#30DayFilmChallenge – Week Three

Cineworld’s campaign on social media is the perfect fit for my blog, so I decided to do a post a week for six weeks, combining brief answers with more comprehensive rambles.

It’s interesting to ask yourself these questions and try to think of anecdotes, because it’s those experiences that truly resonate – and why we love films and the cinematic experience.

That is what I miss the most, and will miss even more the longer that I can’t safely return to my local cinema!

(Read part one, including days one to five, here; and read part two, including days six to ten, here)

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Day 11 – a film that made you cheer at the cinema

This is one of those questions that, as a British cinemagoer, seems almost too American to answer! How many British people have ever actually cheered or witnessed a cheer during a film? I don’t think I can actually remember ever hearing cheers – laughter yes, but never a cheer. Maybe Oxfordshire audiences are different…

I’m going to take a different tact and tell you about a film that I left with my mouth agape, and which absolutely blew my mind when I saw it – you wouldn’t cheer at it, but there were points at which everything reached such a spectacular crescendo that had I been an actual film critic, I would have nearly cheered on a filmmaking basis alone!

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I think it’s hard to overestimate how significant Inception was and how influential it continues to be. Christopher Nolan’s new film Tenet seems to be playing with time and perception in a similar way, but in terms of cinema full stop this film was a gamechanger on multiple levels.

A huge budget, movie star blockbuster that forced audiences to think and concentrate, it is formed around a truly unique concept and as such still feels new and vital even 10 years later (WHERE IS MY LIFE GOING?!). Plotted, edited and staged like a Russian doll, complete with brain twisting imagery and a trailblazing a score, I remember seeing this for the first time and the feeling of absolute awe I had.

This wasn’t just restricted to me – the friends I saw this with, I distinctly remember, all came out of this unable to stop talking about this film. And one scene in particular had all of us confess we’d almost stopped breathing, it was so audacious and gripping – the frankly insane corridor fight in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt barrels down a twisting, turning nightmare of a dream corridor during a fight with a goon.

I know how that scene was made – I know what it took and how little CGI was required. And yet I can still watch it and feel that little familiar flutter in the chest at the jawdropping nature of how it comes across, and its perfect position in a crescendo of tension, drama and action. It’s so unreal and yet so tangibly real at the same time – ironically a perfect summary of the film.

So many other elements are incredible that it’s absolutely an experience that – had I been the cheering type – I would have cheered at. Perhaps not what other people might and definitely will have chosen, but it floored me and I still love going back to it to try and recapture that feeling.

Day 12 – a film that left you feeling confused

Fortunately I understood Inception enough that I didn’t need to put it down for this answer too! I’ll name a film that most people won’t even have heard of – and if you have seen it, it’s highly likely you felt the same way.

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The review tagline at the top of the poster for Primer is the perfect summary of this film. It takes the idea of a time travel movie and applies complex, rigorous science to it – meaning that following the multiple paths and frankly headache-inducing plot had me pausing it far too often and – at the end – getting even more confused by the plot synopsis on Wikipedia.

I defy you to watch it and not get lost and confused, and it sounds as if director Shane Carruth’s other films are equally mind-bending. I can’t recall many other films I’ve been mystified by as I’ve watched them (if anything too many are too simple) – though I’ve had one particular experience (The Dark Knight Rises) where it took me until about five seconds after the film finished to work out what had just happened in the final act. Very embarrassing, and this is the first time I’ve confessed to that (was I not paying attention? I don’t know!).

Day 13 – a film that made you want to travel

This is a tough one to answer because the very nature of most cinema is that use of real locations (or excellent special effects) that fool you into thinking you’re somewhere else. If we’re going to make this about real life locations that made me want to travel, I’m now going to have to deploy the first of the three big guns (you’ll see why in the following weeks) – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

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All three films in this series awoke most of the world to the untamed, mystical beauty of New Zealand, and this film was no exception. I chose it because it feels far more wild and epic in its filmmaking (and less CGI or studio heavy), specifically in its use of the frankly ridiculous mountains and valleys of the South Island.

