Get Reel: Confessions of a film critic
Have you ever read a film review, gone to a film based on that review, seen the movie and then walked out of the theater, shaking your head in dismay and muttering, “What the hell was that critic thinking? That film was a steaming pile of excrement.” Or words to that effect.
You know you have. I have, before I became a film critic and after I became one. Go to enough movies and you’re going to read a review that either loved a film you loathed or loathed a film you loved.
I advise filmgoers to read a multiple of reviews before deciding on a film. If the reviews are uniformly positive, the film has an excellent chance of being worth seeing. On the other hand, if they’re uniformly negative, the film should likely be avoided like the plague of Pauly Shore.
And if the reviews are mixed? Sorry, you’re on your own. That’s when you may have to rely on a critic whose reviews you frequently agree with. Or wait for the DVD.
Of course, there are no guarantees because — and I know you’re going to find this hard to believe — critics actually make mistakes. I’m still trying to figure out why I praised “Hudson Hawk.” I blame a chemical imbalance brought on by a childhood addiction to Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries.
Plenty of critics praised “The Tree of Life,” proving the presence of a widespread mental imbalance. The film was even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. I found the movie as delightful as a Lyme-disease-carrying deer tick. The film should have been called “The Tree of Strife.”
While I appreciated director Terrence Malick’s attempt at working outside the mainstream of standard Hollywood fare, the execution left me bothered and bewildered. Definitely not bewitched. A director can work outside the mainstream and still connect with viewers. Case in point, “The Artist.”
Some critics gravitate toward films such as “The Tree of Life” like metal shavings to a magnet. Auteurs give them orgasms as they never met a complex or offbeat film they didn’t excited over. Conversely, they typically treat popular films with disdain bordering on an allergic reaction.
Complexity is fine unless a film is so complex that only viewers who have a massive intellect or smoked a massive bong can understand it, or pretend to understand it.
There’s a fine line to draw between films that are challenging and those that are mind-numbing.
I’ll take a lowbrow film that makes me laugh (i.e., “Animal House”) over a film that hurts my brain (i.e., “The Tree of Life”) any day of the week.
Pretentious filmmakers annoy me. They’re the ones who film bees buzzing around a flower in a film about a serial killer. Why? Because they can. There’s artsy and then there’s fartsy.
Intellectualism has its place, but what good is it when the final product fails to make a connection with the audience? A correlation can be found between films out in the ozone and atonal music.
Many critics adore this type of music yet the general public usually finds it as enjoyable as listening to a screaming baby and as comprehensible as string theory. “Hey, did you hear that tone row?”
Proponents argue that once the public hears enough atonal music, they’ll get accustomed to it. Doubt it. The music of Arnold Schoenberg dates back more than 100 years and audiences still have issues with it, and his music sounds tame compared to some of today’s modernists.
All that said, lowbrow films with subzero IQs (i.e., any movie starring Martin Lawrence) irritate me more. At least auteurs are trying to be creative.
Filmmakers who spew forth worthless and mindless mountains of swill have no interest in being creative. That’s because they don’t have the talent necessary to be creative. They’re hacks, making movies for morons and snickering all the way to the bank.
While knuckle-draggers deserve entertainment, I’d just as soon seen it provided to them on a direct-to-video basis so I don’t have to watch it. That approach works for the pre-teen fans of the talentless Olsen twins.
Sitting through the films of Brett Ratner, who makes most “worst directors” list, is about as pleasurable as undergoing a prostate biopsy. But his films make money so we’ll be subjected to them until they start tanking. Considering his target audience finds appendectomies funny, he’s likely to be around awhile.
Same for the three most untalented film actors working today: Lawrence, Rob Schneider and Kevin James. They must go.
I’m still holding out hope for Adam Sandler, but his latest run of stinkeroos makes me think “The Wedding Singer,” one of his few non-moron films, was an aberration.
And my favorite genre? I’m so glad you asked. It’s the musical. Since there’s more skill involved in making a musical, there’s more to enjoy. Actors not only have to act, they have to sing and preferably dance. And, if dance is involved, directors need to know choreography or at least know how to film it.
The major drawback with musicals is a preponderance of lame plots, but there are notable exceptions such as “Cabaret.”
Still, show me Eleanor Powell or Fred Astaire dancing — I have a particular fondness for tap — and I don’t care how pathetic the plot is.
Finally, just as critics have directors and actors who make them nauseous, there are directors and actors who become critical darlings.
For example, many of my fellow critics worship at the altar of Wes Anderson. When I tell them his excessively quirky films leave me cold, they look at me like I should be immediately placed in a straitjacket and shipped to the nearest looney bin.
While I liked parts of “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tennenbaums,” his other films have done nothing for me. I guess I just don’t like his quirk. The lone exception is the film most Anderson fans don’t like: “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Hey, it’s not great, but it’s sure better than “Bottle Rocket.” Go ahead, look for a straitjacket.
My faves of today tend to make movies that have something to say and say it a way that strikes the heart, the soul, the funny bone, the solar plexus or a combination of all four. Their use of the imagination is not designed to confound or confuse but to enlighten or entertain or a combination of both.
For example, the movies of Alexander Payne, whose resume includes “The Descendants,” “Sideways,” ”About Schmidt” and “Election,” seldom disappoint as they place the human condition under a microscope and watch it squirm.
And while admitting to a longtime love affair with the career of Jodie Foster has unpleasant implications thanks to John Hinckley Jr., I won’t let that maniac stop me from singing her praises. Amazing as a child actress, amazing as an adult actress, she’s even amazing acting in her second language — French. And she directs. I’m not sure how good her popcorn is, however. Bottom line: Jodie rules.
So there you have it. My confession or my screed, if you like. It’s quite likely that you don’t agree with everything I write, but at least I hope you see the passion. Or could that be insanity? For the record, I take a size 32 waste straitjacket.
If you think I’m sexy ...
It’s now time for trivia.
Last month’s tester: What two athletes, one of whom was to die before he was 30, starred in an early 1960s comedy? Clue: One of the co-stars would later appear in a film that won the Best Picture Oscar. Name the athletes, the 1960s movie, the co-star and the Oscar-winning film.
Answers: Marlin and Mike McKeever appeared as Ajax and Argo in “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.” Mike died from injuries sustained in a car accident at 27. Co-star Quinn Redeker later appeared in “Ordinary People.”
No one answered the question correctly.
This month’s tester: This person, who was nominated for People Magazine’s “sexist man” list, appeared in a documentary that won 14 awards. Clue: The film’s director has been nominated for an Oscar. Name the person, the documentary and the director.
The first reader to answer the question correctly will receive the book “Pulling It All Together,” a collection of editorial cartoons by Dave Granlund.
Trivia enthusiasts can call me at 508-626-4409 or email me at email@example.com.
Make sure you leave your name, address and phone number on my message machine or email so I can contact you if you answered the question correctly. The address is needed so winners can be mailed their prize. Callers should spell out their names slowly and clearly so their names will be spelled correctly in the column.
Answers will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 10. Good luck!