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?"
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

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Easter!

And thus Dawn Summers' insane movie reviews are resurrected! #NoBlasphemy

The Lorax
I don't know why the powers that be would pair Taylor Swift and Zac Efron in a movie, but NOT have them sing and dance and be awesome WHERE I CAN SEE THEM! No, I've gotta settle for voiceover Zac and Taylor! And let me tell you: I WAS NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT! Although, they did spare me having to look at Ed Helms' stupid face, so thank heaven for small mercies. This movie is dreadful. The Lorax is a manipulative, homicidal psychopathic cult leader. I'm not even kidding. Not one bit. Unless... No. Unless nothing, this movie sucked it.

Kung Fu Panda 2
Cute movie. Though I don't recall leaving Kung Fu Panda having all that many unanswered questions. Or any at all. But, they have a new bad guy threatening China. Can the kung Fu Panda rise to the challenge? Yes. Yes he can. Obama '12. What? That's what the movie is about, isn't it? A black and white hero who saves a nation from evil? Well, that was MY takeaway. You guys can suck it. Hmm... dear Obama campaign, feel free to use that as the new slogan "You guys can suck it."

21 Jump Street
I totally thought I was going to hate this movie because I usually hate movies with that used-to-be-fat-and-now-he's-less-fat-dude. But the movie is actually sharp and funny (though it did hit an insufferably long boring patch in the middle). The ending is AMAZING especially if you remember watching the 21 Jump Street TV show as a tween.

The Future
HAHAHAHHAAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHA Okay, let me give you the plot of this movie: two twenty-something hipsters decide to adopt a three legged cat. They are told to come pick the cat up in thirty days. On their way home they realize "OH MY GOD! IN *THIRTY DAYS* WE'RE GOING TO BE CAT OWNERS!" The rest of the movie is how they decide to spend their last days of life before the cat comes, as, I assume, they realize that the cat will eat their faces on Day 31. And, I can't lie, I would sorta be rooting for the cat. Do not, under ANY circumstances, see this movie. I'm also gonna go ahead and hashtag this film #whitepeopleproblems

Safe House
Sigh. I may have to break up with Ryan Reynolds. Two utterly unwatchable movies in a row AND HE HAS THE AUDACITY TO PUNCH DENZEL WASHINGTON IN THE FACE?? ##RRRRAAYYYYCCCEEESSSSS Bleeeccchhh. This predictable and formulaic movie about a rogue spy and a rookie spy whose worlds collide in South Africa is a snoozefest.

The Ides of March

It's okay that I'm breaking up with Ryan Reynolds because I am ALL IN on Ryan Gosling! HE IS GREAT IN EVERYTHING! And everything he does is great! Swoon. I thought Ides was going to be dumb, like Primary Colors, but it wasn't. It was wonderful, like Dodgeball! And the best thing about breaking up with Reynolds for Gosling, besides sticking with the name Ryan? At least Gosling's not Canadian like that fradulent pretender Reynolds who tried to trick me. LA LA LA LA I can't hear you.

The Singing Detective
Um. This movie is weird and why is there oatmeal on Robert Downey Jr.'s face for the majority of it?! HIS FACE!!!! Good grief. Um. He plays a patient who wrote a book about a singing detective and in his imagination he is also that detective. Did I say weird, yet? Weird. But I liked it. Sorta.

Predator: Collector's Edition
In the run up to Prometheus, I'm trying to see all the Alien movies. I noticed that the last one is Alien v. Predator, so I figured I should just go ahead and watch all the Predator movies too. So, here we are. In a jungle with the Governors of California and Minnesota. SERIOUSLY?! Oh, America, you know I love you, but...but...*Head desk* Anywhoo. So, jungle something starts killing people and collecting their spines or skins...and AHHNOLD says stuff like "KNOCK KNOCK *rapid gunfire* YOU'RE DEAD" It wasn't the worst. But it wasn't awesomeness personified either.

Predator 2

For the first time -- maybe EVER -- I was psyched that there was a movie sequel because DUDE, I HAVE QUESTIONS! Why is the Predator all humanoid, who built its wapons systems, where did it come from, who is controlling it. I figured the first Predator was just a teasing appetizer, NOW, we'd get the nitty gritty full meal. Nope. Instead we get the WORST kind of 80s movie (even though it was made in the 90s) with your stereotypical out of control black cop, latino LA gang wars and covert CIA types -- lots of blood and awful dialogue BUT NO ANSWERS! I was mad. Is there a Predator 3? Sigh.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Yeah, I'm in a RDJ mood. This movie was a cute Singing Detective. The the tongue in cheek self deprecating thing gets a bit old after a while. I mean, I am watching this thing, I don't need the narrator mocking me for watching it and telling me how contrived it is. Sheesh. RUDE. Oh, the plot is that he is an ersatz detective trying to help the woman he loves find out who killed her sister. Stuff blows up.

The Thing
THIS MOVIE WAS AWESOME!!! DUUUUDDEEEE!! Okay, maybe awesome is too strong, but not by much. This movie is a solid B+/A- even though it's a remake and does many formulaic things. The key is that it waits like 4 seconds longer than you think it will to do the thing you know it's gonna do, so then you think it's not gonna do it but then IT TOTTALLY DOES IT AND YOU'RE SCREAMING YOUR WHOLE HEAD OFF!! Plus, I generally love movies where the monster can assume the shape of any of the people you know and trust because that validates my whole worldview. *whistles*

Martha Marcy May Marlene
So... you know how movies have a beginning, middle and an end? Yeah...well, like the protagonist of this flick who has a shitton of first names, this movie has a shitton of middles. Like middles UP THE WAZOO from start to or from middle to middle. It starts in the middle, ends in the middle and hits up a bunch of middles in the middle. They're interesting snapshots, I suppose. And I guess you're supposed to imagine how it all ends (and starts) mmmiunnno. It's okay.

