Monday, March 1, 2010

No, I Have NOT Forgotten About This Blog!

MOVIE IN QUESTION: Cold Souls, 2008


A couple things to recognize before this review begins: 1) After Anita Gates’ lackluster performance I decided to give the New York Times a second chance, in this case with someone whose name I can’t pronounce; 2) I only managed to stay awake for about the first half of the movie on account of its slow pace and my general lack of interest, so I am forced to take the reviewer at his or her word on much of this.

First paragraph: “If anyone looks as if he might be in the possession of a troubled soul, it’s the actor Paul Giamatti. With his doubting eyes and gently defeated posture, he tends to come across as a man carrying a burden, though one not necessarily or wholly of his making. You can almost see the distress resting heavy and hard on his sloped shoulders, pushing out against his ovoid head, tugging at his lower eyelids and worrying his lips.”

This is a really good start. Just solid writing that talks about the movie’s lead man before it goes into details about the film itself.

The remainder of the article is written with intelligence and elegance, as Dargis ably interweaves his narrative summary and critical interpretations of the film and its actors. His conclusion is similar to what I was thinking right before I fell asleep: “Ms. Barthes peeks at the dark comedy of the soul only to beat a quick, pre-emptive retreat.” My exact thoughts were more along the lines of “This is boring as hell,” but essentially we are on the same page.

Dargis’ review is very well-written throughout with good sentence structure and insight, though like many smart writers, Manohla occasionally gets too wordy for his/her own good. Examples?

Paragraph 2: “Mr. Giamatti plays a role for which he is exceptionally, perhaps even uniquely qualified: an actor named Paul Giamatti, thereafter known as Paul.” See what I mean? Too wordy.

Final paragraph: “He also looks into his own soul, and while it brings tears to his eyes, it, much like the Russian subplot, proves disappointingly banal, which might be true to life but is an artistic letdown.” Dargis once again demonstrates serious critical insight but seems to be trying too hard here.

To conclude, Manohla Dargis exhibits a great talent for writing, though its tendency toward being longwinded suggests a hint of arrogance on the part of the reviewer. I apologize to my handful of readers if this judgment sounds undeserved. Most importantly, though, the review seems to acknowledge something of key importance when it comes to this type of quirky comedy: A unique and interesting premise does not necessarily translate into a good movie.

All in all, Dargis VASTLY outperforms his/her fellow Times writer and redeems the publication in style.

FINAL GRADE OF DARGIS’ REVIEW: 3 1/4 out of 4 Stars

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This blog’s loyal follower pointed out that the failure to include hyperlinks to the original review is making this even more unreadable than it would otherwise be. Links to sources being reviewed will be included moving forward, and will be added retroactively to previous entries.

MOVIE IN QUESTION: Cannibal! The Musical, 1996


I will start quite bluntly by saying that Gates’ review just didn’t do it for me. Cannibal! The Musical, the deranged brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is a musical comedy that is every critic’s dream. Its bizarre song lyrics, silly humor and general absurdity gives a reviewer the chance to really shine and come up with a truly entertaining critique, regardless of what he or she thought of Parker’s effort.

It is this fact that made Gates’ review so disappointing. Her work is without doubt the least interesting of anything we’ve looked at so far- even kevdmac had his moments, albeit by accident- and there is really no excuse.

The review begins ominously, as Anita gives potential viewers some very poor advice: “Try to arrive a few minutes late for ‘Cannibal: The Musical.’ That way you'll miss the revolting sight of bloody, amputated body parts, the trademarks of Troma, the filmmakers who gave the world ‘The Toxic Avenger’ and ‘Surf Nazis Must Die!’” First of all, I don’t think anyone appreciates a critic taking a low blow at The Toxic Avenger. Secondly, advising people to skip the hilariously violent beginning of this or any movie seems ridiculous, as this will often be the high point of the film.

On a more positive note, paragraph three accurately describes the film’s potential, noting that it is “amateurish but has flashes of real humor.” Gates has hit on a key point: that while parts of the movie seem to get away from them, the comedic talent of Parker and Stone is still very obvious.

For the rest of her review, Gates bores us to tears with flat, uninspired plot summary: “The men he travels with from Utah to Colorado are not a particularly bright or tough bunch. When they meet a group of trappers, they're horrified to learn that trapping involves killing little animals. When a man gets unruly, he's sentenced to a 20-minute ‘time out’... Along the way, before the cannibalism, they build a snowman, encounter a Confederate cyclops and pursue a horse thief.” Yawn.

An oversight in editing also led to an egregious error: the “time-out” to which people are occasionally sentenced lasts 60 minutes, during which they must sit 20 feet away from the rest of the group. I thought this was the New York Times. Get your facts straight, folks.

At no point does Gates mention the satirical nature of the film, which pokes fun at many aspects of traditional musicals with its cheesy ballads and preposterous lyrics. In the end, she makes a mockery of her review in an attempt to draw on peoples’ familiarity with South Park to get a laugh: “Imagine the film taking place in ‘South Park’ animation. If Cartman were ripping that man's arm off and eating it, it might be cute.”

