A Little Reality


The lineup for the Oscars and Bafta is not especially interesting, with the choices falling between the toxic masculinity of Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘The Power of the Dog’ and the polished sentiment of ‘Belfast’. One problem seems to be a crisis of identity; the Oscars ceremony seems quaintly old-fashioned on TV when its natural home should be online, and can’t decide whether to honour art or commerce. If it’s the latter, where are the nods to the real crowd-pleasers, ‘No Time to Die’ and ‘Spiderman: No Way Home’?

No matter. The terrific French thriller Boîte Noire (Black Box) is the sort of thing the USA used to make well and seem to have stopped doing. An Air Safety acoustics expert listens to the black box recording of a downed airliner in which 300 people died, and hears something that doesn’t fit. Was it a terrorist act, human error or a mechanical problem?

Why hasn’t this film opened in the UK? The sad truth is that we’re getting less and less world cinema here, since the Everyman chain began concentrating on blockbusters. What happened to Germany’s huge hit, ‘I’m Your Man?’ I guess we’ll get the Euro-leftovers on Netflix.

If you were left looking for something like ‘Train to Busan’ after that zombie thriller ended, try the Korean series ‘All of us are Dead’, a zombie outbreak set in a high school but following the lessons we’ve learned, or failed to learn, from Covid. It’s exciting – a lengthy set-piece involving a fire hose is a nail-biter, and unexpectedly poignant. In as much as, er, a zombie outbreak series can be. Best of all, it offers the opposite to traditional apocalypse tropes. ‘The Walking Dead’ was endlessly mean-spirited and weapon-obsessed. Who has the energy to hate like that? In the Korean version everyone’s just trying their best to resolve the problem and help each other.

I so wanted ‘Bigbug’ to be wonderful. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has given his future robot satire the ‘Amelie’ vibe (does anyone recall that ‘Amelie’ was originally titled ‘Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain’?) but nobody at Netflix reined him in long enough to make a jot of sense. A lockdown SF comedy, it concerns an extended family trapped in their day-glo home with their robots, and had enormous potential as a drama or a barbed satire. Instead we get sex-obsessed toothless whimsy that manages to be both simplistic and over-complicated.

Just like those terrible British films that occupy a safe, dull middle ground, a certain kind of French film acts as if the last fifty years didn’t happen and has retreated into a Gallic netherworld of mime, puppetry and nostalgia. Jeunet shoves his camera up his actors’ noses and around their eyeballs, exaggerating every gesture when what ‘Bigbug’ needed was a grounding in real behaviour. Even Marvel manages little reality occasionally.


28 comments on “A Little Reality”

  1. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin As far as the Oscars — with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh hosting and promising (threatening ?) to treat the show as a movie rather than a (‘quaint’) television program, you may get that dose of ‘reality’ (of sorts) or at least something very different from the awards’ usual predecessors. It will be streamed on several platforms of course, and for the first time, the nominees need not have first opened in a theatre to be eligible for the little gold men.

    So Hollywood does, in fact, know what to make of streaming. It’s called money — with more and more films likely to premiere online to feed the constant hunger for product by the growing number of subscription services. Thus, the theatres focusing on the blockbusters which lend themselves to the bigger screens and more realistic sound effects — and you questioning why Netflix didn’t rein in Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Does ‘Bigbug’ tick a sufficient number of classification or category boxes (‘Sci-Fi.’ Check. ‘Comedy.’ Check.) is really all that matters in the end.

  2. Jan says:

    Not that I know much about the pictures but won’t Mr Spielberg stand a good chance with his remake of “West Side Story”? Ticks lots of politically correct type boxes + hits the sentimentality vote as poor old Mr Sondheim is recently departed and Mr S hasn’t hit the Oscars for a week or two.

    I saw a telly programme by that Mark Kermode -now there’s a fella who takes his opinion v. Seriously – about the history of the Oscars and to give Kermode his due it was very interesting .
    How come Hitchcock or Welles never got a look in and how some pretty average offerings triumphed.

  3. Jan says:

    Don’t tell me Mr S never got nominated for WSS and that’s why he won’t get anywhere!!

  4. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jan Jan, Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ is in the running for Oscars for Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Sound so, it probably will come away with at least one award but, the ‘smart money’ is on either Jane Campion (‘The Power of the Dog’) or Branagh for ‘Belfast’ as Best Director. Spielberg already has two Best Director Oscars (‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’). ‘West Side Story’ is also up for five BAFTAs although no Best Direction nod for Spielberg.

  5. Helen+Martin says:

    I get further and further behind every day. I used to worry (mildly) that I was “out of it” because we rarely go to movies but now people talk about films and series that I’ve never heard of because we don’t have a streaming service, not even Netflicks. Well, so be it. Nova Scotia is opening a hearing into a mass murder from two years ago where the focus is on how the public should have been told about the murderer, whether by Twitter (as they did) or by notification to smart phones (as many are saying should have been done). Neither would have reached us. I’m thinking of canceling our landline because while we get half a dozen calls a day only perhaps two a week are actually real calls, all the rest being scam calls.

