Watching the films we’d never dream of watching

Sex And The City. Mamma Mia. Beaches. The first Harry Potter. Our writers have been watching the movies they’d otherwise had crossed the street to avoid…

We set our writers a challenge. We’re all likely to have films that we turn our nose up at every time we come to watch a movie. The task our writers faced was this: locate that movie, watch it, and see if it was as scary as you feared. Obviously, the choice of film was a personal one – some of us would leap at Timecop, for instance – but every film here has been avoided by the writer concerned for one reason or another. And now it was time to face those fears head on.

Here’s how they got on…

MAMMA MIA Duncan Bowles

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I’m really not a fan of ABBA. The closest contact I have with their music is normally at work Christmas parties, when I’m spitting bile at people dancing to one of their assorted, over played hits for providing an excellent chance for the usually repressed to cut loose for the only time that year. I realise that this isn’t ABBA’s fault, per se, but it’s death by association, you understand.

By stark contrast I am a massive Pierce Brosnan fan. I idolise the man and have done for a long time now. He stands right next to Harrison Ford as my greatest on screen hero and, as such, I have endured such torture as The Mirror Has Two Faces (curse your black heart, Barbra Streisand), all in the name of loyalty. So, it was with a heavy heart that I clutched tightly on to Pierce’s coattails once more and braced myself for the garish, kitsch spectacle ahead.

The result was incredibly strange, as despite my better judgement that the whole film was terrible, I just couldn’t hate it. Maybe the films’ positivity just proved to be too overwhelming not to enjoy. It’s like an act of kindness from a stranger when you’re having a bad day, making it impossible not to stare and smile at all the prettiness on screen. The strangest revelation came from finding out that it was filmed on location, when I could’ve sworn that every scene was filmed against a green screen, with the background later being composited out of poster paint and crayons. Never before had I seen such garishness on film.

Even the ABBA tracks proved to be digestible enough, with the slightly odd sounding renditions proving more enjoyable than the originals, in much the same way that I don’t object to hearing karaoke if I’m drunk enough (though, don’t get me wrong, I have never sung).

As for the inevitable question about Brosnan’s singing, I thought it was fine and really didn’t get the massive backlash, but then I was grateful for every second he was on screen and proved once and for all that he really can do no wrong in my eyes. Let’s hope he never plays a murderous paedophile…


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I’ve got young children, and through a winning mixture of skills, bribery and downright pleading, I’ve managed to steer them entirely clear of the likes of High School Musical, Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers and the assorted homogenous conveyor built of singing fake glee that follow in their wake.

The only time things get through the cracks is when I take one of them to a party, and sugar-coated music blares out from the speakers. Instantly, I feel a nervous twitch, oddly aware that I’m one of the few people in the room who doesn’t know the lyrics to Together inside out. When this assignment came up, therefore, I knew I had to face my greatest fear. I had to watch High School Musical.

I confess that enthusiasm wasn’t one of my key emotions as I popped the disc in the player. I opted to leave the surround sound system off, as I continued to fight. And then I sat back for the next 90 minutes, absorbing all the glossily packaged joviality that Disney could throw at me.

I feel a little bit dirty, and quite tainted, in saying this. But do you know what? High School Musical isn’t bad. I’m loathed to call it harmless, because I’ve seen first hand what it can do to young children at the press of a ‘play’ button. But what Disney has basically done is take the themes of Grease, knocked the raw edges off, brought in a collection of slickly-packaged bubble gum songs, and sat back and counted the cash.

There’s not a standout performance in there, to be truthful, aided for me by the fact that I didn’t really warm to any of the forgettable characters in there (sorry, Zac). But the film was mercifully brief, and while I had no desire to ever watch it again, or dig out the sequels, I feel like I survived the experience with fewer scars than I was expected.

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The horrible side effect is the bloody songs. The same odious songs that bang around your head for days no matter how hard you try and lock them out. Thus, I’ve done the only reasonable thing that any responsible parent could do: my children are now banned from parties altogether.

I’m sure you’ll agree that I simply had no other option…

SEX AND THE CITY Pete Dillon-Trenchard

I was never going to be in the right demographic for this film, so my expectations were fairly low. But even my worst nightmares couldn’t prepare me for just how awful this movie actually was. 