Would Cartman ripping a man’s arm off and eating it be cute? Yes. Does it have anything to do with anything? Absolutely not. I think Anita missed the boat on this movie. Some might say that a musical comedy about cannibalism doesn’t deserve a top-rate review, but in this blogger’s opinion, anything worth doing is worth doing right. Quite simply, this movie deserved better.


More to follow.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

So far this blog has reviewed the work of two established movie reviewers. To try something a bit different, we will for the moment turn our attention to a lesser-known individual, Netflix member kevdmac, and his review of the documentary The King of Kong that I found posted on the Netflix website. A user of the site since 2002, kevdmac, or Kev, as well will refer to him, has rated dozens of movies. Is he the next Roger Ebert or just some clod sitting at home writing bad reviews?

MOVIE IN QUESTION: The King of Kong, 2007

AUTHOR OF REVIEW BEING REVIEWED: kevdmac, Netflix member review page

Some background for those who haven’t seen this film: It is a documentary following unemployed family man Steve Wiebe in his attempt to break the world points record in Donkey Kong, currently held by arcade gaming legend Billy Mitchell. OK.

The first sentence of Kev’s brief 151-word review reads as follows: “This started out as a silly a bit fun while examining the lives of these folks embarked on setting donkey kong high scores.” Now, while I realize that Netflix member reviews need to be evaluated on a different level than those of highly-renowned critics, I think that the ability to write a somewhat comprehensible opening sentence is a must for any review, regardless of its source.

Kev goes on to discuss how he became depressed at seeing how seriously the people in the film were taking a simple arcade game. This is something that I can identify with, having become very depressed myself after reading this review. Are our school systems really that bad?

As an example of the overly-serious nature of the players, Kev sites the following: “When a player's very young child asks him to wipe his butt in the middle of trying to set a high score I was laughing along until I realized that this guy ended up ignoring his child with a dirty butt just to play a video game that could have been easily restarted.”

This is without question the highlight of the review. Kev has, perhaps unintentionally, opened the door for us to think about our own priorities in life, and provided some sound advice: Wipe your child’s butt first, play video games later.

Unfortunately, the review only goes downhill from there, falling completely off the cliff by the time he describes his decision to turn off the movie: “It was very sad and I gave up watching this after that and a few minutes of back and forth allegations of tampering.”

It’s really difficult to comment on this, mainly because I don’t have any idea what Kev is trying to say here. In all likelihood alcohol, horse tranquilizers, or some other distraction played a serious role in the making of this review.

In addition to its poor grammar and nonsensical statements, this review would argue that the documentary is unwatchable: “Neither the people involved nor the premise behind this documentary were interesting enough to make this worth watching.”

I strongly disagree with this contention, having myself become increasingly captivated by Steve Wiebe’s quest as he goes for the record. As far as “uninteresting” people are concerned, gaming icon Billy Mitchell proves to be so conniving, manipulative, and cowardly that by the end of the movie you’ll want to jump through the screen and punch him in the face, along with his limp-dicked protege Brian Kuh.

So there it is. I would suggest the kevdmac not attempt to make a career out of writing movie reviews until he cleans up his act.


It might be best to stick with the professionals for a while.

And now, moments later...

MOVIE IN QUESTION: Risky Business, 1983


Roger Ebert has made a living out of reviewing movies, the kind of living that I hope to make by reviewing reviews. Let’s see how his review holds up under this blog’s scrutiny.

Ebert’s review can be divided into two halves. In the first half he describes the film’s plot and in the second he provides insight regarding its quality as well as its significance as a coming-of-age comedy tackling issues like guilt, sex, and obsession. It’s really the second half of his review that saves this thing from being a piece of garbage.

Paragraphs 2-3: “It's a busy time in Joel's life. He's got college board exams, an interview with a Princeton admissions officer, and finals at high school.
It gets to be an even busier time after his parents leave. Joel gets involved in an ascending pyramid of trouble.”

Roger, this reads like a middle school kid wrote it. You’re a smart guy, no? What’s going on here? I was soundly disappointed with the writing style that this critic used in dully walking us through the general plot of the picture. At any rate, things start to look up when Ebert goes into his analysis of writer/director Paul Brickman’s work.

Paragraph 5: “This is one of those movies where a few words or a single line says everything that needs to be said, implies everything that needs to be implied, and gets a laugh. When the hooker tells the kid, "Oh, Joel, go to school. Learn something," the precise inflection of those words defines their relationship for the next three scenes.”

Wow, I couldn’t have said that any better. Solid insight. This is the kind of intelligent writing I've been waiting to see since I started this blog over two hours ago.

He goes on to compliment the movie on being extremely well-casted and acted, noting how difficult it is to make a good comedy, especially one that stays funny all the way through. I might have actually made that last part up on my own, but it’s worth pointing out.

Paragraph 7, final sentence: “This movie knows what goes on behind the closed bathroom doors of the American dream.”

