. If you want to know what it was like working for a dotcom in the meltdown, read Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End. It perfectly captures the strange atmosphere of clammy excess and collapse.
But The Onion struck to the heart of Generation X - defining us, mocking us and playing our fears out in the flat prose and direct headlines of daily news. I could write a whole blog about Onion stories that literally made me cry with laughter. There's the one about the giant blood clot, or the hamster and the headline "Car crash turns frown upside down". That last headline still makes me chuckle to this day. I chuckled just then as I typed it.
But, I fear The Onion and I may have just parted ways. You see, this week they published this story mocking a man who goes to the cinema on his own as a "sad f****** loser''. I may have completely missed the point of this story, but it seems the target of this satire is the lonely cinephile.
Now, when I was younger, I wouldn't have dreamt of going to the cinema on my own. I would not have been confident enough to sit there on my own with a big popcorn and enjoy a movie. I would have worried too much about what people thought of me.
But one of the joys of leaving your 20s and advancing on 40 is you don't give a damn what others think of you. It is joyfully liberating. Now, I feel it is a glorious privilege to go to the cinema during the day on my own. It's a treat. I can relax in my own company and see whatever movie I want at whatever time I want. It really is lovely. The lights go down and its just me and the movie alone together. Bliss.
There is more character development, intrigue and thoughtfulness in one episode of Mad Men than in the entire blockbuster movie season.
I've recently been rewatching early seasons of Mad Men and have been captivated by its depth and thought-provoking ideas. Each episode is a fascinating peek into the inner lives of complex, troubled and compelling characters. It is novelistic, compassionate and explores how we often act on impulses we barely understand. If there is one character on television who could benefit from talking therapy, it is Don Draper. He is an endlessly fascinating character forging the myths and dreams of postwar America from his own demons.
And then I turn off the television and go the cinema, where I'm assaulted by loud and violent spectacle with little to no character development or intrigue.
Yes, I know, the blockbuster season is supposed to be big dumb fun for the kids. It's not supposed to be Tarkovsky or whatever, but it would be nice to have just a shred of humanity to hang my coat on. All I want is just a little humanity and character to make the action and spectacle even vaguely meaningful. Otherwise we may as well just be eating popcorn, staring at a giant lava lamp and gently dribbling on ourselves. Ooh, look at the pretty lights and splosions.
It reminds me of Tom Shone's great book about blockbusters. He makes much of the fact that Jaws was a film with great excitement and a big monster, but also made time for tender little father and son scenes like this:
When I was in the UK a few weeks back I saw the most extraordinary documentary.
It was about the Stone Roses reunion and it was called Made of Stone.
Here is the trailer:
It's directed by Stone Roses fan and brilliant filmmaker Shane Meadows and is quite simply a masterpiece. It is very rarely I feel a film deserves five stars, but Made of Stone doesn't put a foot wrong.
Pacific Rim is terrific fun. It's an intensely visual, broad and goofy sugar-rush of a movie.
At last, a blockbuster to get truly excited about.
It has an innocent sense of glee at the sheer spectacle of giant robots wrestling with giant monsters. It's been a long time since I've seen a film at the cinema with such a sense of unbridled fun and love for the possibilities of big-screen adventure.
Pacific Rim has a much broader tone than I expected. There are goofy sight gags in the middle of fight scenes, and characters like the two wacky scientists are drawn with a very broad brush. This took a few moments of adjustment. I think I have been so browbeaten by the forbidding tone of many mainstream movies that it took me 20 minutes to adjust to a movie brimful of joy and adventure.
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