Dream House
Booo. This movie is bad. In all the ways that The Thing takes a story we've all seen before but makes it freshly terrifying, Dream House takes the "haunted house trope" and bores us, not to death because that would, at least, be scary, but to sleep. 007 stars as the dad and that lady from the Mummy movies is the mom and the fake Nicole Kidman is the next door neighbor and you figure everything out in the first 20 minutes, yet you've gotta sit through 90 more. I almost wanna ruin it right now to ensure that you won't watch it...but I won't.

Killer Elite
This movie has its moments. Robert Deniro gets kidnapped and Chelios goes to get him back and then that weirdo British actor tries to catch Chelios. Terrible terrible things happen to money in this movie. So, if you love money, prepare to weep. Also, this movie is probably also very racist, so if you've got any Middle eastern blood in you, get your angry letter writing hand ready.

What's Your Number?
I find Emma Stone SO delighful! I thought this movie was good, almost said great, because I really did like it, but the plot of a woman concerned that she's slept with too many dudes to find a husband now, is just too sexist for me to recommend this flick too enthusiastically. Although, fun fact, turns out my 8th grade boyfriend is now head of Neurology at a major metropolitan hospital. And he and his stupid Eastern European looking fiancee just closed on a brownstone. #Nostalker

Beats, Rhymes & Life: A Tribe Called Quest
I've always heard people talk about A Tribe Called Quest, so I figured I'd rent this to see what all the fuss was about. The movie did not make a fan out of me. Although I like the Qtip guy. The other two dudes are lame. And their music was kinda annoying with all the repeating. Meh...they took my black card away LONG AGO. Shrug.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

I thought this movie was gonna suck. It starts out with the old man being so mean to the boy, who is a thief, so I wasn't entirely on his side either. The movie is so poorly lit and the world seems so dreary... but it gets better and I think I liked it at the end. But they could have made the depressing beginning shorter. I mean HONESTLY. Do we need a crippled security guard AND AN ATTACK dog? Oh, it's about an orphan boy who lives in a tower in France. But he does not have a hump, cause I was thinking that too.

Seconds Apart
Twins. Horror. Been there done that and in waaay better ways. Boring. I forgot about this movie while I was watching it.

Friends with Benefits
I don't know why Hollywood keeps cramming Justin Timberlake down my throat, but okay. He stars opposite Jackie from That 70s Show, who is adorable in this. I liked the movie, it was less contrived than I thought it was gonna be and I liked all the dance numbers. A GAGILLION times better than the Natalie Portman/ Ashton Kutcher version.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
I am forcing myself to learn about fossils and earth science so that VinNay stops throwing rocks at me and calling me "Christian." Werner Herzog made this movie about the Chauvet Cave and the scientists responsible for dating the paintings and identifying life forms. It was interesting, but as a good humanities student, I was most interested in the footprints they couldn't identify and the half woman/half bison pictures.

Last Night
This is one of those talky indie movies where young, rich, beautiful people sit around getting drunk and thinking about what might have been and then everyone starts sleeping with everyone else's wives. #whitepeopleproblems

The Hangover: Part II
I liked this one better than I liked the first one. Of course, I hated the first one with the fiery sting of a thousand ants. It's set in Thailand -- mostly so they can say Bang cock lots of times. A promising young doctor's life is ruined and there is unprotected sex with Thai hookers, which is...hilarious? O_o Also, can we STOP with the Ed Helms movies? I'm serious, I think I have an allergy now.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 1
Um. Okay. I intentionally put this one near the bottom cause, I didn't want to be all discredited right at the start of my triumphant return post. this movie was kinda great. I mean, I hated the first two just like all other red blooded, God fearing, diploma having persons, but this movie was truly actually compelling, well written, directed -- even the Bella girl who I usually despise, did not make me want to throw up. NOT EVEN ONCE! I was engaged, scared, relieved! Dude. It was good. I'm going to go sit in the corner now.

I guess it's fitting that this movie is next since it features Twilight's breakout star Taylor Lautner. Lautner is known for his spectacularly defined abdominals. The kid knows his way around a gym AND YET he spends the entirety of this movie with his shirt on! THE HELL?!!! Have they learned NOTHING from the Twilight franchise? Taylor + ripping off his shirt angrily = $$$ Instead, we get Taylor roughhousing on the lawn...with a shirt on. Taylor on a train... with a shirt on. Taylor in the pool...with a shirt on??!!! BOOOOO. Oh, the plot? Um... he was abducted? Or abandoned or dude, it's a Taylor Lautner movie the only plot should have been how do we get him to angrily rip off his shirt. The writers failed.

Real Steel
Boxing robots in the future. Duh. Need I say more? Of course it was awesome. I watched this flick with F-train and he was all rolling his snarky little eyes, but by the end when the little-robot-that-could faces off against the Mega robot in the robot world championships, he was all yelling at the TV! "WHAT? WERE THOSE JUDGES WATCHING THE SAME FIGHT I WAS WATCHING?!" O_o #impendingmentalcollapse

Saw this movie after visiting the gravesite of a friend of mine from high school who died of cancer at 34. So, to be fair, I probably wasn't in the best mood for a "comedy about cancer." That said, this movie BLEW. It wasn't funny or touching nor did it "keep it real," as it were. Every character was SUCH a cliche...including his grief counselor for who he is only her second client and she's terrible, but he stays with her anyway. JAYSUS. BOOOOOOOO. Vomit. A pox on VinNay's stupidface for recommending this tripe.