When I posted “Meh” Movies and Me on 8 September, that was meant to be that. I had a list of movies going forward that I planned to watch and review, and none of them were big-budget, “event” movies made with conspicuous excess and an unhealthy reliance on CGI (well, all except The Legend of Tarzan). The first movie on the list was Black Tar Road (2016), and that was meant to be followed – today – by Zoom (2015), and then I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016). But instead of watching either movie I re-watched an old favourite, To Be or Not to Be (1942), and episode six of Jessica Jones (what can I say? I lag behind when it comes to TV series’). Why did I watch these instead? That’s a fair question, and the answer is simple, albeit in two parts.
Firstly, I wondered if I’d over-reacted. After all, I’d had a bad run, three movies in a row that had earned themselves 3/10 because they were basically rubbish. They were movies that really should have been vetoed at the idea stage. But they were made, they attracted well-known names to them, and they were all heavily promoted as if they were must-see movies. Now I like Jason Statham, and I like Idris Elba, and I like… Rose Byrne, and if they all appeared in the same movie together I would probably make a point of seeing it as soon as possible. But instead they made a trio of movies that were as soul-destroying as watching that last Rolo get away from you (apologies to anyone outside of Britain who doesn’t get that last analogy/joke). They made a trio of movies that they should have known – from day one – were going to be bad. Actually, not just bad, but appalling. I’m all for actors being employed and able to pay their bills each month, but can their mortgage really mean more than their self-esteem – or their reputation?
And so, the more I thought about it, the more I decided that, no, I hadn’t over-reacted. I’d been right, right to challenge the status quo, and right to call out anyone who makes a movie with the knowledge that it’s going to suck; and especially if they use millions and millions of dollars to make it. But after watching and reviewing Black Tar Road (and on the whole, liking it quite a bit), I realised that I needed a bit of a cooling off period. I needed to watch something that would remind me that mainstream movies can be entertaining, that they can have well-constructed and thought out scripts, that the cast can take those scripts and use them to create wonderful, memorable characters, and that directors can be bold and decisive and in tune with the material and above all, take risks. And so, To Be or Not to Be, which has all of those things. And Jessica Jones, which has them too, but in a different way.
But I said the answer was in two parts, didn’t I? Well, the second part is a little less obvious. When you’ve seen as many movies as I have – 14,432 and counting as of today – then you get a little set in your ways and your opinions. Not about whether or not a movie is an appalling piece of crap and doesn’t deserve to see the light of day – that’s a constant that should never be discouraged. No, it’s when you’re five or ten minutes into a movie and you know exactly how it’s going to end (and how it’s going to get there), and what’s going to happen to the characters. There are signs everywhere and most of them aren’t very subtle, which is why some movies feel like ninety minutes or more of déjà vu. Black Tar Road is such a movie, and though I liked it, it has a predictable nature to it that is as off-putting (to me) as watching a movie where you’re led by the hand from scene to scene.
One of the great things about To Be or Not to Be is that even if you watch it more than once, it retains a freshness and an easy charm that’s never diminished. This is due to the quality applied to the material in every department. And Jessica Jones, while conforming to many of the expectations of contemporary television, regularly and repeatedly tries to subvert those expectations in order to keep its audience engaged and coming back for more. With this in mind, shouldn’t movies be doing the same? Shouldn’t they be trying to subvert our expectations? I think they should be, but maybe I’m in a minority. Maybe everyone else is happy with the status quo and watching movies that continually fail to meet the demands of modern audiences. And maybe that’s what today’s movie makers are counting on: that we just don’t care enough to complain, or change our viewing habits for the better.
And that really is that.