  6. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Helen+Martin Helen, repeat three times, ‘NO FOMO.’ No ‘Fear Of Missing Out.’ FOMO is a very real psychological issue, studied primarily so far in heavy social media users and which is only slightly less impactful than ‘nomophobia,’ or not having one’s phone at all times. The danger is that the anxiety and the regret which triggers it can easily be projected or broadcast into the future or as you put it — chronically feeling somehow ‘left behind,’ before you actually know (or, or more concerning, think you do…) that something is passing you by.

    As an antidote, there is ‘JOMO,’ the Joy Of Missing Out,’ or essentially being in the present and content with where you are at in life and your choices. Doesn’t mean you can’t seek out the new or different, it simply means not automatically accepting the dictates of others as to what is good or worthwhile and what is not — even those whom you respect. Remember — you are you and no one else is.

  7. Stu-I-Am says:

    For anyone who cares (anyone ?) the incomplete sentence fragment above should read ‘…only slightly less impactful than ‘nomophobia,’ or the fear of not having one’s phone at all time.’

  8. Joan says:

    Good idea getting rid of your home phone Helen, I really worried about doing it, but I don’t miss it in the slightest now that it is gone. I’m glad that I have gotten to see some of the films up for awards this year. Our theatres were closed till last September and opened with the new Bond film. Then they closed again after Xmas till a few weeks ago. But I did manage to get in nine films at the show that I really wanted to see. Netflix, Prime and Disney+ are Ok but it is really nice to get out to the big screen. I believe that if you have a Twitter account you will be able to vote at the Oscars in real time this year, which should be very interesting! The public will have a voice at the Ceremony.

  9. Luigi Bongo says:

    I’m having difficulty remembering the last time I watched the Oscars, and the simple act of going to see a film in an real live theater has become so fraught with peril (finding the car keys, working out which size popcorn box is the best value) that I’m missing out on even the good ones. It seems so much simpler to stay home with a good book. Now, if I can only dredge up the memory of how one goes about the act of reading…

  10. Alan R says:

    Maybe Ricky Gervais should be moved from the Golden Globes to make the Oscars more interesting. Mr Gervais not only bites the hand that feeds him, but he also rips off a leg and an arm and chews it to the delight and amusement of the global audiences. While the targets of his bloody teeth sit smiling and looking very uncomfortable as the camera moves into a tight close-up of them while Ricky’s voice-over tears (tares) them apart.

    There were some really excellent films shown in 2021. But after a year glued to Netflix, I wonder if, to quote Mr Gervais at the Golden Globes, “Well done Netflix, you win everything, now let’s all go home” is maybe what many people are thinking.

    One of the benefits of Netflix is that we now have access to a large amount of “foreign” television and movies on our 85 inches, 4K tv, that we would never have access to – prior to Netflix. Maybe Netflix is designed to be our new art-house cinema chain. Or will it slide slowly down the path of mediocracy? Let’s hope not.

  11. janet briggs says:

    This fear of missing out stuff is really just about smartphones isn’t it? I don’t mind being at some distance from my v. old fashioned moby – even though having no land line I like to know where the thing is but its this immediate connection to social media that folk crave isn’t it? Weird how this worked out first we got used to a mobile voice connection and we pretty much all saw the benefit of a moby but now when the devices became essentially mobile computer tablet connectors the whole thing changed and voice connection really became secondary usage only the whole world seemingly wanting to be part of this collective social media mind.

  12. Paul C says:

    We’re very lucky here in Newcastle to have a British Film Institute cinema called the Tyneside Cinema which shows a lot of intelligent foreign films and old classics along with more mainstream fare. Founded in 1937 by the uncle of Ridley and Tony Scott.

    We also have a strange tiny cinema largely run by volunteers and students called the Star and Shadow which shows old films and documentaries.

    Living in a city with only a multiplex must be very frustrating.

  13. Helen+Martin says:

    Paul C, isn’t it great to be able to thumb your nose at places who think themselves so “refained”, if you know what I mean? During the lockdown our totally independent theatre was reduced to turning itself into a bar. That was where our calligraphy guild went to see the film about the pillow book written on the girl’s body. That was a strange film but it was even stranger when watched from our point of view. “Now how did they ever film that bit of lettering?” “I heard that he was under the table with a mirror to see where his brush was moving.”

  14. Jo+Mo says:

    You are very lucky Paul. Your cinema reminds me of one where I used to live. Awful sound and seats, light coming in under the fire escape doors, which opened directly onto the street, and the noise of traffic from the main road. On one occasion a dog wandering around, which eventually settled down in a corner. Very similar to The Smallest Show on Earth including melting film. Enormous fun and the general atmosphere improved quite a few films. However as it appears I am JOMO (thank you Stu) and as self isolation is becoming a rather pleasant norm, Covid or not, it looks as though I should sign up to Netflix at last. As long as the internet connection is f f f a s t enough that is.

