The Movie Evangelist
The mark of a good film critic should be their top 10 of the year (or however many they feel is an appropriate number). It gives you a reasonable guideline as to whether or not their kind of film is your kind of film, and if you can reliably take their opinion as a guide when choosing the films to see on a regular basis. The mark of a good film blogger, on the other hand, should be their bottom 10 of the year. Unlike a critic, who is contractually obliged to watch everything, a blogger is typically picking and choosing and their bottom 10 should be a reflection of how often they’ve put themselves in harm’s way. Now, it’s fair to be said that reviewing a poor film in often significantly more fun that critiquing a good one – and more fun to read as well – and the same can be said of anything from restaurants to bicycle pumps, but there are only so many times any sane person should put themselves in the path of tedium and banality in the name of the gratification of their readers.
So in that sense, it’s been a great 2013 for me. Rather than last year, where my bottom 6 were all one star films, this time that can only be applied to the bottom two, and the remaining eight in the list make up all of the two star films I saw this year; anything else in the 150 or so new films I saw in the cinema, plus re-releases and films seen at home, were all worthy of at least two and a half stars. Consequently I would only really suggest the top – or bottom – four should be completely avoided; all the rest are more of an “approach with caution” warning, and you may well find more of merit in them than I did. I will, as always, provide my justification for seeing it, and any full reviews have a hyperlink on the title.
There is another way of looking at this: even though it was a TV movie, so wouldn’t appear on this list, I found one film this year utterly trashy and poorly made, yet still some admittedly clichéd fun. So these are the ten films this year that I enjoyed less than Sharknado.
Reason I watched it: it was the gala opening of the Cambridge Film Festival, with the man himself in attendance.
There’s nothing hugely bad or offensive in Hawking, other than the fact that it gives about as much real insight into the world’s most prominent living scientist as looking at a postage stamp gives you insight into the Queen. There’s nothing of any real meat or consequence here and most of it misses the point by a wide margin, and the tantalising glimpses into what drives Hawking are all the more frustrating given their lack of context. Some topics are sensibly glossed over to a point; I don’t believe there’s much to be gained from delving into Hawking’s marriages and their break-ups, but actually the viewpoint of his first wife Jane provides some of the documentary’s best moments.
Reason I watched it: because I grew up in the time the film portrays.
Maybe the reason I didn’t take to Computer Chess was exactly that: it felt like an hour and a half in the company of some of my less interesting computer science lecturers from the early Nineties. I did computer science at GCSE, A-level and as part of my degree, and while others saw a great amount to appreciate in this mock doc of nerds from the Eighties, to me it felt like a reasonable ten minute short stretched way beyond breaking point, familiarity breeding contempt well before the end. The characterisations are all one note and with too little variation, the plot runs like treacle and the ending feels tacked on. Let’s just say I wasn’t a fan.
Reason I watched it: The Planet Hollywood boys all had a film out around the same time, and I wanted to compare and contrast.
The winner of that particular competition, by a considerable distance, was the Arnie comeback movie The Last Stand, which had no pretensions other than being a good deal of fun and succeeded admirably on those terms. Bullet To The Head, on the other hand, is tedious in the extreme and director Walter Hill at his least inspired; those who know much of Hill’s work will know that’s not a good sign. Stallone mumbles his way through a turgid script that feels as if direct to video would have been a compliment, the action’s completely uninspired and it all attempts to morph into some form of half-hearted buddy movie with less chemistry than a Junior Chemistry set with half the pieces missing. Sadly, it wasn’t the worst of the three Arnie / Sly / Bruce movies from the first quarter of the year, by a long, long way.
Reason I watched it: because the trailer actually looked reasonable.
There’s no harm in attempting to invert the tropes of the romantic comedy; why should it always be sunshine and light? On paper, the attempt to start with a marriage and then watch the comedy spring from seeing that marriage on the downslope to catastrophe should provide more laughs than the normal romantic comedy. On screen, it became a collection of insufferable oiks who deserved everything they got and the general sense of unease sapped the fun quicker than you can say “decree nisi”. The ending is nonsense, but by then I was well past caring.
Reason I watched it: I still cling to the increasingly forlorn hope that M. Night has one good film left in him.
