Category Archives: L

Is La La Land becoming a victim of its own positive reviews?

I have not seen LA LA Land, but I want to tell a story about it, and the point of this story is to raise a couple of interesting points about the power of film reviews. The film was first screened in august of 2016, making its way around a heap of high profile film festivals for the rest of the year, before general release over the holidays. It was well received, seriously well received.  Of the 80 or so reviews posted to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes during this period a grand total of four give the film a negative score. Here we are using, and acknowledge the issues with, the blunt force metric of Rotten Tomatoes own ‘fresh/rotten’ measure.

The positive reactions to the film continued when it hit the cinemas for general release. The number of reviews increases significantly at this point (to over 300). Alongside this increase, perhaps inevitably, we also see an increase in less than positive reviews.

I have put all the reviews listed on Rotten Tomatoes into a graph. It simply marks a positive review as a +1, and a negative review as a -1. You can see that the graph is clearly top heavy, those negative reviews on the bottom are barely making a dent. What is interesting though is the box I have marked in red. Aside from that one outlier later in February, the negative reviews seem to dry up.

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So what is going on? It’s clear that people are still reviewing the film, the general level of reviews is certainly reduced in comparison to the amount published right after the film is released, but it has not dried up to nothing. To illustrate what I think might be going on I have replicated the same graph, but on this copy I have stood a little Oscar right on the date when the Oscars nominations were announced.

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Look at him there, guarding that square of nothing but positive reviews. So did the Oscars make the film untouchable? As bastions of taste, even at their most candid I cannot imagine a reviewer admitting to being influenced by something as ephemeral as an Oscar nomination. But 14? Maybe that is different. There perhaps something about the Oscars, as awards that a nominated within the industry, that marks them as especially noteworthy.

So what about that brave soul who managed to swim against the tidal wave of positivity and publish a negative review all the way out in late February? Well Cole Smitheys review is actually not alone. His review is part of a wider discourse about the film that begins to develop in February that did not make it on to Rotten Tomatoes because none of it was ostensibly reviewing the film. Smithley just does not think the film is that good, but he is joined by other dissenting voices that question the film in some potentially far more important ways, asking if it demonstrates questionable attitudes to race and gender, and wondering about the disingenuous lack of gay characters.

Alongside a long discussion about whether the film does Jazz any favours, a guardian article titled ‘The La La Land Backlash’ sums up these other issues, then notes:

“… it’s hard to imagine any of these complaints getting much traction if La La Land were not such an enormous hit. Had it been met with indifference by critics and audiences, my hunch is that nobody would care so much about its racial or gender politics.” – Noah Gittell

Akin to asking, does anyone care, if no one notices, which, given the amount of films with questionable attitudes to almost anything you can think of that are released every year (The Bechdel test isn’t going away anytime soon, for example) seems like it might well be a truism here. However, we need to look at what we mean by ‘enormous hit’ – because with La La land we are probably not talking about outright box office success. The film had an epic opening weekend, probably a result of all that film festival hype and those endless positive reviews. But depending which absolute measure you look at, there are still 18 or so films sitting above La La Land in terms of box office takings over the past year. Beyond this, even with all of those amazing reviews, with an undoubtedly high 93% (critics) rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it is not some sort of mega success outlier in the top twenty. This means that La La Lands ‘enormous hit’ status is discursive, people talk about it being an enormous hit, whilst it is in real terms, or as real terms as something like this can ever be measured, probably just a high performing big budget movie.

So what does this mean for film goers, or, perhaps more importantly, reviewers. There is evidence to suggest a discursive echo chamber has formed around the film here. A film perceived as a successful, enormous hit will be discussed as such, a self-fulfilling prophecy that serves to push the film deep into the public eye. In the case of La La Land, perhaps a little too deep – because up that close its far easier to see the inconsistencies between what is being said about the film and what one’s own reality of experiencing it is. So did positive reviews kill La La land? I guess we’ll find out on Oscars day.

