On having a hobby… Or not

After a surprisingly inspiring chat yesterday with J, I realised that I had been neglecting my blog quite horribly while dealing with the day-to-day dramas (Tom! Katie! OMG!), and not really making time for doing the things that make me happy – or, more importantly, things that will help me to better myself.

Added to that, the fact that T started ragging on me for “not having a hobby” (Which, J clarified, probably meant that I don’t do enough outdoorsy, sporty stuff), and I’m on a fresh wave of a desire for self-improvement and happiness.

(Of course, this has been slightly dented by the lack of network connection at the office. But, on the plus side: my desk is clean, my desktop has been reorganised, I’ve had two cups of coffee and I’ve beaten my record on Minesweeper. Booyah.)

Going back to the Hobbies Thing (it’s a thing now)… When I asked T what qualifies as a hobby, his response was “Something you love doing”. Therefore, I consider watching movies a hobby. (Which apparently it’s not, because it needs to be sporty/outdoorsy – and no, for some bizarre reason, yoga doesn’t count either. I’m confused too, don’t worry. I’m prepared to accept that drinking wine is not a hobby.)

I’ve written before on how I love the ritual of going to the cinema – although I do prefer it when it’s quiet, and not a packed screening. I love the moments that the lights go dark and the anticipation begins. I love watching trailers and trying to figure out the movie they’re advertising as quickly as possible. I love sprinkling the salt onto my popcorn (only one sachet at Nu Metro – two is far too much; though I prefer Ster Kinekor’s popcorn flavouring) and I love the fact that movie soft drinks are always well watered-down. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Going to the movies is the closest thing to going to church that I’ll voluntarily experience.

Of course, a lot of my movie-going experiences fall under the banner of “work” – and while I love writing on movies, it does get quite difficult to hash out reviews week after week. Especially because the audience that I usually write for isn’t really interested in the intricacies of the film – they just want to know if the product is good, if the actors are good (are there any “big name” actors?)… Really, will the R50 they drop on a movie ticket be worth it. Are they interested in the cinematography, the lighting, the colour pallet, the direction? Sadly, not. I try to sneak it in where I can, but I’ve had to rein myself in – seeing as I went through phases of writing movie reviews clocking in at the 1800-word mark.

What is cool is that I’ve now gathered a small group of people that I know are always reading the reviews – which is inspiring. It’s always good to know that there are people taking the time to read the entire review, rather than just clicking in to see the rating before clicking out. (And it does mean I often sneak in something completely random for fun!)

But, at the end of the day, I love this. I love talking about films, pulling out random trivia and being a reference guide for my friends. (Although I do quite often get: “So what’s showing at the movies?” – as if I’ve memorised all the cinema schedules for Cape Town.)

My point is – and to quote Ellen Degeneres, I do have one – is that with the amount of time, love and energy I pour into movies: They’re a hobby.

Though I do have grand plans to take up knitting or something, too. I hear it’s quite soothing.

A brief rant on movie critics (myself included)

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens

So I started this rant in my weekly work newsletter, but that’s limited to around 250 words before the white space becomes unbearable, and so I had to rein it in a little. And you know by now that I’m no good at reining things in. So I’m copy-pasting my newsletter column in here, then expanding the rant.

Basically, I needed to have a rant about movie critics. And I count myself quite firmly in the group – seeing as, so far this year, I have written reviews for over 40 films and seen a lot more. Some got lost in the vortex that is created when watching four films a week, trying to survive a rather manic personal life and still oh, I don’t know, run a site. (It’s only going to get more hectic in the next few weeks, stay tuned for details!)

One of the films that I saw last week was Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens. And the reaction – from South African movie critics that consider themselves the next Roger Ebert – sparked a rant that had been coming for some time.

For the most part, the critics panned Cowboys & Aliens. Fair enough – it’s not True Grit or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or 127 Hour or Black Swan or even freaking The Lion King. But for what it is, I think Cowboys & Aliens is a good film. Now before you poke me with a spoon, this post is not about whether or not it’s a good movie or not. Bear with me.

Let’s be honest, the average moviegoer won’t go to a movie called Cowboys & Aliens expecting a cinematic masterpiece. We’ll never compare a movie about aliens invading a Western town to the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech – so why critics continue to hold popcorn-munching blockbusters to the same standards as award-winning dramas is beyond me.

Most people take blockbusters for what they are – mindless escapism, an evening out on the town away from the kids or the stresses of your day-job and a chance to revel in silliness. Critics need to look at blockbusters and ask the question – is this a good blockbuster? For what it is – is it well-made? Is it a cleverly written romantic comedy? Are the giant explosions properly executed? Cowboys & Aliens will never win the Oscar for Best Picture – but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. Critics – myself included – need to stop being pretentious for just one second, and deal with the fact that criticising the new Transformers movie using the same criteria or having the same expectations as we do when revewing The Hurt Locker is just silly.

Only then will reviews be any use to the average viewer – who just wants to know that his rom-com is going to be better or worse than the last one he rented out.

Read my Cowboys & Aliens review here and see if you agree with me.

It’s that time of year again…

Black Swan

Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan'

The nominations for the 83rd annual Academy Awards have been announced – and let’s be honest, there weren’t that many surprises. But there were one or two…

Most noticeably absent in the Best Director category was Inception helmsman Christopher Nolan. He was bumped out of the category by the much more Academy-friendly Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men, anyone?). Yup, it seems the Academy is allergic to all things science-fiction, and while Inception picked up eight nominations it’s hardly the runaway favourite in any of its categories.

Also absent – which was, in my opinion, a travesty – was a supporting actor nomination for The Social Network star Andrew Garfield. His on-screen chemistry with Jesse Eisenberg produced one of the stand-out partnerships of the year – and while Jesse scored the nod for his role as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, Andrew was absent. [Note: My huge crush on Andrew Garfield aside, he’s ridiculously talented. Go rent Boy A. Now.]

I still think it’s a little too earlier in the season to start accurately predicting the winners, but I think Colin Firth has the best actor award in the bag. He’s simply astounding in The King’s Speech ­– which itself is nominated for 12 Oscars, despite its made-for-BBC feel.

Natalie Portman for Black Swan also seems a sure thing – I haven’t seen the film yet (our press preview is only tomorrow) but I’m chomping at the bit. She’s hands-down the strongest contender in the best actress category – Annette Bening was fabulous in The Kids Are All Right but the Academy tends to prefer darker roles for their leading ladies.

Best Picture I think is a clear three-horse race between The King’s Speech, The Social Network and True Grit. I haven’t seen True Grit yet (that preview is only in February) but the critics are simply raving about it – as well as 14-year-old star Hailee Steinfeld , who picked up a nod in the best supporting actress category.

My other, less certain predictions? Christian Bale for best supporting actor in The Fighter – he was sensational.  Best supporting actress nominees Melissa Leo and Amy Adams – Bale’s The Fighter co-stars – were fabulous, though everybody’s going crazy about Steinfeld’s performance – so I think this category’s pretty open, with Leo leading by a hair. In fact, the only person who wasn’t nominated in The Fighter was its leading man – Mark Wahlberg. I’m not Wahlberg’s biggest fan – I find him terribly bland at times – but he does play the unlikely hero so, so well.

And if Toy Story 3 doesn’t win the best animated feature film Oscar, I’ll march down to the Kodak Theatre with a pitchfork myself.

See the nominees in the other, more technical categories here.