I’d been told the TV series was fairly witty at times, but there was no sign of that here. The ‘funniest’ thing that happened was when one of the characters pooed her pants. Hilarious! Actually, I laughed when Sarah Jessica Parker got stood up at the altar, but by that point I was pretty much hoping someone would drop a bomb on all four of the main characters.

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You might have guessed by now that I didn’t really get on with the Sex And The City movie.

The key problem, you see, is that the main characters are not likeable women. These are characters who got their happy ending when the show finished, and have been brought back to make a quick buck. As such, they sit around making up reasons to bitch about their perfect lives. A typical scene in the first half of the film (much of the second is relentlessly miserable) runs something like this:

SJP: Ladies, I’m having coffee. SHITPANTS: YAYYYY! SJP: It’s great. But this coffee doesn’t have my name on it in chocolate sprinkles. STRESSY WOMAN: Coffee is evil. You’d be better off without it. SJP’S MUM: I fucked some coffee once.

(They all look outraged and laugh uproariously.)

There’s nothing redeeming about them. After Stressy and SJP’s men make mistakes, the duo stroll through a supermarket shouting the odds about how awful the men are for trying to apologise.

I quite liked women before seeing this movie, but as the credits rolled I found myself wondering whether it’d be easier to just start dating men instead. Only, the men in the film were fairly detestable too. The only likable character in the film was the dog that kept humping things.

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Like I say, this wasn’t my movie. Maybe if I was a woman in the target demographic, walk-in closets and interminable wedding dress montages would speak to me on some deeper level and the TWO AND A HALF HOURS would fly by. But I’m not a woman, and try as I might, I have nothing but contempt for this abomination.

This nonsense gets a sequel, yet Serenity is sent to die a quiet death? There truly is no justice in the world.

TIMECOP Mark Harrison

There’s a hitherto unrealised element of film snobbery about my aversion to Timecop. In my capacity as a reviewer on my blog and elsewhere, I generally see as many films as I can at the cinema, good or bad. But having been pestered to watch Timecop for a long time, I was always reluctant. There was always something I’d rather sit down and watch than a Van Damme film.

For time travel, I could be watching Doctor Who. For 90s action fare, I could be watching Demolition Man. Something in the back of my head always associates Van Damme with STV dreck, despite having rather enjoyed the lampshade-hanging JCVD.

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So, finally sitting down to watch it, I kept an open mind and ultimately, found it fairly average. It had an interesting premise and I’d have liked to see more of them hopping through American history, as in the early Civil War and Great Depression scenes, than there actually was.

Where do the bad guys go, when all of history is their oyster? Er… 1994, the year the film was released. Yes, the historical delights of that year, like the release of The Lion King and Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Yeah, so it’s tied more to Walker’s personal story, but come on. Even Bill and Ted probed the possibilities more than this guy.

It does take surprisingly long to get going, too, reaching what would be the end of the first act for most films about an hour in, when the distant future of 2004 is disrupted by McComb having bought the time-travel technology in its infancy. There’s some cavalier history-changing gubbins, but that’s apparently fine here, so long as we get a happy ending with Walker and his family.

Timecop now seems somewhat dated, not only by its effects, but by the pretty pedestrian framing of the action between 1994 and 2004. It never delivers on the promise of timeline-wrecking catastrophe that the opening scene posits. There’s some moderate fun with Van Damme being a badass, but it’s backgrounded by predictable plot turns and squandered opportunities.

But I’ve learned my lesson and shall keep an open mind from now on. It could have been Citizen Kane for all I knew.

MAMMA MIA Glen Chapman

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Yep, we appreciate this is the second entry for Mamma Mia here, but it’s a film that more than one of us has been avoiding. We’re sure you understand. Over to Glen…

“Mamma Mia, here I go again, my my how can I resist you?” Well, somehow I did manage to resist Mamma Mia! despite family members singing its praises. About six months ago my mum lent it to me and then my girlfriend, and it’s been in my ‘to watch’ pile since then, a though I had no real intention of watching it, until this feature was announced.

The film is packed with things that irritate me: screeching, people jumping up and down waving hands etc. And this can all be witnessed in the first five minutes and it had me reaching for the remote to see how long the film is. “An hour fifty!? You’re shitting me!”