It’s not this one. M. Night will always hold a place in my heart for the simple reason that Unbreakable was the film I saw on my first date with Mrs Evangelist, back when we were both much younger and I was less wrinklier. (She isn’t more wrinklier, in case you were wondering.) After Earth manages to retain the nonsensical plotting of later Shyamalan while retaining the forced stoicism that passes for acting in his films, and it all comes across as slightly laughable when it’s intended to be threatening and tense. At this point, I’d be too afraid of the often requested Unbreakable sequel for the fear he’d screw it up.
Reason I watched it: because I’m a card-carrying Trekkie.
When I saw Star Trek Nemesis, the last of the four Next Generation excursions into cinemas, I felt – and Paramount agreed – that it was time to give the franchise a rest for a while. I didn’t expect to be revisiting those feelings just two films into the reboot of the franchise, especially when I’d enjoyed the 2009 film so much. But my enjoyment of that film was based in part on giving some of the dumber elements of the script a pass, and sadly all of those elements are back with a vengeance this time, given more screen time with some additional stupid layered on with a space trowel. Recruiting Benedict Cumberbatch was a bad move as he acts everyone else off screen, not ideal for your leading men, and the film clings to past elements of the franchise to almost desperate levels. It’s an insult to the intelligence of anyone who’s ever seen, well, anything, and the fact that one of the three writers is returning for the next film is one too many for me.
Reason I watched it: because it was showing at FrightFest.
My second trip to the annual FrightFest, held in London’s Empire Leicester Square over the course of five days around the end of August. This year there were four screens in operation, and your day pass entitles you to see anything in the main screen, plus the option to claim tickets for other screenings. This was the one time of day when I couldn’t manage to get into a smaller screen when I didn’t fancy the main screen film, and sadly my concerns were borne out. Director Farren Blackburn has a strong background in British TV, from the likes of Luther and Doctor Who, but he never manages to find the right tone here, the po-faced thrashing about barely enlivened by occasional flecks of humour. Character actors of the likes of James Cosmo populate the background but are given little to do, and if the Vikings were this dull in real life maybe it’s a good job their time has long since passed.
Reason I watched it: because I’m about to turn 40 myself and I thought it would be useful to know what’s coming.
Except no-one in the world is like these people. No one. These aren’t first world problems, they’re – and I’m being extraordinarily generous here – upper middle class first world minor inconveniences, and after an hour I was ready to try to force my way into the screen, grab both Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters by the shoulders and to attempt to shake some sense into them. Possibly also to scream at them, “YOU’RE RICH AND REASONABLY SUCCESSFUL AND YOU’RE UTTERLY UNGRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE. TAKE A LONG, HARD LOOK AT YOURSELVES AND THEN GROW UP!!!!!!” I will not complain once about being 40 as long as someone buys me a copy of this on DVD. So that I can BURN IT.
Reason I watched it: it was showing at the Cambridge Film Festival and I’d heard of the director.
If you see over thirty films in eleven days, most of them chosen on the basis of a short paragraph in the festival brochure that gives you very little to go on, there’s bound to be the odd misstep. I only made two this year: I managed to see an Iranian film called Taj Mahal without realising that it was a direct remake of a French film called The Snows Of Kilimanjaro that opened last year’s festival, and while I preferred the remake it wasn’t a film I ever felt the need to see twice. The other mistake was this, chosen simply by recognition of Richard Jobson’s name, which turned out to be one of the most poorly produced films I’ve ever seen in a cinema. Low quality production values, sometimes obscuring dialogue or rendering scenes unwatchable, laughably bad flashbacks and a script which made me pine for the drama and quality of Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes, which this appeared for large parts to be foolishly attempting to imitate. A depressing example of how independent British film can, just occasionally, get it badly wrong.
Reason I watched it: I’d thoroughly enjoyed all of the other Die Hards, and despite the bad reviews and disastrous PR campaign I’d hoped there was some redeeming feature somewhere in this.
They brought back Mary Elizabeth Winstead for about two minutes. That’s literally all I’ve got.
