Thursday, April 19, 2012

The disconnect between the movie reviewer and the movie watcher


I just watched "The Tree of Life." I think I was supposed to really like it. That's what the movie reviewers say. I wanted to like it. It had artists shots of nature and lots of classical music and Brad Pitt, and I'm a Brad Pitt fan, who is, strangely, an underrated actor because of his looks and ability to date the world's most beautiful women.
But I have a confession. I didn't get "The Tree of Life." In fact, I think I hated it.
I was supposed to like it because movie reviewers told me I should. If you go by Rotten Tomatoes, 85 percent of the critics liked it. It was on the Top 10 lists of many critics I trust, including my favorite, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. He even makes fun of people like me, apparently, who want silly things like some semblance of a story or dialogue that isn't whispered like I'm engaged in some sort of creepy pillow talk with the actors.
"Artistic ambition is a bitch," Travers writes in his three-and-a-half-stars review of the movie. "Mainstream audiences yawn you off."
OK, so reviewers liked a movie and I didn't. It happens. But then I watched "The Future" yesterday. This movie wasn't as highly praised as "The Tree of Life." I don't think it made many top-10 lists. Yet more than 70 percent liked it. Many top critics liked it too. And that movie SUCKED. It was bizzare for all the wrong reasons, and by the end, I hated the characters so much, I was rooting for zombies to attack them, and that reminded me of the second season of "The Walking Dead," and then I became angry and folded laundry. Folding laundry when you're angry is never a good idea. You get a little too pissed off when you can't find a matching sock.
And it hit me that movie reviewers never seem to review movies for their readers. They seem to review them for other reviewers.
I believe I can say this because I am a movie snob. I'm not, as Travers seems to think, "the mainstream audience." In fact, I think I probably watch movies in the same way reviewers watch them. I look for depth of story, originality, real characters, great dialogue and writing and artistic, inventive direction. I try to watch all the movies on reviewers' top-10 lists. I usually like them.
I hate the Twilight movies without even watching them and any Michael Bay movie. My soul weeps when Transformers makes trillions of dollars. I, like most critics, believe a lot of mainstream movies suck.
I watch well-reviewed movies almost exclusively and prefer deep, thought-provoking ones the most.
I've had this conversation with my wife many times:
"Hey, do you want to watch this movie with me?"
"Is it one of your weird movies?"
"Um....maybe."
"No."
So why am I writing this screed because I didn't like a couple of experimental films? Isn't that a bit much? No. It's actually a symptom of a much larger problem.
I rely on movie reviewers to tell me what's good. I have three small kids. I have lots of other things to do. I run. I work. Sometimes I play with the kids and the dog. I can't just "go to a movie" most of the time. So when I see something like "The Future," I've not only seen a bad movie, I've lost two, precious, jewel-encrusted hours of free time.
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who has a busy life. I'm pretty sure, in fact, others get angry too when they see a lousy movie.
Now I don't always need reviewers to pick my movies for me. I knew I'd love "The Descendants." Alexander Payne? Sold. I'll watch anything by Pixar. The new Batman movie? I'm there. I'll see "The Artist" because it won Best Picture, and if I hate it, I can blame the Academy, which is cool by me.
And in fairness to reviewers, my trust in them is well put. I put "Take Shelter" in my Netflix cue because it got great ratings, and I loved it. I saw "Phoebe in Wonderland" and wound up buying it as an all-time favorite. I discovered Payne this way. I doubt I would have heard of any of those movies otherwise.
Lately, though, my trust seems misplaced. I was on the fence about "Tree of Life." I'm not a Terrence Malick fan after the disaster that was "The Thin Red Line." But so many critics raved about it. Travers, for instance. So, OK. I rented it.
Movie reviewers, in other words, are getting it wrong perhaps more than they should, at least this year and last. And I think I know why.
It's their job to sit through movies all week, every week. They don't get to avoid the Twilight films like I do. They have to see them. They have to see Transformers. They have to watch all those horrible romances and torture-porn flicks and reboots and remakes and mindless children's crap like "Happy Feet Two."
Last year, sequels made up one-fifth of the nationwide releases, according to Box Office Mojo. That doesn't include reboots, remakes or swill like "Jack and Jill." Not all sequels are bad. But even Pixar made "Cars II," and that was Pixar's only bad movie ever. When Pixar can't deliver, you know you're having a bad year.
Eddie Murphy once joked about sex and how a woman controls our minds with it. She will make us wait forever, he said, until she finally gives in, and you think it's the best ever.
If you're starving, Murphy said, in a paraphrase here, and someone gives you a Saltine, you're going to think it's a Ritz.
If I were a movie critic, in other words, I'd like "The Tree of Life" too. In fact, I'd LOVE it. A movie with its own artistic vision? One that doesn't have vampires that look like GQ cover models who just gave a pint too much of blood? One that has some semblance of originality? Something different from most of the crap being shoveled my way? And it isn't a sequel, and it's ambitious? Sold. Three-and-a-half stars.
I'd probably even somehow like "The Future." The movie was awful, but at least it was an attempt to be original.
I probably wouldn't even care that those movies were difficult to watch, weren't enjoyable or actually kind of sucked too. They were different, didn't feature aliens blowing something up and had some decent acting. They were original. They were ambitious, even if those ambitions fell short. Sold.
So why don't I follow the same theory? I don't have to sit through movies all day. I don't have the time for it either. I get to watch what I consider the good stuff. When a movie sucks, then, it stands out even more. Critics are far too used to sitting through swill, and it's clouding their vision for the rest of us.
I kind wanted to be a movie critic, but lately I've reconsidered that job. Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe just won a Pulitzer for his movie reviews. In one of his essays that won, he reviewed "The Tree of Life." He wrote that the vision was lovely but not easy to understand. He sort of liked it for its originality but also seemed to wonder if it really was a good movie.
Morris earned that damned prize.

This post also appeared at http://pokingandpeaking.blogspot.com

1 comment:

Dawn Summers said...

Silly, Dan England, if you read Filmchaw more often, none of that would have happened. Tis your own fault. *I* watch these terrible movies so you don't have to.