Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Films During Christmas Are So...Depressing

November and December is probably the busiest time for a film critic.  This is when we do the most work, see the most movies, and (personally speaking) this is the time when I have to edit and put final touches on books that are due out in January.  This already puts a lot of stress on a critic, but for the past few years I have noticed another problem altogether.  See, the reason this is the busiest time of the season for writers of film is because it's Oscar season.  This is when all the studios are releasing their films that are "big," "important," and "potent." Films that feature heavy dialog and tough subject matter start flooding the theaters.  Some of the films I've seen in the past few weeks involve father abandonment, child molestation, survival at all costs, and epic space battles that I am legally obligated not to talk about in specific detail until next week (though I will say that this unnamed film is not nearly as much fun as it should be).

That some of these movies are some of the best of the year is of little comfort.  It makes me wonder: What happened to all the fun Christmas films?  It used to be every year we could expect some Christmas films from studios.  Some would be for adults.  Most would be for families.  There was honestly only a fifty-fifty chance of them being good, but when they were good they could be really good ("The Polar Express" and "Arthur Christmas" are two somewhat recent examples).  I remember my dad taking me to movies for my birthday and we would see movies like "The Muppet Christmas Carol," "The Santa Clause 2," and "The Grinch." This year the big movie being released for my birthday is "In the Heart of the Sea," which features no Christmas joy anywhere.  So far I have only seen two Christmas films this year.  The first was the profoundly stupid "We Love the Coopers," which was so bad it was practically gone from cinemas before December even hit (good luck finding it now if you live in a smaller town).

The second is "Krampus," a much better (and shockingly enjoyable film for something that wasn't screened for critics) holiday themed movie that looks at the "other" mystic figure of Christmas that isn't so nice and comes into the picture when Santa decides you weren't nice enough to get any presents.  It's a fun movie to be sure... but it doesn't exactly bring the Christmas cheer one would hope for. Granted, neither did "Bad Santa," but that was released in June the year it came out.  There is also "The Night Before" out there, but I haven't seen it, and I doubt Seth Rogan is going to bring any holiday cheer.  The Christmas films have been so few and far between these past couple of years, that many movie theaters are dedicating screens to classic movies to fill the void of holiday cheer.  This year my local theaters are almost all showing "Home Alone," "Miracle on 34th Street" (both versions), and "It's A Wonderful Life!" Before "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" opens there will be some IMAX's showing "The Polar Express" again.  Heck, one theater near me is even showing Adam Sandler's "Eight Crazy Nights."

That movie is so unpleasant you would find more cheer in watching "The Silence of the Lambs."

It all makes me wonder: What the heck happened?  When did going to the movies during the most wonderful time of the year become such a bleak thing to do?  Right now the only movie that has any sense of holiday cheer is "The Peanuts Movie," which has some scenes during Christmas, but is not a movie that is in and of itself about Christmas.  It is true that Christmas movies have somewhat limited commercial appeal.  People only really want to see them during December.  Most of them open in November to try and stretch out their profitability window, but if they movie tanks during the first couple of weeks it could be gone before that crucial period hits.  Open it too late and it never takes off at all.  The movie can't be released on DVD until the following November because no one wants it before then.  The pro to this though is that if the movie IS successful, you are guaranteed to sell it every year to people in one form or another.

Will studios return to their old tradition of making Christmas movies?  I'm concerned about that.  Hollywood has become more about franchise and Oscar movies.  Holiday films don't really fall into either category at the moment.  That becomes a problem because the most we can expect these days is for a non-holiday movie to at least have a portion of the film that takes place during Christmas.  There's also that whole war on Christmas thing going on, where it becomes more and more politically incorrect to celebrate the holiday every year.  Ah, I better stop before I get into a topic that is too big for me.  At the moment I am watching more movies than I usually do, doing more writing than normal, and yet I'm not feeling a whole lot of joy from these movies regardless of their quality.  I don't know what the problem is and I don't know if there is a solution, but hopefully Christmas films will start to feel festive again at some point.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Yes, I Get to See the New 'Star Wars' Early...So What?

Once in awhile the subject of me getting to see movies early comes up.  This usually happens around the time of a highly anticipated summer blockbuster.  People say how much they are looking forward to a certain movie and I respond with a "oh, I get to see that two weeks early" or "I've already seen it."  There is usually a little jealousy at this point, but rarely to the extent I've seen with "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (yes, I'm including 'Episode' in the title because we all know that's what this movie is). These days people have been seething with anger finding out that I am getting to see this movie earlier then them.  The comments range from "you lucky SOB" to "why can't I have your job?"  Here's the thing though guys: Me seeing the new Star Wars movie early really isn't that big of a deal, and honestly, if you were in my position it wouldn't be to you either.

