Tuesday, July 02, 2013

31 Day Film Challenge, Day 2: Your Least Favorite Film

I just want to say in advance that I don't think my pick for today is the worst movie ever made.  I took a peek at what Wikipedia lists as "the worst films ever made" (allegedly determined by "reputable critics in multiple reputable sources") and discovered that I had not seen a single one of them.  That surprised me a little, because it just so happens that my very first job was for Memphis' local theater chain, MALCO.  I began working there literally the day after I was old enough to hold a job, at 16 years old, and I stayed with MALCO on and off for about five years.  I started as concessionaire shoveling fresh popcorn, worked my way up to an usher shoveling stale popcorn, then a ticketbooth cashier, then a projectionist, and  eventually an Assistant Manager.  Even after I started college, I would still come back and work in the theater for weekends, summers and holidays to make some extra spending money.  In the grand scheme of things, working in a movie theater is not a great job to have, but it's a pretty great job to have when you're in your teens and early-20's, before you move on to the more-profitable but truly crappy restaurant grind. The downside of working in a movie theater is that you work when everyone else plays (nights, weekends, and holidays), but the upside is that you get to see what goes on behind the curtain of one of our culture's last remaining truly magical spaces. You also, of course, get to see all the movies.

So, for many years, I saw everything that came out in the theaters, free of charge and (frequently) not all in one sitting. Without a doubt, that's where my love of cinema was born. Not just my love of movies, but my love of the whole experience of cinema.  A long time ago, though, I gave up trying to sit through genuinely terrible films-- around the same time that I gave up trying to finish genuinely terrible novels-- so I don't think I can say that I've ever seen a truly awful movie all the way through.  My pick for today isn't the worst ever, it's just my least favorite movie right now, mostly because it errs in several ways that are critically damning. 

I'm picking the 2011 version of Arthur as my least favorite film at the moment.  Why?  Oh, let me count the ways...

FIRST STRIKE:  Arthur (2011) is a remake of a film that was already perfect and should have never been re-made.  If you haven't seen the original Arthur (1981), starring Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli and John Gielgud, you're missing out on one of the funniest films ever.  Dudley Moore's comic brilliance as Arthur in the original version is an unrepeatable performance, the kind of performance that makes an actor synonymous with his character.  Why, oh why, anyone ever thought that could be repeated is an offense to good taste.

SECOND STRIKE:  As critic David Hiltbrand once said, the first rule of remaking a popular film is: "Do no harm to the original."  Arthur (2011) not only plunges a jagged, rusty shiv through the heart of the original, but it has no heart of its own.  It's all sad, lame, cheap, pathetic even, slapstick. To be fair, I'm not entirely sure Arthur (2011) can be blamed for this error, as it's almost impossible to make an endearing or sympathetic film about a self-destructive drunk anymore.  Those sorts of characters inspire only pity and judgment nowadays, not affection.  But the original Arthur was something different and something lovable, a character quite common in the first half-century of film but one that has not survived the passage of time and the vicissitudes of moral and cultural change very well.  The original Arthur is an irrecoverable relic now, something that I've discussed before on this blog as "the fun and funny drunk," and which I'm not sure contemporary cinema has been able to replace or reproduce. 

THIRD STRIKE:  The remake of Arthur really does a disservice to two otherwise quality actors, Russell Brand and Helen Mirren, and that error is TOTALLY the fault of the film.  And that error should not be excused.  Brand can be clownish, to be sure, but he has a rapier-like comic wit and impeccable comic timing that, when deployed effectively, is near-genius.  (See his recent turn in the only-otherwise-ok film version of Rock of Ages.)  Helen Mirren, on the other hand, is a bona fide cinematic icon.  I can only assume that she was herself engaging in some variation of self-destructive drunk behavior when she made the very terrible decision to try and one-up John Gielgud as Hobson.  Also, I can only hope her agent was summarily axed after giving her the green light for this project. 

There are more strikes that this film commits, but I won't go into them here.  I will say, though, that it's possible I dislike this film as much as I do because it's a remake of a film that I really, truly adore. But I genuinely do think this is an awful movie on its own merits, or rather demerits, as is a more appropriate designation of this film's many, many errors.

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