Even for someone who’s not overly familiar with Abba, the song choices are so predictable and crow barred in such a cack handed manner by the flimsy story line, if. Indeed. you could call it that.

 It’s a terrible film, but it’s clearly something that a lot of people like based on how successful both this and the musical it’s based on have been. In certain screenings, apparently, people sang along to it. Nhat sounds like hell to me.

Now, I appreciate that I’m far from the target audience for this film and I can kind of see why people like it, but I can safely say that it’s not a film that I’m particularly glad that I’ve seen and that I’ll be avoiding musicals with a narrative based on a band’s back in the future. That’s a firm lesson that watching this film has gladly taught me.

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A warning to all Harry Potter fans: please read this at your own risk.

If it were not for this writing assignment, I would have never watched Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. That is, unless I’d been strapped to a chair and had my eyelids pried open with hooks. For those of you who have not seen the movie, allow me to summarise it for you:

Harry Potter is a student at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger have discovered a three-headed beast named Fluffy. Fluffy guards the Philosopher’s Stone. An evil Wizard named Voldemort wants to steal the stone because it will make him immortal. In an anti-climactic ending, Harry defeats Voldemort and the stone is destroyed.

This movie was two and a half hours of adolescent wizards running around school, casting spells, and riding broomsticks. Since when did wizards begin riding broomsticks? The characters had silly names that sounded like complete gibberish when said aloud. Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hufflepuff? Anyone who can say those names without laughing deserves a prize.

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The battle between Voldemort and Harry was an utter disappointment because there was little action and no one used any magic spells. They are supposed to be magical wizards, right?

If I want to make believe that I’m a wizard and fight magical creatures then I’ll play a game of Dungeons and Dragons instead of watching the other five Harry Potter movies. There is only one thing I like about this movie: Harry’s last name!

TWILIGHT Matt Edwards

Twilight is not a film I ever intended to watch. I’ve seen trailers and have been very much aware of its presence, but nothing that suggested a film that would make me anything other than very, very angry. But this feature came along and, in the spirit of playing along, I gave it a go.

And you know what? It’s terrible. But it didn’t hurt my ever-so-sensitive feelings, it didn’t make me violently physically sick and it didn’t seer my eyeballs. Which is a surprise.

If you want to assess Twilight as a film, you’ll have an easy time taking it apart. It has poor special effects, a script that makes me question the very concept of writing, it takes itself seriously even though it’s ridiculous and a good portion of the run time is taken up with brooding stares, dramatic pauses and forlorn sighs.

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But do you think any of that matters to the Twi-hards? No, of course it doesn’t, because they don’t like Twilight as a film. They like it as a cheesy teen soap opera. They want melodrama and characters that are misunderstood and deep in a non-specific, vague kind of way. They want forbidden love with a brooding, feminine vampire-man who has super strength and can kind of fly (but not really). And why shouldn’t they have it?

When watching Twilight I found myself not filling up to the top of my skull with hatred, but with empathy for its fans. Because I get it. I can kind of tell what it is they like about it, even if it doesn’t appeal to me personally. It’s harmless. It’s certainly nothing for film fans to worry about. I mean, it’s a shitty film, but if you stick your finger in your arse you’ll have a shitty finger. If you don’t like it, just keep your hands away from your bum.

If nothing else, I did find Twilight to be really funny. I mean, not so funny that I would recommend you watch it, but funny enough that if you do find yourself in a situation where there’s no way out the laughs will probably see you through.

I also found it gave me some interesting ideas. There’s a part of the film where R-Pats (yeah, I said R-Pats, what of it?) is referred to as the most dangerous predator there is. This gave me the idea of Twilight vs. Predator, which is a crossover project that simply must happen.

So, to conclude, Twilight: I needn’t have worried, but I also needn’t have bothered.

MEAN GIRLS Julian Whitley

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The ‘Teen Chick Flick’ genre is surely the most heinous and roundly derided in modern cinema. The likes of Clueless, Legally Blonde and The House Bunny have created a terrifying archetype in which pretty, blonde and stupid girls achieve any goal they set their minds too purely by being pretty, blonde and stupid. Not only does this set an extraordinarily bad example to the impressionable audience these films are aimed at, but it also gives license to a whole flood of awful, churned-out rubbish that clogs up the multiplexes every year.