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Les Miserables

This review contains spoilers, but since I assume everyone in the world already knows the story it’s ok. It is surely a testament to the success of Les Miserables that any mention of the French Revolution is inextricably associated with flag waving barricade dwellers, defiantly standing against their oppressors and eventually rising to storm the Bastille. Perhaps though, that is the enduring image because it is actually what happened, that Les Mis co-opts this exciting and romantic narrative to be subjugated with a horrible little romance is frankly rather a shame. I have never seen the play. This is because I am no fan of musical theatre, and said theatres translation into film is never going to be especially appealing to me. I dislike all the standing around, its actually quite difficult to do anything whilst you are singing your little heart out. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch this outstandingly long film. It starts with singing, then there is more singing, then at the end, people are still singing. I don’t suppose I should have expected anything else. The thing is, for a film that is so bloody long, which ostensibly spans many years of French history, nothing much really happens.  Actually, that is not true, loads of stuff happens: a scumbag has a revelation that he probably shouldn’t be a scumbag, some other dude tries to catch him a lot, someone becomes a prostitute, some guys try to do a revolution, and someone kills themselves for no real reason. All this stuff though is ultimately in the service of the least interesting, and frankly confounding aspect of the story, a love affair based, literally, on a lingering glance across a crowded street. Most of that other stuff was quite exciting and fun, if gloriously stupid (especially the killing of self), but the love stuff is so wildly ridiculous that it is frankly astounding that it even exists as a plot device. Our main man Huge Jack Man literally decides he is willing to die, so some twerp he has never met, and who, incidentally, his daughter has only met for about seven seconds, can live. Given that the story so carefully lays out the reasons behind the French Revolution (basically everything being awful) it’s surprising that the same sort of care is not given to establishing at least some sort of relationship between the two people about which the whole film comes to revolve. Establishing a relationship would literally have required there to be some sense of them spending a couple of hours in a room together, and maybe a nice steamy scene to nicely juxtapose the awful prostitute times of Cassette tapes mother.  Did I mention her name is Cassette? I mean, its Cosette really, but it’s one of the only ways to make the film less infuriating if you call her Cassette tape. Les Mis isn’t a bad film for what it is, and I have no doubt lovers of the play will enjoy it. Really my issue is with the story not the film. I just really, really, can’t see how a story with such a shallow, meaningless love affair at its very heart has endured for so long.

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Lone Survivor

It’s an imaginary world where I have become a big shot Hollywood movie director, and somehow, I have achieved this whilst maintaining a moral compass. A producer comes to me with a package: Action movie based on a bestselling book, Mark Wahlberg, Afghanistan. I am all over it, this is a going to be great, we can go with the anti-war angle, because this is now obligatory, and still the good guys can pulverize the enemy whilst playing some tunes over the loud speakers, America wins again. Except “You didn’t let me finish … Action movie, Mark Wahlberg, Afghanistan, true story, only one man lives”. Oh, that, I wouldn’t touch. Because it is a potentially depressing story? Because America very much don’t get to win? No, because of those magic words true story. I think that true story is a fantastic pair of words to use in outstandingly uplifting and heartwarming situations or at the start of horror movies. Here though it is just slightly confusing. Lone Survivor is basically an action movie in the classic jingoistic, hero worshipping sense; it absolutely reinforces the notion that to die fighting bad people for the freedom of good people is an honourable and perhaps glorious way to go, and equally that good prevails. There is also no denying that it is a pretty amazing story. The advertising campaign made a big deal out of the fact that the one man who survived the events upon which the film is based was fully on board with the film. Those who didn’t make it were his friends and colleagues, and there is a definite sense that he felt that the film honoured those people, and went some way to showing their heroism and humanity in the face of unimaginable adversity. In this sense the film works. The problem I have with it is that people died, and this film graphically shows how that occurred. Morally, I am not sure where this places both the people who made the film and those of us who watched it. The film is, after all, entertainment, perhaps this is more problematic in this sense than with regard to the book upon which it draws. These events, written, and read are inextricably connected to the people who experienced them, the act of reading gives time to contemplate the position these people found themselves in, and time to consider the sacrifice they made in service to their country. What the film does though is allow Mark Wahlberg and some other actors to shoot an awful lot of people, before those other actors get shot themselves. There is no time to contemplate, it all looks amazing, exciting, awful, its Rambo but with the terrible realization that things like this actually happen. The question I am asking myself is why does the film exist? I am not saying it is a story which shouldn’t be told, there is an exceptionally important, and poignant point to it all. I am just not sure it should have been packaged, sold, and fun to watch.

