Monthly Archives: July 2009

Good Reviews of Bad Movies

Reading reviews (much less spoilers) affects the movie-going experience. When I was a teenager, I saw a comedy suggested by  a friend. All I knew about it is that it was a comedy. Hadn’t read a review, no ads or posters had made any impression. I really enjoyed this movie; it made me laugh and feel giddy and full of joy. It was Splash. Part of my enjoyment was realizing that I had no expectations for the film.

And yet I love reading movie reviews. For films that I am really excited about, I will attempt to avoid reading them until I’ve seen the movie. They seem to give away so much plot! (At least more plot than can be given away in the trailers, another way to ruin a movie. Arlington Road is a prime example.) After seeing Pulp Fiction, I read 3 different reviews that tried hard to not spill many of the plot twists. However, each of them spilled a different twist, each from a different section. Oops. And when there is a twist ending, they will tell the readers that it exists. Dear reviewers, please don’t. I’m going to spend the movie anticipating the ending. Though appropriate for mysteries, it can be annoying for comedies. Or I won’t even see the movie. After hearing the plot set-up of The Sixth Sense and finding out that there was a big twist at the end, I deduced that either Bruce Willis or the kid was a ghost.

NB: I am not totally against spoilers. In fact, here is a recent defense of spoilers. It makes some good points. Myself, I try to savor the mysteries of the unknown in order to restrain my inner uberfangirl tendencies.

Despite being disgruntled, I still read the reviews. My favorite type of review is when the piece is better than the actual film. Here are a few examples:

Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie by Charlie Jane Anders. io9.com. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. 24 June 2009.

Since the days of Un Chien Andalou and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, filmmakers have reached beyond meaning. But with this summer’s biggest, loudest movie, Michael Bay takes us all the way inside Caligari’s cabinet. And once you enter, you can never emerge again. I saw this movie two days ago, and I’m still living inside it. Things are exploding wherever I look, household appliances are trying to kill me, and bizarre racial stereotypes are shouting at me.

TV Apocalypse Now! by Heather Havrilesky. Salon.com. Impact. 18 June 2009.

I love apocalyptic television. From the awkward dialogue to the terrible CGI effects to the “Let’s fall in love/resolve our differences while the world ends” relationship scenarios, End Times TV makes me feel warm and nostalgic inside. Like a giant glazed doughnut for the soul, disaster TV allows us to savor the supreme stupidity of it all and feel grateful that planet Earth isn’t imploding or exploding or spinning straight into the sun.

Reading this review of an upcoming TV miniseries sparked this post. I had to seek out the review of Deep Rising.

Deep Rising, Boston Globe. 30 November 1999.

It’s basically a video game without the joystick. Having said that, this noisy, violent, dumb-as-a-stump actioner is more mindlessly fun than it has any right to be. “Deep Rising” is basically a C-grade monster movie, the kind that used to run endlessly on “Creature Features” a thousand Saturday nights ago. To the credit of writer-director Stephen Sommers, he never aspires to do anything grander than that.

This review brightened a dismal day. Almost made me want to go see the film that opening weekend. I did see this film eventually … on cable. Kevin J. O’Connor gets all the best lines.

I often confuse that will with the one below. Its review is only one paragraph (I swear I remember a longer one), but it also applies.

Ghost Ship,by Ty Burr. Boston Globe. 25 October 2002.

”Ghost Ship” is the kind of movie that you catch on HBO at 1 in the morning just before you go to bed and you’ve maybe had a beer or three and you end up watching the whole damn thing because the opening scene of stomach-churning carnage is certainly … novel.

I have been racking my brain trying to remember another review of a water-based thriller from the mid-1990s published in the Boston Globe. One that name checked Army of Darkness and possibly came out around the time of Ed Wood or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Again my memory may be playing tricks on me and I am conflating reading a good review or a bad movie while finding editorial mistakes. Though not in the same league as my hometown paper (The Examiner-Enterprise) which has misspelled words in headlines, The Globe did not always get its facts straight regarding movies.

And for something a little different, here is a pan about a good movie. This student really, really, really hated this Hal Hartley flick. In this case, his review (plus my love for the film The Unbelievable Truth) made me was to see this movie even more. (For the record, I liked the film.) Again, I remember this piece a bit differently. I thought that the reviewer explicitly stated why he spoils the main plot points in order to discourage anyone from seeing it.

“Simple Men” Is Proof of Incompetence in Filmmaking. By John Jacobs. The Tech (MIT student newspaper), 20 Nov. 1992.

I guess the director also recognizes talent where there isn’t any. The movie is replete with bad acting (or no acting). The plot isn’t interesting and the “musician” who does the soundtrack needs a few more years of practice before he will be qualified even to do beer commercials. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who isn’t aware that there are third rate artists in America, damn it. And something should be done about it.

UPDATE: When I returned to work this week, I found another gem in my email. Excerpt from the Action Library Media Service Newsletter by Charlene Birkholz about Pink Panther 2. (I’ve taken out the links since you have to subscribe to the service to get to them.)

Do not purchase this film. You will only encourage the people behind it to make more of them. It was directed by Harald Zwart, who brought you One Night at McCool’s and Agent Cody Banks (and no, there will be no links to these films).
As you might surmise, Zwart is no Blake Edwards. And Steve Martin is, alas, no Peter Sellers. If you want to understand why the Pink Panther films are beloved enough to drive one dismal continuation after another, these are the films you should seek out.
And if, for some reason, you are driven to see a Pink Panther film without Sellers, there is this collection: It contains four films made without the man who brought Clouseau to life, including one in which Alan Arkin takes on the role of the infamous French detective.