It came as a surprise, therefore, to discover that 2004’s Mean Girls, arguably the most successful film of this kind, does none of these things. Where Mean Girls differs from other films of its ilk is its razor sharp, laugh-out-loud hilarious screenplay from 30 Rock genius Tina Fey.

Far from being a one-dimensional celebration of idiocy, Mean Girls is a deftly intelligent critique of the laws of the halls, and the cliques and conventions that govern the 21st Century US high school experience. The film even features the greatest performance of Lindsay Lohan’s relatively short career, one which she is unlikely to better any time soon.

Mean Girls follows Cady Heron (Lohan), a smart and attractive girl who, having been homeschooled most of her life by her zoologist parents in Africa, has to enter the uncompromising and terrifying world of high school. Completely naive to the rules of the game, Cady soon finds herself in a cruel and bloody struggle between the popular kids and the misfits, in a fight to discover where she truly belongs.

By suggesting that looks aren’t everything, and that intelligence shouldn’t be a barrier to success, Mean Girls manages to sidestep every cliché to take its rightful place among the upper echelon of high school movies.

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AWAY FROM HER Elliot Thorpe

To get straight to the point, Away From Her is a movie from 2006 directed by Sarah Polley and starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent about a couple whose loving, 50-year marriage is broken by the onset of Christie’s character (Fiona) developing Alzheimer’s.

It’s an issue that affects thousands of people every day and the pain of helplessly watching someone close themselves away from what they’ve known and cherished for decades can be heart-wrenching and devastating. And to be honest, not the kind of subject matter that would entice me to want to watch a film, particularly when gushing with sentimentality and soft-focus actor profiles are the order of the day.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve been known to wear my heart on my sleeve so I’m not adverse to the odd bit of emotion here and there, but my movie tastes usually encompass aliens and ray guns, Satanism and possession, fast cars and loose women. And if they all happen to be in the same film, then that’s a bonus.

So. reading the cover blurb on Away From Her‘s sleeve meant I was expecting to sit through a relatively depressing made-for-television film gushing with, erm, sentimentality and soft-focus actor profiles.

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Instead, it handled the degeneration of Fiona’s mental state with such touching and respectful awareness that I couldn’t help but be quite moved by it. Rather than becoming a medical text for Alzheimer’s and the treatment of it, it dealt with the helplessness that Fiona’s husband, Grant, went through. Every day he visited her in the care home, every day she knew who he was less and less. To see the woman you love drift away because of a terrible illness has to be surely one of the worst experiences in the world and I hope that it’s something that I or anyone close to me never ever has to go through.

The performances didn’t lend themselves to anguished drama, either. They were subtle, controlled and delicately portrayed. There were no aliens or ray guns, Satanism or possession, fast cars or loose women to be seen. And I loved it.

But while writing up this review, I was watching Damien: Omen II.

BEACHES Simon Brew

Due to a clear miscarriage of justice, I somehow landed myself with two films to do for this feature. Every bone in my body wished I’d called it a day with High School Musical.

Beaches is one of the most numbing, cloying, manipulative and unimpressive films I’ve ever had the ‘pleasure’ of. I’ve really sat through a lot of shit in the past that I really shouldn’t – I made it through both Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past and The Ugly Truth last year, for instance – but this sets new standards. The characters lost me early on, the music drained my brain, and by the time the tear-jerking elements came around, I was clawing at the carpet, hunting for any kind of escape I could find.

And the music!  I hereby retract my comment about not watching the High School Musical sequels if it saves me having to go anywhere near sodding Beaches again. I’ve heard it described as a gender dividing film, but that’s not quite the theory I was applying to it by the time I got an hour in and realised there was still over an hour of this shit to go. It was one of the lowest moments of my movie watching life. And I’ve seen two Uwe Boll films.

To conclude, if you’ve not got the gist of my thoughts here, sometimes, when you watch a film that’s aimed at a demographic other than the one you sit in, you get a really pleasant surprise. This, friends, was not one of those occasions.

Add your own experiences of films you’d never dreamed you’d watch in the comments…!

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