Book Review: 'The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex' by Mark Kermode

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BBC Radio’s curmudgeonly Mark Kermode, with his fascinating hair and his curious obsession with ‘The Exorcist’, has slowly but surely become one of the most respected film critics in the UK. According to a YouGov poll in October 2010 Kermode is in fact considered to be “the most trusted” film critic in the UK by 3% of people polled for their opinion. You may not be hugely impressed by this statistic but then neither is Kermode and indeed the thrust of Kermode’s latest book, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex’ is that not very much at all about the modern film-going experience - or, indeed - modern films themselves, particularly impresses Kermode.

Kermode's a bit pissed off, really. He just likes good movies and he really can't understand why, given the amount of money and talent available in Hollywood, the big studios aren't capable of making better films. He takes the view that, with a little bit more effort, a lot of films would be a lot more worth seeing. He also has little time for 3D films (don't we all?) and points out that this latest fad has nothing to with artistic integrity and is just a desperate ploy by desperate studios to generate a bit more revenue for their naffer films and that not only is it not proper 3D anyway, it's doomed to fail in the long-term just as it did back in the 1950s and the 1980s. He also despairs of the fact that Hollywood feels obliged to remake (and thus destroy) perfectly good foreign films just because they have - horrors! - subtitles and joins you, me and just about anybody with an iota of sense in wondering just why anyone thought remaking the sublime 'Let the Right One In' as the inferior 'Let Me In' was really necessary, much less the Daniel Craig-starring Millennium Trilogy ('The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', etc) when the perfectly-good foreign language versions were made only recently and are unlikely to bettered just because James Bond is in them. Perversely Kermode likes some seriously bad trashy films and seems to have a worrying soft spot for former 'High School Musical' dreamboat Zac Effron and, in one particularly amusing chapter, he recounts a recent cinema visit with his daughter to see an Effron movie only to be worked into a frenzy by the fact that the top of the picture (and thus Effron's hair) was off the edge of the screen and that nobody working in the cinema seemed especially bothered about it.

And 'The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex' is an extremely amusing book. It reads like a one-way conversation, as if Kermode is ranting directly at you, scarcely pausing for breath and veering off at all sorts of tangents whilst trying to make a point and finally finding his way back to his point after dropping in some fascinating, if indiscreet, industry anecdote or other. It's a breathless read and sometimes you can't help wishing for an Editor who could have reigned Kermode in a bit and persuaded him to stick to the point for a while but the writer undoubtedly knows his stuff and his opinions, if hysterically-expressed from time to time, are well-argued and inevitably thought-provoking.

If you're at all familiar with Kermode's movie review section on Simon Mayo's Radio 5 Live show, some of his targets here may ring a bell or two and it may seem that Kermode is trying to batter down doors he's been hammering on for too long. But despite it all this remains a fun and engaging read and in the end Kermode just wants what all real film-lovers want... a better cinema-going experience, less soulless over-priced multiplexes and, of course, better films. Amen to all that, says I.

'The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex' is out now


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