Too much of a good thing?

The British magazine Sight & Sound reported this month that cinemas and their audiences are becoming overwhelmed by too many films.

Jack O’Connell stars in a scene from the movie ’71, set in Belfast during The Troubles in 1971.

Jack O’Connell stars in a scene from the movie ’71, set in Belfast during The Troubles in 1971.

A couple of decades ago, a typical week in Britain would have seen five or six new releases. That number has since trebled.
But in the first weekend of May, there were an astonishing 24 new releases. A cinema manager said, “It’s becoming untenable … for operators, for audiences and for the media. The situation is at saturation point ….”
The report also noted that the New York Times was no longer reviewing every theatrical release, a move described as trying to prevent crummy films being shown just to get a notice.
Cinema releases are just the tip of an iceberg. Straight-to-video releases, seen only in rental stores, are now being made available through on-demand “streaming” services such as Netflix or Lightbox.
TV channels are also offering their shows for later viewing, adding to the choice for home viewers.
This column assumes most readers are interested in quality films, best seen in a cinema or for home viewing as an alternative.
The dilemma is that as the number and choice of films is rising dramatically, it doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is going down. Plenty of rubbish is still being made, of course, and even the worst films can attract an audience.
But as cinemas have to become more selective, it also means a number of high quality films will miss the benefit of a big screen release.
In the past few weeks I have travelled to Europe and back, enjoying in-flight entertainment on an international airline. The selection was overwhelming.
While many were recent cinema releases, dozens were not. Emirates Airline alone releases 100 new movies each month and offers a total of 535. That’s before you get to TV series and non-English language titles.
Many of the titles I watched had not been released in New Zealand. Half a dozen or so are of such quality that they have been selected for the 2015 International Film Festival, which has begun its run around the major centres. I have reviewed some in the accompanying Clips column.
Others are summarised here. Only space prevents a longer appreciation.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: This Iranian production, filmed in California but spoken in the Farsi language, is set in a bleak and lawless town that resembles the Sin City graphic novels of Frank Miller and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s heroine (Sheila Vand) sends the vampire genre to a new level as she skateboards after dark in a burqua and woos a James Dean lookalike (Arash Marandi). The black-and-white adds to the noir-ish atmosphere.
’71: The Belfast “troubles” come alive in this exciting thriller as a young British soldier (Jack O’Connell) is on the run after his squad is the victim of a riot. He is on his own in curfew, with both sides of the conflict deciding his fate.
Ex Machina: An elegant fantasy and mind game thriller in which artificial intelligence plays a key role. A new recruit (Domhnall Gleeson) to a Google-style Internet company is tested in an “imitation game” against a female robot with humanoid characteristics (Alicia Vikander).

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Nevil Gibson

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