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Thinking pop culture

On Cinematic Catnip

One of my big criticisms of Her centred on Joaquin Phoenix. Notably his face. There were an abundance of close-ups – it was, afterall, largely a one-man-band kind of a film – and apparently he was instructed to do all his acting with his facial hair.

One of my big compliments for Philomena centred on Steve Coogan. Notably his face. Again, there were plenty of close-ups. Unlike Phoenix however, Coogan twitched and smirked in only the narrowest of ranges. And it felt subtle and real and at times breath-takingly devastating.

Fear not: my comparisons of the two (very dissimilar) films end there.

An eccentric old woman. Vicious nuns. Catholic guilt. Sweeping vistas of Ireland.

It was as though the Philomena writers pinned a photo of my grandmother on their whiteboard and set about making her all weak-kneed and panting to get use from her Poor Old Pensioner’s card.

A line from the TV series Upper Middle Bogan described a movie plot: “Judi Dench and Maggie Smith inherit a tumbled-down Tuscan villa.” While completely bogus, the synopsis humorously describes a familiar “type” of film that near-effortlessly appeals to a whiter, older and more cardigan-ed cohort than I ascribe.

The last time I was so confidant that a film was targeting “others” was Enough Said. The trailer was all about luring the baby-boomer/empty-nester dollars and in turn, left me quietly confidant that my parents would thoroughly enjoy it. (Which, for the record, they did).

I’m not however, crying foul. On the contrary. Just as Sunrise is (awkardly) trying to court the young'ns - cue a cringe-worthy scene of Kochie lamenting the death of Pete Seeger and co-host Sam almost proudly claiming to have never heard of him (seemingly in solidarity with The Kids) - films routinely flatter their audiences with generationally-appropriate, cohort-cajoling carrots.

Her, for example, was clearly designed to arouse me. To court an audience whose whole romantic life has been shaped – for better, for worse – by technology. To sway a demographic that has grown up with MTV-style slick cinematography and who swoon at the inclusion of The Breeders and Arcade Fire on the soundtrack.

I’ve written recently about actors who will, in varying degrees, cause me to recoil. People aside, there’s actually quite the bevy of things that turn me away from films. Some which reflect my age, others which are more associated with personal pet peeves.

I hate, for example, films staged in stately homes with drawing rooms and boasting a fixation with fish forks and characters doing the galliard.

Neither am I partial to films about sport. Or movie-length animation. Or films about nations/planets/solar systems/ozone layers under threat. No films with frat houses and kegs. Vampires. Zombies. Aliens. Monsters. Unicorns. Superhoeroes. Any films involving a saloon. Or dwelled upon scenery. Rarely do I tolerate characters spontaneously bursting into song/dance/kung-fu/flames. Or biopics. Films with excessive use of knives. Or drugs. Or talking pets. Or talking babies. Singing children. Possessed children. Possessed anything. Synopses containing the word “saga”.

So if I know what I don’t like, what sucks me in then? If Judi Dench is cinematic catnip for my grandmother, what film fetishes have me habitually opening my purse?

Murder. Courtrooms. Christmas. Strategic use of songs already on high-rotation on my iPod. Male leads with substance abuse problems. Unreliable narrators. Manipulated memory. Time travel. Mental illness. Politics. Interpersonal destruction. Margo Martindale. Catherine Keener. Charlotte Rampling. Bill Murray. Gene Hackman (although I am still trying to forget that he once appeared in an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives). Russell Brand. Steve Carrell when he is not doing comedy. James Spader. James Spader engaged in sex of the normally under-represented kind. Sex of the normally under-represented kind even without James Spader. Films where it rains a lot. Perverted suburbia. Copious quantities of driving at the speed limit. Films involving men having existential crises in swimming pools.

Rushmore (1998)

Despite my assumption that I’m outside of their target audiences, I actually quite enjoyed Philomena and Enough Said. Equally, for every turn-off I’ve listed, I’m quite positive that on my wall hangs several movie posters touting wonderful exceptions. A nice reminder of the good that can come from accidentally-deliberately seeing the “wrong” film. And of the necessity for multi-pronged marketing campaigns.

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