What We’re Watching – 8/17/11

The Fall
Tomatometer Score: 59%

Being only 1% away from a non-rotten score almost made me not add The Fall to the list, but this film isn’t a 60% or even a 70%. I honestly struggle to see, beyond any other movie I’ll mention here, why this film isn’t rated higher and treated like the classic I believe it actually is.

The Fall, set in the 1920s, tells the story of a paralyzed stuntman, Roy, entertaining a girl, Alexandra, with an epic tale of evil rulers, courageous heroes and love and revenge, from his hospital bed. Tarsem Singh’s beautifully set and shot images of the fantasy world are like nothing I’ve seen before or after; it’s absolutely stunning. The title sequence alone has more dignity and imagination than a majority of far more expensive and popular movies. The film really comes into its own in the last hour, when imagery of both Roy’s and Alexandra’s lives begins to seep into the fantasy world, making the audience unsure of whose world we are actually watching. I can’t really express how subtle and intelligent The Fall actually is without giving away most of the story, but it does pose questions of morality and the language of cinema itself in a way I’ve never seen before. That said, for how in-depth it can be, it’s not essential to the enjoyment of the film at all. The thing about The Fall is, it is very smart, but it’s not pretentious. It doesn’t smugly hide behind Singh’s visuals, with only half-formed thoughts masked as intentionally ambiguous content. It’s an honest and multi-layered film, which can be picked apart by academics or watched simply as an epic fantasy tale.

The Last Airbender
Tomatometer Score: 6%

I’m a massive M. Night Shyamalan apologist, so this is obviously a biased observation, but according to Rottentomato ratings: Nic Cage’s remake of The Wicker Man (15%), Halle Berry’s Catwoman (10%) and Meet Dave (19%) are considered better-made films. Now, I’m not saying The Last Airbender is amazing, but I’ve seen Meet Dave and actually don’t have a large enough vocabulary to describe how bad it is. As far as I’m concerned, The Last Airbender is fine; it’s not really good and could have been a better told film, but it’s not bad in the way the other films mentioned here are. In a lot of ways, Shyamalan has created this problem for himself, as he’s created a career based on his need to be seen as an auteur. He’s put himself on a pedestal and when he gets it wrong, it’s so easy and tempting to give it a nudge.

I’ve never seen the cartoon that this film is based on, but it seems to be a big factor in both the positive and negative reviews, including a well balanced one on this very website. It looks like it was simply too big a job; it’s a well loved and established franchise with a large group of hardcore fans that wouldn’t take anything but a fantastic adaptation, and rightfully so. But I didn’t watch this film with that previous knowledge, and all I really wanted was a fairly light story of people fighting with magical powers, and it delivered on that front. It has its pacing problems and I expected more from Shyamalan, but for a director with little experience of CGI to this scale and huge choreographed battles, I thought he handled it all pretty well. If this wasn’t seen as an “M. Night Shyamalan film,” I don’t think it would be sitting with its lowly 6%, and I hope in a few years when Shyamalan has either returned to form or is less in the crosshairs of the cinemagoing public that The Last Airbender will perhaps treated a bit more fairly.

Jingle All the Way
Tomatometer Score: 15%

If the world thinks Arnold fighting Sinbad over a thinly-veiled Buzz Lightyear toy at Christmas is a bad thing, well that’s a world I want no part of. Jingle all the Way is a cash-in, it’s not well written and doesn’t have anything to say, but it’s perfect for Christmas. It’s flashy, stupid and ultimately pointless and I would watch it every year if I could. Like in Kindergarten Cop, Schwarzenegger’s inability to deliver comedic lines is funnier than if he nailed the material. It’s got a confused, overly sentimental message that Christmas is about family not gifts, even if the film kind of tells me that I’d be a loser without a Turbo-man toy and Sinbad’s in it.

Christmas films in the majority are terrible; they live and are viewed in a world of their own. Nostalgia and festive spirit inform my opinion on what makes a good Christmas film in a way that any analysis of direction, narrative or acting ability never could. I don’t want to watch or think about Jingle all the Way or any other Christmas film in July; I watch them during the holiday and the last thing I care about then is if it’s a good film or not. It really doesn’t need to be; it just has to make me feel that Christmas is awesome, and Jingle all the Way does.

If you’ve never seen it, don’t buy it, just wait and when it gets colder and you’re planning your Christmas shopping, have a look to see if it’s on TV, and if it is, put your feet up and remember that every Christmas should be stupid and fun and ideally have Sinbad in it.

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Sean was born and continues to live in Edinburgh, Scotland. He spends his spare time watching terrible films and then complaining about them to anyone present, regardless of their interest.

You can reach Sean via email, he doesn't have time for Twitter.

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