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Return of Cinemas, ‘The Jolie Tolerance Factor,’ and Those Who Wish Me Dead

(This is an edited version of a post originally published on FiskFilm)

“We’re back, we’re bad, you’re black, I’m mad.” Martin Riggs, Lethal Weapon 2

“Ghostbusters.  Yes, we’re back.” Janine, Ghostbusters II

“I’m back!” The Terminator, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines


Cinemas are BACK!!!

I’ve said before, cinemas are a semi-religious experience for me.  Few places give me the serene sense of inner joy that a movie theatre does.  Libraries maybe.  Certain nightclubs in the 90s and early 2000s.  But there’s nothing quite like seeing the BBFC title card come up on the screen to announce the film is about to start, and you’re about to roll the dice against the money you’ve spent.

Walking down the High Street for the first time in over a year, I felt like a better-looking version of Cillian Murphy staggering around deserted streets at the start of 28 Days Later.

Mrs Fisk Film didn’t want to go (we’ll get to that), but I enjoy solitary cinema visits.  I went to ‘A Multiplex Cinema Chain,’ who should remain nameless in my, er, view.  The pre-visit experience was pants.  The website was down on the day I intended to go.  When it eventually stuttered back to life like the cast of Flatliners, it remained as buggy as an ant colony.  The automated service on the customer helpline couldn’t help, so I waited 10 minutes in a queue for a human, only to learn there was no one working that weekday.

Still, a day later, I finally arrived, masked and ready.  The one-way system was well organised, there were hand-sanitiser points, and the booking system both limited the number of people in the screen and ensured empty seats all around me.  Besides, it was the second day of relaxed lockdown restrictions – there were nine of us in the audience.

Once the interminable adverts finished, we got to a mixed bunch of trailers, then a frankly bizarre five-minute spectacle where John Boyega congratulated us for coming to the cinema.  Why?  These things don’t appear to advertise anything, apart from the cinema that you’re already in.  Has an overpaid marketing goon with a third-class degree in Psychology wowed their bosses with a presentation on confirmation?  In what amounts to a local monopoly, it makes no sense and it’s just bloody irritating.  I like John Boyega, but he’s not in the film I came to see today.  Get on with it, FFS!

We’re moving soon, closer to a town with a little community cinema.  It might not have searing 4K and Dolby Atmos, but I can’t wait.  Anyway…

Finally:  The title card.  For the first time in over a year, since we saw The Invisible Man at the same venue.

This went beyond ‘semi-religious.’  It was damned-near orgasmic.

The Jolie Tolerance Factor

Must.  Avoid.  Adoption  Joke.

People invested in movies often pay more attention to directors than stars.  I may have been smug about this in the past, but it seems obvious, right?  The director is the person who makes the film, they pick (with help from the casting director) the actors, and they get the final say on everything on the screen (assuming minimal studio interference).

If I go to see a James Cameron film, I’m going to have a fun time, irrespective of who’s in it.  I wasn’t keen on Leonardo DiCaprio when Titanic came out, but I knew I could rely on Cameron.  Likewise, Sam Worthington has only managed to appear in one decent film so far, Avatar.  The man is a charisma black hole, but in the hands of a great director, he can make you gasp, cry, and punch the air.

People used to mystify me when they said things like “Oh, I can’t watch that, it’s got Tom Cruise/Ikea Knightley/Vinnie Jones in it…”

But I got older.  One of the reasons that sucks is the fact that it seems I’m less able to stand certain actors.  That girl from Twilight with the immobile face?  Nope.  Rob Schneider?  Get off my bloody telly.   Andie MacDowell?  Yes, it is bloody raining, and Hugh Grant should have hooked up with Kristen Scott Thomas’ character.  Now go away.  I can barely stand anything with convicted felon Mark Wahlberg (apart from The HappeningEveryone should experience the batshit, WTF, hilarity that is The Happening.)

The simple fact is, irrespective of the overall quality of a film, your ability to enjoy it is a function of that and your ability to tolerate its stars.  Hence…   the Jolie Tolerance Factor.

Why ‘Jolie Tolerance Factor’?  The woman creates extremes.  Hers deserves to be the face of this entirely rigorous and not at all made-up-on-the-spot model.