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Lego Batman The Movie : DC Super Heroes Unite

Batman. I really like Batman. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch the Lego Batman movie. Pinpointing the source of this trepidation is difficult. The Lego movie was brilliant, Batman is amazing, there doesn’t seem like much that can go wrong with the combination. The issue though was that the Lego movie relied heavily on its meta-this is controlled by human/creativity is good storyline, and this is essentially something which can only be done once. I was wondering just how they were going to play this. Well, the first thing to note is that the film works, its really good fun, the story bumbles along nicely and the film makers have really managed to carry on performing that special trick of making Lego characters engaging. This is what is confusing for the first half an hour though, the fact that it is Lego Batman, rather than just Batman, doesn’t seem to make the slightest bit of difference. No one does anything specifically ‘lego-ey’. It is all made far more confusing by the go to Batman reference point being the 89/97 Batman quadrilogy, its like the Nolan trilogy has not happened, until a hokey and overly self aware Joker fails to blow up a building on the first try, a la the brilliant hospital scene in The Dark Knight. Its like the fun mash up Lego-ness has morphed out of the bricks and into a confusing (but exciting) plethora of cultural references. Brilliant fun, but the question remains, why does this need to be Lego at all? Unfortunately it remains that these films are there to sell the games which may or may not be there to sell the actual, physical Lego, who knows which makes the company more money, and the tie in for DC comics is nothing short of marketing genius. As the film progresses the Lego element does become more pronounced, things get rebuilt and re-arranged, a pretty brilliant costume change involving whole legs and torsos occurs and the Green Lantern shows up, a character whose power seems to cohere so well with the concept of Lego that its a wonder the movie we saw in the cinema wasn’t based around him entirely. Its a good movie, fun, interesting and just self aware enough to have something for die hard Bat fans as well as, well, people who like Lego I guess, but no matter how good it is it will never escape the fact that it exists really to sell something else.

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The Last Stand

You have probably had hundreds of experiences with Chekhovs gun rule even if you are not entirely sure what it is, and if you watch action movies then you have absolutely been subjected to Chekovs rule. How does it feel to have Chekhov fiddling around with your brain without your knowledge? The rule goes something like this: “If a gun is visible in a film/play then at some point in that film it must go off”, the rule is supposed to stand regardless of if the gun is mounted on the wall in some grand hallway, or stashed under a drug dealers grungy bed in a shoe box. It relies basically on the principle that movies and plays are fundamentally constructed and that if a gun is present it has to have been placed there for a reason. Unlike say, a toilet roll tube, for which there are millions of possible uses, guns tend to only get fired. Why this lengthly and rather uninteresting discussion of Chehovs gun rule? Well, very few people know this, but there is a sub-rule, a lesser known variant if you will, and it reads thusly: “If an apparently ancillary character happens to, for some reason, own a large collection of vintage firearms – labeled for tax and licensing reasons as a ‘museum’ …” well you can probably guess the rest. Such is the absolute ridiculousness of The Last Stand. Its fantastic. It has everything you ever really wanted from and Arnie film. I think though, all the brilliant craziness is down to director Kim Jee-Woon, who bought us one of my favorites of 2008, The Good, the Bad and the Weird. You can certainly sense his influence in a film thats basic premise relies on a Chevy zr1 being faster than a helicopter (it isn’t, even if it is ‘heavily modified’ to over 1000 bhp). He really doesn’t want to let too much reality get in the way of a good tale. Gun museums and wildly inaccurate top speeds are all part of the fun. In fact, they are a requirement, this much silliness is the only thing to distract you from the fact that Arnie is in his mid sixties and doesn’t even take his shirt off. He still got it though, hocking around a 44 magnum like its nothing. Good old Arnie.