Oh Bruce. You knew that this was a pile of rancid turtle faeces, didn’t you? That’s why you appeared dead on the inside for large parts of the promotional tour, wasn’t it? You knew that this was a collection of diabolically shot action scenes, anaemic and uninteresting characters, jump-the-shark plotting that’s so wafer thin it’s a miracle it was spun out to an hour and a half, even with padding, and lacking all of the hallmarks of the series that made all of the four previous instalments so enjoyable. Like watching someone else describe parts of an uninteresting video game to you, it’s the film equivalent of when a tennis player goes 4-0 down in a set and then throws the last two games just to get to the next set so they can start again, and by the end all involved are barely going through the motions. It was never in doubt that this would claw in enough money to make a sixth episode viable, but if another Die Hard does ever make it into production it would take an achievement worthy of the Nobel Prize For Stupidity to make something worse than this. (Incidentally, that’s not a challenge, Bruce.)
Earlier this month, I saw the original Die Hard in 70 mm at my local cinema, so both my favourite and least favourite films seen in the cinema this year have been Die Hard films. Yippie-ki-yay, mother fumbler.
After repeated letters to the Competition Commission, including letters sent to the Commission e-mail address on the 3rd and the 10th September this year, in which I sought a response to a number of questions around their findings, the Commission have finally responded to me via the deputy chairman and the head of this particular panel, Alisdair Smith. I am grateful that the Commission have finally engaged in dialogue, around two weeks after their decision has become legally binding.
They have given me a response to my initial queries plus a subsequent post on the condition that I reproduce it in its entirety, without edits, and I do so below. I will be writing my own response to their response tomorrow, but until then feel free to make your own mind up.
AN OPEN LETTER FROM THE COMPETITION COMMISSION TO MARK LIVERSIDGE
In your Movie Evangelist blogs, you have made several reasoned criticisms of the Competition Commission (CC) decision on Cineworld’s acquisition of Picturehouse. Several of your points have been picked up by other commentators or members of the public who have written to the CC.
As you know, the period after the publication of the CC’s provisional findings report in August was when interested parties could influence our thinking. The legal framework within which we operate does not allow us to re-open an inquiry after the publication of the final report.
Nonetheless, we think it is in the interest of public understanding to address the points you have raised. That’s why I am writing this open letter to you. It serves only to state our position on certain issues. It is not being sent to initiate a further debate. And we must stress that the comments that follow are not formal positions; our Final Report, published on 8 October, is the definitive legal statement of our findings.
Letters from the general public
It has been suggested that we have taken no notice of the many comments from the general public we received on our provisional findings of 20 August 2013. That is not the case. We gave these comments careful consideration and indeed sought to address points made in those letters where we felt that our provisional findings had not sufficiently explained our thinking.
In particular, we explained at paragraph 6.5 of the final report how we had taken into account the differentiation between Cineworld and Picturehouse in our analysis of the impact of the merger. Similarly, we responded to your specific and interesting point on the effect of Cineworld’s Unlimited Scheme directly in the final report at paragraph 6.55.
In your blog dated October 8, you make several points and ask a number of questions. I respond below to some of the numbered questions – although this does not mean that we agree with the other points you have advanced but on which I have not commented.
1. Was there no requirement to set a suitable threshold of competition in a particular area?
The task of the CC in a merger inquiry is to decide whether there is a substantial lessening of competition in a particular case referred to it by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), given a particular set of circumstances. Our task was not to consider the whole landscape of competition in cinema exhibition in the UK.
The CC is required by law to identify the market that is relevant to the merger in question. The market for cinema exhibition is largely a local market, so the question becomes whether there is a substantial lessening of competition in particular localities. Indeed, cinema exhibitors told us the specific local conditions of areas were key drivers of their product offering. The report summarises the evidence we received on this matter in paragraphs 6.6 to 6.20. There is no simple rule which determines how many competing cinemas could successfully operate in a given area.
There may well therefore be communities comparable to Bury St Edmunds which are served by a single cinema operator, but that has no bearing on whether this merger results in a substantial lessening of competition in Bury St Edmunds.
2. The OFT’s initial report indicated that Cineworld and Picturehouse operate in different markets
This is not the case: paragraph 110 of the OFT’s report of June 5 referring the merger to the CC states: “The OFT has analysed the transaction against a market for film exhibition services in this case. It has considered whether it is appropriate to segment this wider market by art-house and multiplex cinema. The parties failed to provide sufficient evidence in support of their arguments that the product market should be further segmented, Further, a number of pieces of evidence including: survey evidence, entry analysis, price concentration analysis and film overlap analysis indicates that there is competition between art-house and multiplex cinemas and it would not be appropriate to segment the market in this case.”