Yes, I do get to see Star Wars early, but I also get to see virtually everything early.  Every movie that a studio hopes to be a hit is screened for the critics (movies that aren't screened are usually so bad we find we don't care).  Every.  Single.  One.  So yes, I get to see Star Wars early, but I also saw "Specter" last week.  I saw "Minions" three days before it went wide.  I saw all "The Hobbit" movies two weeks before they were made available to the general public (then I went to them again with my family for Christmas).  Seeing a movie early loses it's luster very quickly,  It's far more impressive if you're one of the few people to see "Let it Be" or "Song of the South," movies that studios try desperately to keep out of the public eye.  Seeing a movie early is a bragging right you can have for two weeks at the most.

Trust me, I would give up my rights to see the next six Star Wars movies early if I could view "The Day the Clown Cried," which would be a bragging right I could take to the bank.  The second thing to keep in mind is when you are in this line of business, seeing things early becomes the new norm.  So you aren't seeing movies early after awhile so much as you are on a different set schedule.  The third thing is that when you do this for a living long enough and you stop getting excited about new releases because there's always something to see (but I've written about that in another article).  The final reason this is not a big deal is something that is rarely discussed (and hasn't been suggested by a lot of people recently), but it needs to be said:

"Stars Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" might not even be a good movie.

Sorry, but it's true.  Excitement for the film is high and a lot of people want to see it, but that doesn't mean we're going to get a good movie.  The trailers (which I have not seen) may be exciting to watch, but as I've said before, trailers are not an indicator of a films ultimate quality.  We had this sort of excitement over "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace," which was so hyped we were absolutely convinced it couldn't be bad.  Yeah...glad that went according to plan, right?  If I may be frank with you all, I think people who are pre-ordering their tickets for this thing and getting their hopes up are fools.  This franchise has burnt you so many times, that I would hope you would demand the film prove itself in being good BEFORE you make it a hit!  But that's a rant for another day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bad Language in Reviews

Before we begin I want to take a moment to mention that this post started out as something completely different.  In fact, I wrote another blog post altogether where I publicly shamed someone on Facebook.  The argument got started over his using the f word to make a point and claiming he was more intelligent than everyone for using the word to drive home a point.  I made the argument that foul language didn't really mean that, and his response was to unfriend me and basically act like a spoiled prissy brat.  I scrapped that article because I am more mature than that at the end of the day, but it did get me thinking about a touchy subject in the profession today: Bad language in film reviews.

When film critics first became a thing, there was never any bad language in their writings.  This was mostly because the reviews were on TV (in a day before cable), printed in newspapers (are those still around?), and were geared for families because they made up for most of the ticket buyers (clearly not the case anymore).  These days it's a different ballgame now.  TV has expanded to cable and premium cable, which have more lax rules when it comes to what you can and can't say.  YouTube has become a huge way to express opinions, and those have no editorial control at all.  Newspapers are pretty much a thing of the past, and blogs and Twitter have overtaken them as the new place to get information.  Again, most of these sites are free from decency regulations (though more are gaining editorial control for quality sake).

Teenagers now make up a majority of the ticket buying, and they don't give a flying rat crap about quality written reviews.  If they read a review, it's because they find the review to be entertaining to read, not insightful.  All of these factors have made critics change their writing styles to adapt to the times, and one of the things they have adapted is foul language.  Foul language, for better or worse, is a big selling point for opinions and editorial these days.  You don't have to think of clever ways to say something is a piece of...well, you know.  You can feel more "adult" even if you are a ten year old kid writing on a Live Journal account.  And the f word is funny.  I mean, it's so funny that a video game nerd made a career out of saying it to bad Nintendo games.

So the question is brought up several times on why I don't curse in my reviews (or, should I say, very RARELY curse).  Why not jump on the band wagon and just do what everyone else is already doing and finding success in doing?  Well, the main reason I don't use foul language in my reviews is because foul language is also poor language.  Have you ever wondered why your grandparents said that cursing strongly suggested a poor vocabulary?  Let me tell you something: It's not because your grandparents were prude.  In fact, the real reason, believe it or not, is because your grandparents did know what those words actually mean.  Have you ever looked up the definitions of the curse words you put in your reviews (or use in real life)?  I mean, have you ever REALLY researched what they mean?!