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The Last Harbour

The Last Harbour was a bit like an episode of Midsomer Murders. The issue really is that Midsomer Murders is an hour long, not even including adverts and all that jazz. The Last Harbour is actually a full ten years long. Ten years is really a long time to try to spread an hours worth of material over, the spreading gets really awfully thin. There is actually quite a good mystery story stuck in there in the fine tradition of introducing a few suspects, a few ‘maybe’ moments, and a big finish. When the story is spread this thin though the ‘maybe’ moments come between years of barren, mind numbing plotlessness, and the big finish is about as satisfying as cuddling a brick. I know, you are thinking, that film was not ten years long, he is being stupid there and making things up. But the truth is, I fell asleep half way through and when I woke up all sorts of things had happened. That is, all sorts of things had happened in the real world, in the movie absolutely nothing occured at all. For all I know I slept for ten years. Governments have been ousted in less time. It happened just today. None the less, to be completist I skipped back to the place where I fell asleep. The basic premise is that someone is dead. A sort of washed up but still super macho cop has to solve the crime because he has been shipped to sleepy harbour (I cant remember the actual name, but this will do) because he did macho beating on a kid whilst he was drunk. He is so macho that sometimes when he speaks he doesnt even move his lips. Anyway he does the crime solving by generally being the most ridiculously over zealous cop ever, thats when he isnt doing an awful job of getting over his alcohol problem. He becomes a sort of caricature alcoholic, he begins producing bottles from the most ridiculous places, and for some reason everyone in the damn town keeps pushing booze his way, at one point another recovering alcoholic, who ostensibly wants to help him, offers him a beer. This makes it sound like I hated the film. If you need to fill ten years of your life I would recommend it, its absolutely un-taxing, and you can spend a year of that working out who the killer is. Clue – its exactly who you think it is. The Last Harbour will make you probably want to become an alcoholic, there are no major ramifications, unless you want to start reading the death of an person completely unrelated to the main character as somehow allegorical of … I dont know … the death of his long held dream of being clean and sober. 

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The Last Exorcism, Part II

Good old demonic possession. It is a classic theme which fits into the horror movie cycle somewhere between zombies and vampires. Audiences who have had their fill of those (slightly) more earthly terrors need usually only wait a couple of years before something comes along from the gates of hell. The issue is that whilst zombies have used their newfound space on television to explore more mundane questions of community and family, and vampires have ramped up the sex sells angle, the exorcism movie hasn’t innovated a great deal. This may be why the found footage faux documentary style of the first Last Exorcism movie, with its weird back woods incest subtexts and creepy ‘if this doesnt work I’ll just kill you’ approach, was such a success – it was at least something a little different. Even the formula exorcism movie, done well, can be creepy without any of this revisionist silliness, the orignal and best just had some crappy spinning head effects and some pea soup and people were literally crapping themselves over it, the use of the word literally there is perhaps debatable. The Last Exorcism, part II, which I am arguing should really have been named “The Last Last Exorcism”, paving the way for a never ending run of remakes and sequels with increasingly absurd numbers of lasts in their titles, was neither scary in any ‘traditional’ sense, nor did it bring anything new to the table in the same way that its predecessor did. It starts off promisingly enough, Nell, the slightly annoying sole survivor of the first film is introduced to such sensual pleasures as rock music (which all the teenagers were enjoying in 2013, this sounded particularly 80s influenced), boys and lipstick. Despite the questionable representation of ‘the youff’ and their interests there is something potentially interesting going on here as Nells slow re-integration into the world of normal teenage life is interrupted by strange ghostly appearances by her father – and stalwarts of lazy horror film making – Flies! Cant beat some flies to signal that something creepy is going down. The psycologically scary, and interesting potential for it all to be in the head of the leading character is played with for all of about fifteen seconds, rather than keep us guessing though the film throws some crows at some windows and ramps up the dark shadows and its downhill from here. You’ll think the ending is about as scary as casper the friendly ghost before you realise a seven year old has been let loose with a really not that great special effects package and the result has been tacked on – leaving ‘The Last Last Last Exorcism” the option of either going down the “it was all a dream” route, or doing away with small town peril angle and taking demon killing global. Reviews of crappy horror movies invariably end with a ‘ its not bad for a few cheap scares whilst you have a beer with some friends’ – but really I would just steer clear altogether.