Again, really good stuff, Roger. This conclusion is thoughtful, articulate and ends the review on a very high note. As pedestrian as the first half of your review may have been, the last four paragraphs more than save it. I guess maybe that’s why you became a pseudo-celebrity for doing this while no one knows anything about that clown William Arnold.

Ebert gives the movie a four-star rating, which I believe is out of the classic four-star scale rather than the current 5-star rating system used by Netflix. If so, I think he overshot it by 1/2 star, but regardless, he did a damn good job talking about the film.

One more thing to add, which Roger Ebert failed to mention because the decade in which he wrote the review couldn’t really appreciate it. Tom Cruise’s thigh-high cutoff jean shorts in the scene where Guido confronts him at his house. In the 80’s this may have been pretty common to see, but watching this film over 25 years later, it’s hard to imagine a high school kid trying to get away with pulling off that look. At the very least he’d get his ass kicked. While I can’t fault Ebert for failing to predict the drastic departure our culture would make from absurd 1980’s fashion, this is something that any modern-day review needs to acknowledge.


What follows will be a first in Movie Review Review history. Don’t miss it!

So begins a new blog that will attempt something never before done in the world of entertainment: Reviewing movie reviews. Any bozo with a screen and keyboard can review the movies themselves, but it's now time for someone to critique the critics, to scrutinize their scrutiny, to shine the light on their work and judge it harshly but fairly. We'll start, for some reason, with the following:

MOVIE IN QUESTION: The Shipping News, 2004

AUTHOR OF REVIEW BEING REVIEWED: William Arnold, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Arnold’s headline for his review of The Shipping News, a 2004 film starring Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, and Cave Girl look-alike Julianne Moore, reads “Magical ‘Shipping’ delivers the goods.” In his review, Arnold gives the 111-minute long movie a rating of A-, which equates to a 91 out of 100. This generous rating of a very average and overly melancholic picture make me wish I had encountered more professors in college who were as easygoing with their grades.

Come on, William. You’re a critic. You are supposed to be critical. If you can’t tear into this film at least a little you’re too soft for the job. Maybe the similarity of the cold, rainy climate of the movie’s setting in Newfoundland to that of your native Seattle has caused a soft spot to form, leaving you impervious to the film’s obvious flaws. Perhaps you have a subconscious sexual fascination with Judi Dench, leading to the same result. If you really liked this movie so much, you probably also thought very highly of The Life of David Gale, which of course was just awful.

Reactions to various parts of the review follow:

Paragraph 2 reads: “And [director Lasse Hallstrom]’s done it again with ‘The Shipping News,’ a less-than-perfect but mostly very inspired adaptation of Annie Proulx's 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about an unlikely hero who finds his roots and heals his psychic wounds in a frozen corner of the Canadian North.”

Really? The book this is based on won a Pulitzer, and this is the best Hollywood could come up with? If I were trying to sell how well-made this movie is, I would not be advertising that, William.

Paragraphs 7 and 8: “The screenplay has weaknesses. Quoyle's wife is written not as a human being but as some monster from hell; the story works to one of those sexually shocking revelations so beloved by the Oprah Book Club they've become a groaning cliche of victimized-women's fiction.

Still, the movie soars. Hallström weaves his wand, and Proulx's characters and end-of-the-world setting come magically alive with just the right touch of authenticity, enigmatic mystery and eccentric flair.”

First of all, William only mentions one weakness. I counted at least forty, roughly one every three minutes. If you’re going to write reviews, you have to dig a little deeper. In addition, I’m not crazy about the transition between paragraphs 7 and 8. Another “groaning cliche” perpetuated in this movie, one worth mentioning but untouched by Arnold is that of the annoying, omnipotent child, in this case Kevin Spacey’s daughter. I have really had enough of these creepy, inexplicably all-seeing little kids. While I don’t entirely blame William Arnold for this, I think his failure to mention it really calls into question his ability to write effective reviews, and brings up serious questions regarding his general sanity.

Final paragraph: “In a time when even the best of big Hollywood movies all seem to be mired in a certain nagging, unimaginative visual sameness, this one dares to take us to a place we haven't been before.”

I agree that the unique ocean-framed landscape added a nice visual element to the movie. But how does William know that none of us has been to Newfoundland before? Seems presumptuous.

Finally, I was disturbed by the lack of clever puns in Arnold’s analysis. Being new to movie reviewing myself, I glanced at a few excerpts from other critics to see what they were saying.

Check out this one from Jack Matthews at the New York Daily News: “The choice made by Kevin Spacey in taking on the role of Quoyle in the film adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Shipping News nearly sinks it.” Nice.

Steven Rae of the Philadelphia Inquirer begins with: “Despite its haunting artistry and its winning eccentricities, The Shipping News is a vehicle that's still very much at sea.” I like that.

See what they’re doing there, William? Those are solid puns based on the title and setting of the movie. A few of those from you might have added a little spice to your overly-congratulating review. Instead, the result of your efforts is a two-and-a-half page shipwreck of an article. Hell, even I can do it.


1.5 / 4 stars

Coming next: Expect a review of a review of an old classic... perhaps Risky Business? or Weekend at Bernie’s 2? Stay tuned!