More often than not, you are using those words incorrectly.  Words have power, but they also have meaning.  The dreaded f word, the one word that is so offensive and used more than most curse words, is almost always used incorrectly.  Take a moment to dust off your dictionary and look up what the word means.  Now, if you say this word, think of how you use it in a sentence.  I bet you aren't using the word correctly yourself.  It sounds good, yes, but you aren't using it correctly.  The thing about learning you are doing something incorrectly is that no matter how right it sounds, you now feel foolish for sounding uneducated.  It's like when Captain America thought that a fondue was a slang term for intimate relationships (when it really is the word people use for a cake you dip in chocolate).

Once he found out what it really meant, do you think he was going to use it in the way he thought it meant like he did before?  Of course not.  Yet in the world of film criticism, all these young critics use foul language in their reviews all the time without realizing they aren't using proper English.  It sounds good to them, so they say the words, but they don't comprehend what they mean.  That is the main reason I don't use bad language in my reviews.  I know what they mean, and I respect my readers too much to use them.  I want to strive to use proper sentence structure, descriptive words that mean what they are supposed to mean, and I want the review to read as good as it possibly can.  Now, once in a blue moon, I will use a well placed curse word to drive a point home.

I'm not saying curse words can't be used for great effect.  Used properly, any word can pack a punch.  What frustrates me is how liberally these words are used, how often they are used, and how they don't even mean the things the writers think they mean.  Also, using certain words over and over again doesn't read very well, yet most people will use the f word two or three times in the same sentence.  I mean, come on, isn't that a problem your teacher in third grade told you to avoid?  The point of this post is not to tell you how to write reviews or express your opinions, but rather to share my particular view on this topic, and hopefully give you some insight into why I feel the way I do about it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Taking A Review Break

I haven't posted a written movie review for two and half weeks now.  I could probably chalk this up to writers block, but the reality is much more scary: I needed a break from writing reviews.  Honestly, this is far worse of an admission for most film critics to make than that they have writers block.  With writers block you can honestly say you can't write anything, the words aren't coming, anything to justify why work isn't getting done.  When you have to admit that you need a break you are essentially saying that you aren't enjoying the job at the moment, you can write but you don't want to, and for those reasons you need to just stop for a little while.

This can be a dangerous thing, but I think it's necessary once in a while.  After all, this is your livelihood you are talking about.  Your main draw to your website, YouTube channel, and Tumblr account.  For some, it is even what puts food on the table.  Needing a break from analyzing movies may be natural, but shouldn't a critic just keep pushing forward if this is what's paying their bills?  After all, that's what most people have to do anyway, right?  Well, yes and no.  While it is true you have to work many mundane jobs whether you feel like it or not, the key difference is your real job doesn't always depend on you being invested in it to be done properly.  Writing, on the other hand, can suffer greatly when your heart isn't in it.

When your writing suffers, your audience notices, and if the mediocre writing goes on too long, you could start to lose visitors.  Plus, real jobs do allow for employees to have time off from time to time, because people do need to recharge, and they do need to take a breather or else do work that will suffer as a result.  Critics, thankfully, tend to have understanding readers who will understand the need to step away for a moment.  So just be honest with your readers.  Explain why you need to step away from the reviews for a few weeks.  They'll understand.  Not only that, but as a writer you can do other things for your readership so that you can funnel your traffic into something else.  Remember, you are suffering from review burnout, not writer's block.

Personally, I've been writing more articles for Examiner, mainly about animation.  One article I worked on recently (which broke my heart to work on) was about behind the scenes drama for a website I like to visit called Channel Awesome.  The article is very different from most things I write in that it was mainly about people, not content.  I also had to do some research and send out e-mails asking for comments to see if I got my facts straight.  These are the sort of things that you normally don't do when writing reviews, and changing up the flow of writing can be fun.  It prevents the job from being stale.  The other break a critic can take is from PUBLISHING reviews!  That too, I feel, is a valid thing for us to do.

This is where you don't necessarily stop writing reviews, but for a time period you stop publishing them.  Why would a critic do this?  Easy: Because that deadline can be so stinking intimidating.  When you take a break from publishing reviews you are essentially giving yourself the freedom to write reviews for the films you want to review, when you want to write them, without stress of having to have something up by a certain date.  When I'm on one of these breaks I save the reviews I do write in a folder to be edited and published at a later date.  They may be late, but you put yourself on the break so that you only write what inspires you, and when you return to reviewing full time you've done nothing but writing stuff you want to write.  This, somehow, can help make the job fun again.

