Square eyes: I MoviePassed my way through Sunday – here’s what happened
Movie subscription services are a lifesaver for film buffs. Since theater prices have been steadily increasing to a ridiculous degree, the cinema life has become a strain on the wallet. Seeing a couple of movies a week used to be a fairly innocuous activity, but now your dollars won’t stretch anywhere near as far as they used to. And as for the popcorn and soft drink – be prepared to spend nearly double if you want that luxury, too.
Luckily, the States has MoviePass – a shockingly cheap app that consolidates your ticket buying into one monthly or annual payment. Last year, the app pulled an unprecedented move by shrinking the monthly price all the way down to $9.95 per month, and in March this year, it was reduced again down to $6.95 a month for new customers if they paid annually. That’s under one hundred dollars for as many as 365 movies.
Although the Pass has faced some criticism – namely due to its right to restrict customers to a film a day, as well as a level of concern from certain multiplexes worried about the pricing – it remains popular. Last month, the company reported two million subscribers, and that number continues to grow.
Here in my native country, the United Kingdom, we do things a little differently. Although MoviePass covers a number of cinema chains, it seems we Brits aren’t as keen to share, so most theater companies have a singular subscription service. When it became clear I would be visiting the cinema at least twice a week, I opted for Cineworld’s ‘Unlimited’ card. It’s not quite as cheap – £17.90 – but given my recently-developed habit of seeing just about everything, it covers my expenses and then some.
The card also grants a little more freedom. Though it won’t let you into 3D showings, you’re not limited to a single film each day and if you come across a film you love, you can see it as many times as you like. Last week I went a little mad with power and decided to push the card to its limit. On a lazy Sunday, I rolled out of bed nice and early and saw as many films as possible in a single day. Here’s what happened:
Having booked some tickets the night before, I settled for Peter Rabbit to begin my journey, as its 10a.m. start made it the earliest possible showing. Innocently believing it couldn’t be as bad as the reviews were making it out to be (and still high on the charm of Paddington 2), I strolled in with a reasonable amount of confidence that a film based on a charming Victorian bunny rabbit couldn’t be all bad.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the 4DX. In the UK, 4DX is essentially code for “excruciatingly irritating”, meaning that seats would move, water would squirt, and the screening would be filled with a haze of smoke by the end of the feature. Not the most pleasant experience, but at least it woke me up from my post-St Patrick’s Day slump, and I left Peter Rabbit only mildly traumatized and ready to take on four more films.
The film itself is not good, and any comparisons made to Paddington 2 are unwarranted and worthy of an apology. By the time a flock of birds broke out a family-friendly rendition of Fort Minor’s “Remember the Name”, I was itching to leave, and after a thinly-veiled marijuana reference in which James Corden’s Peter brandishes a half-eaten carrot and muses about the meaning of life, I sympathized entirely with Domhnall Gleeson’s scheme to destroy him with dynamite.
What struck me was the realization that some films are in fact directly catered towards the 4DX format. Peter Rabbit has been out for some weeks now, but the early Sunday morning showing still attracted a fair number of families with its promise of a more “immersive” experience. Rather than any semblance of a worthwhile plot, the film was instead constructed from a number of interconnected moments and staged set pieces that would trigger a 4DX beat.
Jeremiah Fisher (renamed as Jeremy) – who is a Beatrix Potter fan favorite from the books – is practically stripped of lines, instead thrown into the film whenever it was deemed too long since the last time the audience was splashed in the face. Overall, when it comes to Peter Rabbit, save your money and buy a copy of Paddington 2 instead.
For the next showing, I was mercifully reunited with the comfort of 2D and immobile seats. Mentally recovering from being shaken & battered by the world’s worst massage chair, I wiped my glasses of Jeremy Fisher’s pond water and treated myself to a peanut bar to keep myself energized.
Finding Your Feet had not interested me in any way, though my recent experience with Phantom Thread taught me not to judge a film by its audience. Both screenings were filled with charming, elderly ladies, but I had a sneaking suspicion this would be more Marigold Hotel than Paul Thomas Anderson’s kinky period piece.
Everyone in the film is brimming with salt-of-the-earth, but still decidedly middle-class charm. For U.S. readers confused by our British class system, the middle consists almost entirely of couples in their 40s who are in denial of being posh but still do things like finish an entire bottle of Merlot during a single episode of The Crown. For example, Celia Imrie (Nanny McPhee) tries to convince the audience she’s a character perfectly at home smoking marijuana in a council flat, but speaks as if she’s never set foot outside Kensington (other than her annual skiing excursion to the Alps.)
In the midst of a potentially life-ending crisis, Imelda Staunton leaves her life as Lady Abbot after her husband is caught philandering in the pantry. Shocked and bemused, she finds refuge with her sister (Imrie) in London, who convinces her to join a dance class in which she meets new friends who convince her that despite her age, divorce can be a new beginning.
It’s all safe & familiar stuff that, aside from a rare chuckle and moment of genuine drama, is constantly in danger of turning saccharine at a moment’s notice. Despite revolving around the joy of dance as a metaphor for a newfound spring in one’s step (quite literally), the numbers are limp, the music bland, and the final show-stopping set piece is entirely unconvincing.
I have to admit, by this point I was guzzling a fair amount of sugary snacks and drinks to keep myself awake, and it was only 2p.m. After enjoying a lunch of mozzarella & pesto wraps, I was swiftly onto a Diet Coke and a bag of Cadbury Nibbles. Excited by the promise of a Biblical epic led by an intriguing cast, this turned out to be the wrong film to break open a noisy bag of candy for. Mary Magdalene is very slow and very quiet.
Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t expecting Ben-Hur. In fact, the film is admirable and artistic enough to be miles better than the recent remake of the Charlton Heston epic. However, treating the film with enough stoic dignity to send a priest to sleep quickly wears thin, making the abhorrent violence of the crucifixion all the more shocking and out of place by the time it approaches its second hour.
The film is essentially intended as a correction for the historical maligning of its title character, who has been marred by the false rumor of her origins as a prostitute. In classic biopic style, the credits begin with an acknowledgment of Pope Gregory I’s lie, perhaps hoping the preceding performance from Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is sensitive & effective enough to wipe her tarnished slate clean.
Sadly, Mara’s wide-eyed naivety and pale complexion single her out as an obvious white American amongst a crowd of authentic Israelis, and her performance isn’t given nearly enough direction to overcome the presence of Joaquin Phoenix’s boorish & demanding Jesus. Preaching like a pretentious student, this Jesus, along with his posse of Apostles, overshadows any chance of presence from the title character. Watching and smiling, Mara becomes another extra in a narrative of endless miracles, making the movie a repetitive staging of events (even if you do believe they really happened.)
After three consecutive films, I was perhaps in the wrong state of mind to critique this Israeli drama starring real Israelis – a nice counter to the missteps of the previous film. But I’m reasonably sure this was the best of the bunch.
However, here we begin to see the cracks in the Unlimited Card’s system. First of all, after attempting to book all five films the previous afternoon, I discovered only a maximum of three pre-bookings was possible. Now, this still means you’re able to book more tickets on the day once the other showings have finished, but apparently there’s only so much your online account can take before it decides you’re going a little mad with power.
Secondly, forced to settle with Scaffolding as any other film would overrun into my last screening, I was made to dish out an additional seven pounds. As an indie foreign film, it was considered “alternative content”, which apparently my pass didn’t cover. The card is already a more expensive service than the U.S. equivalent, and I found it strange Cineworld wasn’t willing to reward its more devoted customers with free access to niche material. Supporting the work of an independent director doesn’t warrant too much grumbling, though.
The film itself covers the last of a teenage boy’s formative school years in Israel, caught between the tutelage of two patriarchal figures in his life. The first is Asher’s overbearing father, economically obsessed and passionately disinterested in his son’s hobbies outside of the family business. The second is his caring, unconventional literature teacher.
On the whole, Scaffolding feels real and it was refreshing to explore Israel’s education system, including its advantages and shortcomings, as well as the authentic insight into the raw, masculine friction that develops between a father & son with little in common. After enjoying last year’s Menashe – a Yiddish film released by A24 and the first of its kind for decades – I was keen to explore cinematic avenues that I was previously wary to go down. And at times, Scaffolding felt like the perfect companion piece.
What lets it down is the forced character drama developed from Asher’s tendencies to devolve into a shouting caricature of a torn teenager – to me he seemed smarter than that in his quieter moments. It’s also mawkish at times and attempts a level of intellectualism the script can’t quite support. Still, four films in, maybe I was just tired.
I knew I had to end the day with a big, loud blockbuster. After four films – two of which attempted hard-hitting levels of pathos and impact – it was obvious I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to anything that didn’t involve glamorous movie stars running around shooting each other.
Tomb Raider seemed promising. Much like Mary Magdalene, this reboot attempts to strip the sexist connotations originally associated with its lead character, Lara Croft, who was previously played by Angelina Jolie. Her sultry performance mimics the character’s lustful demeanor in the original games, with a hearty dose of early-00s cheese.
In 2013, the game franchise took a step in a promising new direction, reimagining Croft less as a busty avatar for adolescent fantasy, and more as an outlet for feminine power, focusing on exploration & endurance and swapping her noisy, suggestive dual pistols for a sleek and precise bow & arrow.
I enjoyed the game a great deal – although it was rooted in the silliness of adventure serials, it at least had a great deal of atmosphere and craft. However, the film adaptation embraces the silliness and loses the scale, ambience, and intrigue. An unpredictable performance from Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) and a strong lead in Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) isn’t nearly enough to save a film that opens with the line, “The first Empress of Japan was an evil sorceress.”
More National Treasure than Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s all ludicrous plotting and far-fetched action. The sprawling areas of the video game’s island are reduced to one very limited set which hosts some clumsy choreography and gunplay and swaps the calculated archery of the game to Lara charging about, slinging arrows like they’re a dollar apiece. I’ll wait for a sequel, but I don’t think it’s happening.
Overall, my day lasted thirteen hours but I still couldn’t shake the feeling I could have squeezed in one more film. I cross-checked and meticulously planned my screenings, but perhaps on a different day I would’ve been luckier. I certainly wasn’t too enthused by the offerings available in mid-March, so it could be a project worth revisiting in Summer.
My advice to the MoviePass aficionado: stack up on snacks and avoid alcohol. There were times during the long, arduous day where I took advantage of the gaps between films to sneak a pint of beer at the bar next door to the cinema, and let’s just say it wasn’t the wisest of decisions. Although I only did this twice, it was definitely enough to reverse the energizing effects of the peanut protein bar I had earlier.
Take advantage of 4DX screenings, too. The film may be awful, but at least it’ll keep you awake for the next ten hours.