Thursday, December 30, 2010

Steanso Film Review: The King's Speech; "Don't Talk" PSA at the Alamo

So last night I went with Amy to go see The King's Speech, a new movie by Tom Hooper starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter.
I thought the movie was really good.
The end.

Okay, if you're still reading, then I have every right to bore with you with details about why I thought the film was good. So you're asking for it.
For starters, I thought the acting performances were really strong all around. They managed to strike a nice balance between emotion and understatement, conveying feeling without spilling over into sensationalism or melodrama.
And I liked the themes of the whole movie and the plot. For those who don't know [spoilers to follow, I guess], The King's Speech is about England's King George IV and his struggle to overcome a speech impediment (a pretty serious problem with a stammer, specifically) as he ascends to the throne following the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII. While I guess it would be pretty important for any king of England to be able to engage in some public speaking, extra urgency and gravitas is lent to King George's struggle by virtue of two important facts: 1) George finds himself coming of age and ascending to the throne during an era when radio and film have been recently invented and have just begun to make it possible to transmit the spoken words (and speeches) of kings and leaders into the homes of millions of people around the world, and 2) George is struggling with his ability to master his speech just as the English people find themselves poised on the brink of war with Nazi Germany- a time when it seems that British citizens are more than ever in need of guiding and reassuring words from their royal leader.
As I said, I liked the movie. On its face, a movie about a guy trying to overcome a speech impediment might sound sort of dull and dry, but in practice, several things work very effectively in the film's favor. One, Geffrey Rush does a tremendous job playing Lionel Logue, George's speech therapist, who proves to be an unorthodox specialist that develops a special and unique relationship with the king. The friendship and trust that Firth and Rush portray seems realistic and meaningful without becoming overly sentimental or sappy, and its really fun to watch them develop their characters throughout the course of the movie.
Second, I just enjoyed seeing a movie that explored themes of courage and loyalty in such an interesting way. Over and over again we've seen films with war heroes and cowboys and police officers and fighter pilots and all kinds of people who prove their courage by facing down bad guys with their guns and their guts. I like those kinds of movies, and they definitely portray people in situations that require bravery and courage, but there was something about the sort of courage portrayed in The King's Speech that I felt like I could relate to on a more personal level. I found it really fascinating to watch someone struggle with a personal demon in such a public forum. I guess I just felt like I could relate to situations where a person might feel compelled to refuse to give in to fears of abject humiliation and embarrassment because of even stronger feelings of duty, and obligation. George might not have been dodging bullets or gunning down bad guys, but the fear of utterly failing at something in a very public way is something which scares all of us almost as much as dying (in some cases probably more), and this fear of public failure is something which most of us can probably relate to much more easily than battling gangsters or shooting down hostile aliens.
Not that I don't like movies about fighting aliens.
Anyway, I liked The King's Speech. It's definitely a character driven human drama, but if you're into that sort of thing, I think it's well worth checking out.

On a different note- a silly, nitpicky complaint to follow. Read at your own risk.
I'm not a huge fan of this new promo that the Alamo Drafthouse is showing at the beginning of its movies where Alamo founder Tim League lectures the audience for 10 minutes about the "no talking" policy at the Alamo theaters and about how he and his wife came up with this strict policy after a long and apparently serious discussion. He follows this up by giving a stern no talking warning followed by a threat of ejection without a refund if the rule is violated.
Don't get me wrong- I totally agree that people shouldn't talk during movies. I totally get the fact that talking in movies can be a self interested act that basically interferes with the enjoyment of other moviegoers.
Nonetheless, I found Tim League's little mini lecture to be self important, condescending, and most importantly, not at all fun. For one thing, the Alamo has managed to use a series of humorous but forceful PSA's about not talking in their theaters for years- promos that I thought both got the point across and managed to be entertaining (off the top of my head I remember clips with Ann Richards, Danny DeVito, and I know there were plenty of others). If people thought that the messages from the celebrities were meant to be more funny than serious, then the giant black and white messages in ten foot script accompanied by ominous violin music (the script also telling people not to talk) probably got the point across. So I think that the Alamo theaters were already doing a pretty strong job of getting their point across in terms of asking people to stay quiet.
Now, though, we get a personal (and boring) message from Tim League before each film where he explains the origin of the Alamo's no talking policy and then goes on to explain why it's not nice to talk in a movie theater where you're surrounded by other people who have paid to watch a movie.
Does anyone really care about the origin of the no talking policy at The Alamo? (he apparently came up with it after attending a showing of Blue Velvet with his wife. Maybe he didn't realize before this that talking during movies was a bad thing?) Doesn't he realize that many of the people who loudly talk during movies aren't doing it because of ignorance or misunderstanding but because they just don't really care if they annoy other people? (at which point, unfortunately for the Alamo staff, the main issue become enforcement of the no talking rule rather than simply being a matter of laboriously repeating the rule before each screening)
Mostly I just don't like the lecture because it makes the whole Alamo viewing experience seem a little more uptight and less fun. I understand that the Alamo wants to be a place where serious moviegoers go to see movies, but this is also a place where waiters and waitresses are regularly ducking back and forth in front of you and frequently end up asking people about their orders in voices which are loud enough to pose momentary distractions. It's a theater which mixes art film screenings with Master Pancake Theater and Big Lebowski Quote a Longs.
Once again, all of this isn't to say that I think people should talk during movies, but, on the other hand, I don't think I should have to feel paranoid about whispering "excuse me" if I accidentally step on someone's toe when I get up to go to the bathroom. The Alamo needs to be quiet and people deserve to enjoy the movies that they've paid for, but there's something sort of self important in League's PSA that annoys me. Maybe if he placed more emphasis on encouraging people to be nice to your neighbors instead of threatening potential talkers I might feel differently. It's still just a movie theater. A warning or two is fine, but the threats seem to be getting a little heavy handed.
Oooookay.... I know, I know. The only thing lamer than a humorless no talking promo is a long blog rant about it. It's just that I go to the Alamo Theaters a lot, and I want them to stay... fun! I think they can deter talking without getting preachy and stodgy.
Here endeth the lesson.



The League said...

I wondered about Tim League's "No Talking" insert, and I don't disagree. But I was more curious about "why this format?"

Guess 1) they've had an up-tic in complaints about talking, especially as the Alamo is now an institution in town and is being discovered by folks who normally wouldn't equate movies with the environment they've set up.

Guess 2) As the holiday movie-going season arrived, League was trying to work with the moms and grandma's who were going to wind up at the theater for the first and possibly only time, and wanted to be crystal clear as to what his usual patrons expect

Guess 3) The "no-talking" message just isn't working anymore. Maybe making the message funny meant it was no longer being taken seriously.

I haven't seen it particularly at Alamo South, but downtown this summer I saw a major ramp-up in people not familiar with the Alamo's admittedly byzantine protocols. Basically, they'd show up when you'd normally show up for a movie, walk into the theater talking (which was invariably during the "No Talking" PSA), and then sit down and continue talking.

Now, I think League's "history of no talking" is kind of silly. Its basic audience etiquette, which folks have forgotten in recent years. But I think he could have gotten his point across with a much shorter and to-the-point message.

They'll figure it out.

J.S. said...

Yeah, well I also read an article (or editorial or something) not too long ago (maybe in The Chronicle?) where someone had written in and complained about having been kicked out of The Alamo for talking during the movie. League had submitted a well spoken response, though, and pretty much all of the comments following the article were annoyed with the person complaining and in support of the no talking policy.
I think League might just be getting a little too defensive about a few isolated criticisms of what is, overall, a vastly popular policy.