Category Archives: Movies

Move to America, never watch a movie again

When The Special One first started waxing lyrical about “a British ending”, I have to confess that I started locking up the knives at night, and surreptitiously switched drinks with her whenever she kindly poured me a glass of wine. After all, you can’t be too careful when you’re married to a woman who can paralyse innocent passing squirrels with just one withering look.

As it turned out, she was simply talking about the narrative style of British film producers and directors. Now, clearly the British movie industry is a body that these days has as much influence as the French World Cup 2010 Victory Parade committee. But once upon a time, the British made movies that captivated the world, from Brief Encounter to Trainspotting. It’s almost enough to make people forgive us for inadvertently foisting Jason Statham on the world.

While The Special One loves a British actor as much as the next man (and in this case, the man next to her just so happens to be Rupert Everett), it’s actually the endings of British movies that completely enraptures her. Not the rolling of the credits, or the ‘hilarious’ bloopers of Hugh Grant forgetting the same line 27 times, I hasten to add. Instead, it’s the willingness of the British to finish a movie or even a TV show with an ambiguous close.

Put simply, when it comes to cinematic works, it seems as if Americans want to have all their t’s crossed and their i’s dotted. So when, for instance, you force one of them to sit down and watch the tour de force that is The Italian Job (the original, that is, not that pathetic Mark Wahlberg vehicle), you can expect a certain amount of dismay and a volley of questions when Michael Caine announces that he’s got an idea for preventing the gold from toppling down the mountain face from the precariously positioned bus.

Similarly, the Life On Mars TV show (the British version, not the godawful American retread) ended with you not exactly knowing what had happened to Sam Tyler, driving its loyal viewers into apoplexy (until they watched the follow up Ashes To Ashes, at least).

That’s not to say that American movies don’t occasionally employ the same technique. Anyone who has watched Lost In Translation – or even Lost – will testify to that. But The Special One insists that they’re just being influenced by the British, and if filmmakers were to do it on a regular basis, there would be an uprising on the streets.

Maybe Americans have been born with 17% less imagination than the people of other nations, and that they have to lend less thought to certain things – like movie endings and toiletrestroom design – in order to ensure that they can still invent things that change the world. You know, like the gun and the nuclear bomb.

Or maybe it’s just that Americans have grown used to watching movie trailers that cover every storyline, plot development and epochal moment within a 60 second burst?

I swear that my film watching has reduced by around 90% since I moved to the States. A chunk of that is understandable – I’ve become a husband and father, and so I’ve got less freetime to go to the cinematheater to see Iron Man 2 simply for the purpose of perving over Scarlett Johanssen.

But with movies on demand on cable, you’re never that far from watching a classic Fellini, Cassavetes or Kurosawa. Or more likely, the intellectual powerhouse flicks like Hot Tub Time Machine, Couples Retreat or Tropic Thunder. The shame is that after watching the trailer in order to help resolve the dispute about whether to view the new Jackie Chan or the latest Amy Adams schlockfest (The Special One wanted Jackie, just for the avoidance of doubt), you suddenly realise that you’ve essentially already seen the whole of both movies. Before you know it, you’re being forced into the loving arms of Two & A Half Men re-runs.

It’s my guess that no plot twist is too sacred to be withheld from an American movie trailer. Half way through the preview for The Sixth Sense, the narrator coughs surreptitiously and mutters under his breath “Bruce Willis is dead.” Nicole Kidman and her kids wear sheets over their heads and rush around shouting “We’re ghosts, you know!” in the trailer for The Others. And the shots of Norman Bates being made up to look like a woman in the trailer for Psycho were just unnecessary if you ask me.

Oh, and by the way, every purchase of Seven comes with a tiny box featuring a perfect scale reproduction of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head. We use ours as a toy for the cat.

A nasty infestation of Brits

On my occasional trips back to the UK, there’s always one statement of presumed immutable fact that practically every person makes when they find that I live and work in New York. No, not “you must see movie stars on the streets everyday.” And not even “planes land in the river there, don’t they?” No, the one thing that appears to have become an indisputable truth is “oh they must love your English accent over there.”

Now, I wouldn’t say that I have the classic English tones of an upper class brat. I was brought up in the North-West after all, and the idea of saying something like “gr-arse” for that green stuff that you have a picnic on goes against everything I stand for. Nonetheless, nobody would ever have any trouble guessing where I was from. Well, apart from those Americans who have presumed I was Australian or Canadian, obviously.

But however English I may be (and to be honest, I’d rather be considered Welsh, but that’s another story), nobody really pays a tiny bit of attention to my accent anymore. Put simply, there are just too many Brits in New York. Once upon a time, on my first trips to the city to see The Matchmakers, my accent could turn heads, stop traffic and probably cure cancer. Now every fifth person you meet seems to be from ‘the old country’, and the novelty has definitely worn off for Brit-weary New Yorkers.

The general American attitude to Brits is not helped by the phenomenal success of our actors in blockbuster Hollywood movies. No gritty movie about disaster or the Holocaust is complete without Kate Winslet, and if you’re a producer in need a strong older woman to kick some scrawny American arseass, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you couldn’t get hold of the phone numbers for one of the damely duo, Dench or Mirren.

And then there’s the men. There is a requirement under American law that all action or superhero movies feature at least one British male, preferably in a lead role. If they can play the evil enemy, all the better. It’s a ruling that’s kept Jeremy Irons in Veuve Clicquot for many a year, I can tell you.

Like most women, it would appear, The Special One is particularly taken with swarthy British actors. She became particularly animated at Christmas during a discussion of the merits of Clive Owen, and had to be reminded of her own relationship status when bitterly rueing the fact that he appears to be “very married, sadly.”

And don’t even get me started on Daniel Craig. It’s one thing having a wife who has a soft spot for certain movie stars, but it’s a whole different story when you slowly realise that you are only your life partner’s second favourite person to come from your own home city.

Such is the omnipresence of British actors in movies these days that Americans have started claiming the British as their own. It’s a time honoured process that began with Cary Grant, and continues to this day. Even in my own house.

While watching The Dark Knight this weekend, The Special One and The Young Ones refused to believe that Christian Bale was British, necessitating much grumbling on my part and an eventual trip to Bale’s Wikipedia page.

Turns out that the crowd-sourced opinion of Wikipedia is that Christian Bale is a “Welsh-born English actor.” We Brits may be everywhere these days, our accents may count for little, and even our love of fish and chips doesn’t mark us out as special. But never let it be said that Americans are any closer to understanding a single thing about our geography, alright?