We were supposed to be (and who knows, might yet be able to) go to New Zealand in November and December for the holiday of a lifetime – and these films are a HUGE part of why. For reasons I will get to when the relevant days come in future posts, this trilogy is an intrinsic part of my life, from books to cinema to travel – despite being filmed 20 years ago now (JESUS), the scenes in the great wildernesses of New Zealand still can’t fail to call to people – they certainly have to me!

Day 14 – your favourite film from your least favourite genre

Now this is the calibre of question that I enjoy. It’s a properly tough one to answer, because there aren’t many genres I really don’t like. Romantic comedies have their many minuses but plenty of pluses (particularly when well cast and written), while slow burning romantic dramas (see the stereotypical theme emerging here?) are again engaging enough should they hold your attention!

My least favourite genre in cinema is, undoubtedly, musicals. I have very much enjoyed TWO musicals in the theatre (Les Miserables and The Book of Mormon, for very different reasons), which feels like it should be the genre’s natural home. Musicals, by their very nature, should be performed live and in front of an audience. On film they seem stupid, overly staged and frankly boring to those of us looking for cinematic immersion.

I am probably going to be perceived as both puerile and immature for this choice, but then if you know about The Book of Mormon and who wrote it, you’re probably expecting this anyway…

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This was watched far, far too often by me and my sister as teens – we’d not been allowed to watch the show on TV, but this was an early DVD in our collection (so long ago that the box was cardboard with that plastic clip, and there was no picture on the disc). This is a remarkable musical in the sense that yes, the lyrics and the songs are ridiculous (assorted titles: Uncle Fucker, I’m Super (Thanks for Asking), Blame Canada).

However, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are clearly HUGE musical fans – you only have to watch South Park, Team America: World Police or indeed go and see The Book of Mormon for evidence. Their songwriting always entertained me as a teenage boy (LOL SWEARING), but as an adult I could not get over how clever this film is as a pastiche of Les Mis, right down to the songs and medleys.

I can still sing nearly every word to some of these songs, and it was a sign that when Parker and Stone got nominated for Best Song at the Oscars (for Blame Canada) they could go onto something even better (side note: they wore dresses to the ceremony worn by famous actresses the year before, and took LSD/acid – incredible). 

That was The Book of Mormon, which continues to be (until lockdown) one of the most popular musicals globally. So it’s hilariously ironic that me, the hater of cinema musicals, would choose their first attempt at the genre when they’re now top of that particular world.

Day 15 – a film that broke your heart

This is actually quite easy, bizarrely. I’ve cried at films a fair few times in my life (not for a good few years now), but I have never had the breakdown emotionally that I did when I saw The Green Mile for the first time.

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I’ve no idea why this hit quite so hard when it did, but then it’s a great film and a really strong adaptation of a lesser known Stephen King book – King is incredible at writing stirring, emotional novels that aren’t particularly horror focused. Much like the Frank Darabont directed King adaptation The Shawshank Redemption, this is a movie about the worst and very best of humanity via the prism of imprisonment.

You get slowly but surely sucked into the supernatural elements, but it’s the incredible performances from Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan that make this soar. Duncan in particular gives his best ever performance as the kindly, gentlest of giants John Coffey; while Hanks is operating at his usual high level as the prison guard gradually converted to the wonders of this unlikely prisoner.

The film stirringly and tragically adapts the book, but layers it with crafty editing and an emotional score to absolutely hammer you with its conclusion. It’s one of the most bittersweet and unfair resolutions to a film I’ve ever seen, and when I first saw it I was inconsolable (literally distraught) during and after! I’ve seen it since and felt fine, so something about it at the time I saw it must have resonated particularly strongly.

All told, this and Shawshank illustrate the rare but perfect combination of Stephen King’s uplifting, fantastic writing and Frank Darabont’s exceptional filmmaking. Only The Mist (a disgracefully underrated horror) has seen the two come together again – and with the recent Kingnaissance in cinemas, surely someone needs to give Darabont a crack at another one of the less known but more human dramas in the King back catalogue.

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