So yes folks, I put myself on a review writing vacation.  It was so hard to write that "Furious 7" review that I just knew that if I didn't force myself to have some time to myself I was going to crash and burn, and then my break would result is something much worse.  So I evaluated the situation.  April is typically a bad month for movies.  Most of the movies are terrible, and most of the movies people have little to no interest in seeing anyway.  I decided to take the month off publishing, work on other projects, and whatever reviews I wrote would be stored in a folder and saved for my return.  I decided a month would be long enough, and when I return on May 1st I'll be returning with my review for "The Avengers: Age of Ultron."

That sounds sensible right?  I'm confident my reviews will return to their usual quality now that I've had this time to work on other things, and it's not like you needed a forcefully written review of "Paul Bart: Mall Cop 2" to know not to see it (though I have done a quick video review to fill the gap).  Now then, while I have just written about why it is healthy to take breaks in reviewing when you feel fatigued, there are some sensible restrictions and rules to keep in mind if you decide to do this.  That will be the focus of my next post, which I will have up by either the end of this week or early next week.  Just depends if any major news pops up about "The Simpsons" DVD situation pops up that needs to be covered.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Film Critic on YouTube

This is the first blog post I've had time to write in a few weeks.  There are a couple reasons for this.  The first is that, starting in May, I want to be able to have new content available to publish on a near daily basis (minus weekends), and I've decided the best way to achieve that goal is to write a series of articles that are not time sensitive so that I can have a buffer ready when the month starts.  Wouldn't it be nice if, in addition to the weekend reviews of the new movies, I can have a review of an archive movie every day?  Or at the very least an article that will be the basis of a weekly series?  At the very least I'd like to get the monthly "Great Directors" feature back on track (I love Ang Lee, but he's hogged my home page far too long).  The other reason is because I've decided to get serious about making videos on YouTube.  So far they've been, well...

...let's just say I've still got a long way to go.  The truth is, I'm a much better writer than a video performer.  I've always been introverted and even when I had dreams of actually making movies it was as a director or screenwriter.  The only time I've ever made videos are on occasion when I had something I really wanted to rant about, and even then the rant had to be heavily edited because I would just pause and take too many deep breaths.  So why am I focusing some of my efforts on YouTube?  Well, partly because the few videos I do have uploaded bring in pretty good money, and if I had more there'd potentially be a bigger financial payoff.  The other reason is that video reviews have been a force in this business since "Siskel & Ebert" was popular, and in some ways, it's the only reason there still IS a review industry!

Yeah, Rotten Tomatoes might calculate written reviews and there is no doubt that written reviews tend to be more insightful and thoughtful, but people are watching more videos than ever before.  Mobile devices and video game systems with streaming capabilities have more or less given people access to tons of video reviews with quirky critic "personalities" and sound byte blurbs.  The reviews on these videos are even more animated than any writer could be (and they have to be, since many of their reviews are going to be viewed on six inch screens).  It might not be real film criticism (though Chris Stuckman and Doug Walker are exceptions to the rule), but it sure is entertaining.  To ignore it would be to ignore what has been the crux of the business for the past forty years.

What happens if, like me, you aren't much of a video editor?  Well, much like writing a review, there isn't a right or wrong style in composing your review, just an effective one.  So long as the argument is expressed in a way that is well thought out and spoken clearly out it should work.  While the above video review I did might be weak, I'm much more happy with a recent editorial rant I did...

...which I feel works much better despite there being even less editing involved.  Chances are because I was more passionate about making that video, it came out better than a couple other videos that felt forced.  I'm writing this post as much for me as for people who are interested in getting involved in this business, but video content can't be ignored.  To ignore it would be to ignore a huge chunk of the market this market is built on.  Video reviews are NEVER going to replace written reviews, and in many ways we critics would prefer you read our pieces than watch our videos!  Also, while I will work on my video reviews, I think I'll be focusing on making videos that are poor retreads of my written stuff.  Focusing on rants and cool stuff commentary seems more logical.  So here's to my YouTube career: Hopefully it won't be TOO embarrassing!

Oh, and if you want to continue to support my site, please consider subscribing to my channel!  Thanks!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Memories Through Movies (Or, A Defense For Bad Movies)

On Saturday I spent most of the day watching a show I hadn't watched in years: "Pokémon." This is either a good indication that I am not as mature as I think I am, or an indication that the summer movie season can't start soon enough so that I actually have work to do.  While watching the show there were two things that crossed my mind.  The first was that the show, while certainly made for kids, was still rather funny and help up much better than I thought it would.  The second thing was that the episodes I was watching were seventeen years old.  SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD!!!!  That means I was THIRTEEN when I first saw these episodes!  Well, after having a laugh about how parents could swear that this franchise was going to die in a couple of years being way off base, I started thinking about who I was when I first saw this show.