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The Lone Ranger

In a change to advertised programming I will today be writing about a film which I did not rent, but saw at the cinema. It might have been that I had to sit with all the commoners in the dark, or that I couldn’t comprehend the massive size of the screen but I was slightly excited and slightly scared when I sat down to watch The Lone Ranger. I was right to be scared, it was simply the shittest thing I have seen all year. I loved it. I couldn’t stop smiling. I think it might have been because I had no idea how else to respond to how ridiculous it all was. Spoilers follow, though its difficult to spoil turds, even ones polished by Disney. Everything you have heard is true, its just like pirates, but on land, mostly on trains. This would be fine if, like pirates its was all a pretty fantasy (I suppose except for the East India trading company thing) but this is playing fast and exceptionally loose with a bit of history in which a whole bunch of people died. How does the film acknowledge this? By having a horrific (I mean first scene of Saving Private Ryan just without as much blood) massacre of native Cherokee (I think, couldn’t keep track to be honest). Not a single ones lives, the chief is disembowelled. A moment to take take in the horror? Realise what we need to learn from this? Nope, just directly back to shit jokes about a horse in a tree. This is not mention the sexism, the horrific acting, the incredible run time the fact that someone in the credits was called crash…. I am not sure I ever watched the original, so maybe this was a perfect tribute, maybe the lone ranger was just the worst actor ever and im not getting it. I think not though. Its hard to hate on a movie this much, especially when I actually really enjoyed hating it. i just hope anyone going with their kids will explain why its so wrong. The Lone Ranger theme though – bloody brilliant.

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Lawless

Tom Hardy is just ridiculously cool, everything he does is cool, and I want to be him. So I am not being disrespectful when I say that the voices he adopts for films are fairly silly. In Lawless he adopts a Keanu style of dialogue delivery which involves saying very little, and what he does say makes no sense. I mean he sounds cool when he does it but as a method of character development its a bit crap. Lawless was good, classic good vs evil tale with an entirely superfluous female character. I am not saying there shouldn’t have been a female character in the film, but Lawless works completely without her, she doesn’t really serve as proper motivation for anything, and just goes around being all weak, then motherly, then a bit slutty … Then actually a mother … So just a bunch of stereotypical woman stuff. If a superfluous woman character is an absolute requirement they could have at least not made the film seem a bit sexist in her depiction. But then I suppose she might not have been superfluous, then presumably they night have had to pay her the same as Tom Hardy, and he barely even spoke a word of sense.

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Lockout

Lockout is so stupid its quite hard to think of any other adjectives to describe it, none the less I shall try – dumb, idiotic, silly, annoying … What mostly comes to mind is a sort of noise that starts of like this “duuuuhhhh” and ends with “whatthefuckingfuck”, the last bit should get more high pitched towards the end. Try saying it out loud and you’ll see how this is the a good, neigh the only good response to Lockout. Its not so much that there are plot holes (though there are many many plot holes) its that so much of the stupidity could have been solved so simply. Case in point – only eight prisoners of a population of thousands seem to have the wherewithal to stop fighting each other for the ten seconds it takes to find a hostage, EIGHT! I mean for goodness sake, what the hell are all those other motherfucking prisoners even doing! This could so simply been solved with this one line of dialogue “I locked the door behind us, can’t have all those other motherfucking prisoners messing with our hostages”. It would have been that simple, but no, instead I must believe that they were all simply too dumb to do anything but move five paces then have a fight. Were the only dumb thing in Lockout i might forgive it, but its literally full of crap like this and the usual “but it has good action sequences/boobs” argument doesnt stand up here because all of that is overshadowed by the fact that its also a bit racist, and so eye wateringly sexist that even someone who would use the argument that a film can be good purely because it has boobs in it would find it offensive.

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