Take Girl Interrupted, the film she won an Oscar for.  Quality-wise, if I gave ratings, it would be 10 out of 10.  As a drama involving mental illness, it’s arguably better than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  As a biopic of an entitled, messed-up kid who needs to learn a lesson, and does, it’s second to none.  And if we can believe Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, it’s the best on-screen depiction of a psychopath (by Jolie) I’ve ever seen.

Now, let’s assume for a minute you were a teenage boy when Lara Croft: Tomb Raider came out in 2001.  Your Jolie Tolerance Factor (JTF) isn’t going to get any higher (admit it).  You have 100% capacity to enjoy Girl Interrupted, but that’s capacity, mind you.  Whether a horny teenage boy is going to enjoy a female-led mental health drama is debatable.

If, on the other hand, you’re my Wife, your JTF is less than zero.  Even if this were the greatest film ever made (It’s not.  That’s Mad Max: Fury Road), you’re never going to enjoy it, because every time that woman comes on screen, a red mist descends.

If on the other hand, Quality is low (hello again, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), but JTF is high, then any of the scenes that Jolie isn’t in are going to be a struggle for you.  In many ways.  But let’s move on.

This could apply to any actor.  Adam Sandler, for example.  Thanks to Live for Films, one of the best films I saw last year was Uncut Gems.  Would I have watched it if they hadn’t asked me to review it?  Unlikely.  I’ve never seen Punch Drunk Love; despite the fact it’s made by one of the greatest directors working today and its quality is unquestionable.  Just… Sandler.

The irony is that Sandler stars with another actor I have limited time for, Drew Barrymore, in The Wedding Singer.  I stumbled across this late one night and I love it.  And there’s the rub: we should all be trying to challenge our prejudices and biases, yet we so rarely do.

Trevor Noah says it’s impossible to waste money on travel.  I think he’s right.  I don’t think it’s possible to waste time reading, either.  Even terrible books teach you better writing.

It’s good to read widely, to challenge ourselves, our assumptions, and our beliefs.  Shouldn’t the same apply to films?  It’s two hours of your life.  Sure, you don’t want to waste them (seriously, don’t bother with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), but if you only try things you know you’ll enjoy, you’ll never discover anything.

Herein endeth the lesson, and sets up a likely series of posts for Geek Graffiti, but that’s another story…

In the meantime, how was Those who Wish Me Dead?

Spoiler: It’s bloody ace.

It might be the best action film Jolie has made, simply by being the most down to Earth.  Her character is no superhero or a super-secret agent or a jiggly videogame character.  True, she is someone who parachutes into raging infernos for a living, but such people are entirely real.

The plot involves the plight of a young boy, Connor, who witnesses a horrifying murder.  Two assassins played by Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult pursue him across the Montana wilderness.  They are vile villains.  You’ll be rooting for their demise, and despite coming off at times like a pair of implacable Terminators, there are enough subtle hints of character to make them utterly despicable.  They have resources, skills and a powerful organisation supporting them.

Naturally, Jolie is one of those ranged against them, joined by John Bernthal in a rare role as a white-hatted hero.

This is a mid-budget, entirely adult thriller, from Taylor Sheridan, writer of the Sicario movies and writer-director of the similarly excellent (but notably more disturbing) Wind River.

Jolie is convincing, her relationship with Connor is refreshingly earthy and funny.  Given the fact she was a hellraiser in her day and an (in)famous mother now, seeing her go full Ripley to save him is both cathartic and believable.  Indeed, punch-the-air moments fill the back of the film.

When Mark Kermode reviewed this, he said it doesn’t do anything new, and he’s right.  But it does it very well indeed, and even allowing for my joy at being back in the cinema, it’s hard to believe you won’t enjoy this.  That said, it does benefit from the big screen and big sound of a good movie theatre.  We haven’t really had a movie with fire as the central spectacle since Backdraft, and it’s hard not to go a wee bit Donald Sutherland: fire is beautiful, especially in 4K from the safety of a cinema.

Oh my god… it’s so good to have it back.

Assuming you have the JTF for it, Those who Wish me Dead is in cinemas now.

Those are lovely earrings, but wouldn’t they be a wee bit hot?

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