    It is always an education here.

    Oh and did the robot on the right of the picture of Bigbug above appear in the Cadburys Smash adverts?

  15. Paul C says:

    Thanks, Helen – I’d like to see the pillow book film but daren’t google it here at work. I’d better wait until I get home…..

  16. John+Griffin says:

    So Caro was the real force in Jeunet et Caro. I have always assumed my declining interest in films, TV and lack of interest in social media was either pre-dementia or a preference for getting out in the natural world. I’m glad to find I’m not the only one.

  17. Helen+Martin says:

    Paul C, oh yes, definitely do not google that film at work. We were at the showing simply to analyze the numerous filming challenges from a calligraphic point of view, you understand. It was a modern story, by the way, and I believe it was Brody Neuschwander who did a lot of the “body work”, the man who did the BBC film about lettering.

  18. Ian Luck says:

    I hate cinema awards ceremonies. All the yes-men, back-slapping, brown-nosing, fake bonhomie, insincerity, and saccharine tackiness present at them, turns my stomach. Add to that the sheer bloody-mindedness of the panels, who generally ignore the really good stuff (of any genre), and reward some utter pipdribble that they think people SHOULD be watching, and you get to see what an exercise in utter futility looks like.

  19. Robert says:

    I have totally lost all interest in the Oscars. Ever since “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan” for best picture years ago, I have never watched the Oscars again. I think most artistic award shows are pretty worthless. Self serving and self congratulatory. Most artistic work is like wine………….if you like it, it is good. Forget the “experts”.

  20. Paul C says:

    Totally agree, Robert

    The Best Director Oscar was never won by Welles, Hitchcock, Lumet, P T Anderson, Almodovar, Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Tarantino, Kubrick, Jane Campion (this may change shortly), Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, Altman and Howard Hawks who won just one nomination !

    What a terrible record…..

  21. Paul C says:

    ………and Gilliam, Leone, Lubitsch, Lang, Michael Powell, King Vidor and Preminger

  22. Laura Hecht says:

    Please don’t crowd all nomophobia-sufferers into the same basket. Who cares about texts and twitters? It holds my audiobooks. And e-books. What it I have to wait somewhere? I need something to do! That doesn’t require carrying bulky objects everywhere. It also helps me to find my way (geography can be challenging here in the Pacific Northwest, what with all the rivers and streams as and mountains and gullies). And my compass. And not least, my Major League Baseball app (go Brewers).

    But. don’t bother looking for me on twitter, Facebook, and other similar “places.” You won’t find me there. Posting to this blog is about as outgoing as I get. There are so many interesting things to do.

    PS fir the first 8 or so years that I had a cell phone I considered it a one-way device: so I could call AAA if I had car trouble. For me, It wasn’t until it became a traveling library that it became something to carry around.

  23. Helen+Martin says:

    Laura, definitely my kind of person! You would appreciate my Mother’s description of the West Coast: It’s no wonder you haven’t got a good sense of direction; how could you have when roads chance direction every fifty feet?” She was raised in Sask. where north/south roads just “correct” every 15 mi. or so to maintain their orientation and east/west ones don’t even have to do that.
    You brought your sports allegiance with you, I see. No cheering for “Ichiro!”? Or was that before you came?

  24. Helen+Martin says:

    Blast! That’s “change direction”, of course.

  25. Fiona Raw says:

    Paul C it’s years since I lived in Newcastle but I was stoked to go and see a rerun of The Big Easy there. Oscars hmmm maybe Hans Zimmer for No Time to Die Soundtrack.

  26. Ed+DesCamp says:

    Laura and Helen: yes, it’s we Mossbacks in the Pacific Northwest that carry our libraries with us everywhere. My “haven’t read yet” titles are all nicely queued up; many are tossed, but a few are chosen for physical purchase (like Fowler’s). Hooray for smart phones. Oh, yes…we all get lost in the rain frequently, so good GPS and topography maps are a must!

  27. Helen+Martin says:

    A PBS member, Ed? Or a subscriber to Crosscut?
    My phone is a flip one and I can barely use that one properly. I don’t think I’ll suffer from FOMO because every time I turn around there is another example of a lie that “everyone” is getting and that has to be countered.

  28. Ed+DesCamp says:

    Helen – PBS, yes; haven’t run into Crosscut yet. I had to have a smart phone for work, and quickly discovered the wonderfulness of always having reading material on hand. I never got into antisocial media, as I already got enough unfiltered idiocy without requesting it, and didn’t feel anyone would benefit from my contributions to the existing pile of bullshit generated by politicians and true believers. I just got my hands on “Calling Bullshit”, written by a pair of University of Washington professors, and I can highly recommend it.

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