Seeing a film outside of a festival is actually quite a novelty for me, and though I wouldn't want to come over as a mainstream-film hating snob, the current scene has by and large failed to catch either my eye or my imagination. That said, I've recently seen two films that have genuinely surprised me by how good they are.
The first one is Avatar. There are many, many people out there who have now seen it and I was probably one of the last, having so far avoided it because it falls into that category of film where computer graphics are so overused as to make them seem artificial.
However, Cameron's is the first one that actually had me compelled throughout. Yes, it was saturated with sweeping, whooshing views and beautiful vistas made out of ones and zeroes, many of which felt like an excuse to show off what worlds they could create; and it had the usual bits where a computer generated bad guy does battle with a real-life hero. But, it also had a heart set in the real world.
As a nice twist, Human beings were cast mostly as the antagoniser in a future where earth has gone manky, and the Navi, the native inhabitants of the world they move into are largely seen as the good guys. Jake Sully uses the latest technology to remotely inhabit the body of a Navi-human genetic clone body, with the intention of infultrating a nearby tribe and gaining their trust. Not surprisingly, the feeling of spiritual closeness to the world around him, long lost to the human race changes his mind, and after going ape when the army starts an unscripted attack on 'his' colony, it's time to pick sides.
It had a rather heavy-handed environmental message, and having the Navi bear many of the styles and traits of African tribes-people, it was definitely not being subtle. What it did manage to do was (for the first time that I am aware of) completely hide the join between the real world and the pixellated one; creating a fantasy world where both exist and interact together naturally. It was also unusually intended for a more mature audience rather than the child-friendly fantasies of the past that these sorts of films were made for, being more Alien than Madegascar. (There were a number of uncomfortable parents in the audience who clearly ignored the 12A rating at their peril and squirmed in their seats as their kids were submitted to quite a lot of moderate swearing) I really enjoyed it, probably more than what I would if I had bothered to read up on it beforehand, and for the few remaining places that are still showing it, I recommend anyone who hasn't seen it to do so, especially if its a 3D showing. 8/10
Then there is I Love You Phillip Morris. Jim Carrey will never, ever play a straight part (no pun intended) as try as he might, there will always be a little bit of The Mask bubbling just under the surface that will inevitably take the scene over. Despite this self-inflicted handicap which does rear it's head a number of times here, this film is perhaps the most serious part he has managed so far, excepting maybe that of Truman Burbank. Carrey plays Steven Jay Russell, a closeted gay man in an unhappy marriage, whose outing also helps uncover another aspect to his personality: he is a pathological fraud, not to mention a very successful one. Beginning with insurance claims from 'accidental' injuries, through to false references for new jobs, and finally giving the accounting books a good cooking, he builds an empire taking advantage of the lack of background checks at each new place, leaving quickly as soon as the authorities cotton on.
Finally caught and ending up in jail, he falls in love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a delicate flower amongst a building-full of seething, violent, red-blooded inmates. Feeling first kinship and later a need to protect his love, he promises to fix his deceitful ways once out, but as you can guess, old habits die hard.
Other than having Jim Carry in it according to the sides of many buses that passed my face the past couple of weeks, there wasn't much I knew about this film either, and again, that's probably the best way the average person should prepare themselves for this film. Carey and McGregor do get jiggy with it on more than one occasion (although you never see anything beyond kisses and cuddles) and this may be too much for some to sit through, but once you're over the initial shock of these two actors hitting gay roles so convincingly, you are left with a very entertaining film that is part love story, part comedy, and part autobiography (Russell and Morris are both real people, and the film is based on their story, made all the more incredible since it happened in the middle of the right-wing heartland that is Texas). It twists and turns without feeling random, it's consistently funny save for a few slower scenes to show the humanity behind the lies, and it's ending causes you to initially groan, then.. well I won't spoil it, but it put a big smile on my face. It might not have anywhere near the budget or marketing clout of Avatar, but I would put it as high up on the watchability list. 8/10
No need to deal with any more mainstream films for a while. The Bradford Film Festival is about to start, (I have to eat my words as it is much bigger than I thought) and I will of course be blogging about the films that get seen within the next few days. Stay tuned.