3. Why is it believed that introducing another party to these areas will have the effect of reducing prices?
The evidence discussed in paragraphs 6.14 – 6.20 and the econometric analysis of the relationship between prices and local concentration in Appendix C suggest that the extent of local competition affects prices.
4. Why were membership schemes excluded from the CC’s analysis?
Membership schemes were not excluded from the CC’s analysis. In our survey, as described in 4(b) of Appendix D on consumer surveys, separate questions were asked about membership schemes. We agree that the Cineworld membership scheme effectively sets a national price for membership. However, the results of our analysis gave us more concern about future Picturehouse prices than Cineworld prices in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. The Picturehouse membership scheme is different the Cineworld scheme and does not insulate members from local price increases. The different cinema membership schemes are described at paragraph 6.22 of the Final Report and the specific point made by you about Cineworld’s Unlimited Scheme is considered at paragraph 6.55.
5. Is there any evidence of any other part of the country where competition alone is successful in influencing prices? On inspection, the prices seem to be set at a level more related to the general cost of living than the factors used in the correlation in the report, and comparisons with local areas with both more competition and no competition do not suggest any evidence of a strong effect of competition on prices in this sector. The subsequent fear is that any competitor purchasing either of the cinemas will not be able to be restricted from raising prices from current levels, and I would be keen to understand the Commission’s powers to influence in this regard.
As explained in the CC’s merger assessment guidelines, competition between firms is generally expected to create incentives for firms to cut price, increase output, improve quality, enhance efficiency, or introduce new and better products.
In relation to cinemas specifically, our econometric analysis found local competition effects after allowing for local cost effects. It is the strength of local competition which will restrict a purchaser of the cinemas to be divested from raising prices.
6. What controls will the CC put in place to prevent price increases as a result of a change in ownership?
The CC is not proposing price controls and we see no reason why a change in ownership should result in a price increase.
You entitled a blog of October 13 “A request for the Competition Commission to explain basic economics to me”, and particularly asked about “GUPPI”.
GUPPI calculations, described and used in Appendix F to the Final Report, on Pricing incentive analysis, are a standard tool for considering the effects of reduced competition following a merger in markets, like cinema exhibition, where sellers offer products which are differentiated from the products of their competitors. It is perhaps worth adding that the GUPPI calculations were only one element which went into the judgements about whether there would be a substantial lessening of competition.
Primacy of the Final Report
We hope this open letter goes some way to help you and other critics of the CC come to a better understanding of our findings on Cineworld’s acquisition of Picturehouse. We must stress again in conclusion that these one-off comments are intended solely to help you and the wider public understand our reasoning; and the CC’s final report remains the definitive legal statement of our reasoning.
Inquiry group chair on behalf of the inquiry group and staff
 http://www.competition-commission.org.uk/assets/competitioncommission/docs/pdf/non-inquiry/rep_pub/rules_and_guide/pdf/11_03_25_a_quick_guide_to_uk_merger_assessmentpdf.pdf explains the framework within which the CC operates and how it approaches merger inquiries.
There were seven wonders of the ancient world, but apart from the Pyramids of Giza they were not wondrous enough to stand the test of time. There are probably more than seven wonders of the modern world, if you were to try to count them up, but one of the most significant is undoubtedly the fact that I’ve managed to keep churning out this blog to the same middling quality for almost a year now. Yes, on the 27th April I will have been writing this blog for a year, so I thought I needed to do something to mark the occasion, and that seeing a whole day’s worth of films would be as good as any option.
It’s a regular occurrence for me to spend the day in the cinema, and seeing four or five films in the course of a day is not an uncommon occurrence for me. Indeed, I’ve managed to squeeze in seven a couple of times, and I’ve also achieved some other feats of endurance, including seeing over 100 films in a year at the cinema twice, and a period last year when I racked up 21 in 11 days during the Cambridge Film Festival. Over the next month, I’ll be blogging about all of these feats, and also why – and how – you should give them a go, if you haven’t already.