I don't know if this is just me, but I tend to be a very nostalgic person.  The reason I am is because I love remembering good times.  I have no idea how other people watch shows and movies, but one of the reasons I like to watch some older things is to remember things.  After watching the show a little more I ended up popping in my pan & scan DVD of "Pokémon: The First Movie" (yes, pan & scan was actually a thing at one point).  I haven't watched this for a long time because the dub is a very, well, loose adaptation.  It has lots of deleted scenes, a replaced soundtrack, and core elements of the story were outright rewritten.  The English version we got changed the main antagonist from being a misunderstood creature who was looking for his place in the world into a villain who wants to rule it, and there was this bizarre choice to put an anti-violence message in it (seriously).

It's hard to watch the dub when the original version is vastly superior in every conceivable way.  Yet I watched it because I was just watching the show and remembering times I spent with friends watching it, and I decided to remember the day I saw this in theaters.  On the day of release this movie was one of the biggest events for us kids at the time.  I remember me and my brother got together with longtime friends of the families, conspired to get our moms to bring us (the dads had the excuse of having to work and provide for the family, so they got to skip out), and we watched this movie that we had been waiting for weeks to see while our moms were just bewildered by what it was they were actually watching.

Despite the fact that the movie was the main event, it was afterwards where all the warm fuzzy memories came into play.  We went to Burger King (which was running a Pokémon movie toy promotion).  We discussed the movie (one thing we were all in agreement with was that we were shocked at how dark and violent it was).  We ate food.  For the first day movie theaters gave out random Pokémon cards for each ticket bought (my mom got Mewtwo, so she was officially the most popular one in our group and even she could understand why).  After lunch we went to the house, pulled out our new cards, and played a few rounds of the card game.  On a random side note, it occurs to me that one of the friends I went to was having his birthday on the day I was watching all this stuff.  Weird.

Getting back to the movie, it's clear watching it now that it isn't very good.  If there was nothing else to compare it to I could actually see where all the complaints were coming from.  Now that I can see the original movie the dub I saw in theaters all those years ago looks all the worse.  Yet I still watched the English version, knowing it was bad and knowing I had easy access to the original Japanese version.  So why watch it?  Because movies are a way to relive good memories sometimes.  That's why, I think, Disney's animated "Robin Hood" is thought on so fondly by many of my friends.  See, "Robin Hood" is a pretty bad movie.  There are many, many reasons it's terrible.  When they try to explain why they like it, I just sort of shake my head and laugh at the attempt.

Like "Pokémon: The First Movie," you have to grasp at straws to really be able to say it's a good movie with a straight face.  And yet... deep down, I understand it, and I know what they are really talking about when they say movies like these are good.  They are talking about the memories of watching these movies with other people.  How watching them brings us back to good moments in time that we want to remember more vividly.  These movies help with the memories, long after the delusion that they were ever good has faded.  I wish we could be more honest that when we enjoy some of these bad movies we are really enjoying the memories that surround the movies, but ultimately that's what we are doing, and there's nothing wrong with that when all is said and done.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Don't Watch Trailers...Seriously

I don't watch trailers.  You shouldn't watch trailers.  Trailers are a bane on the movie going experience that just keeps getting worse and worse as time goes on.  To base your movie going choices on trailers is a mistake at best, moronic madness at less than best.  Let's make one thing perfectly clear up front so that you can understand why I am saying all this (and why I am about to say what is coming up):

Movie trailers are NOT your friends!

They are not.  They act like they are, but they are your own worst enemy.  A trailer does not care about you.  A trailer does not care about your tastes.  A trailer does not care about the truth.  A trailer is not objective.  A trailer is, has always been, and always will be, a commercial.  A trailer is selling you a product.  A trailer is about as subtle a commercial as a Fruity Pebbles commercial.  Yes, there is a moment of entertainment to be found from it, but it is still trying to sell you something that you may or may not even like.  Heck, it might be selling you something that may or may not even be any good.  Take the trailer for "Fifty Shades of Grey" as a perfect example: The trailer advertises the movie as a romance film.  While there is a moment at the end that hints at the sadistic nature of the movie in the long run, it is selling you a love story.

This is not factual, honest, or even remotely close to what the movie actually is.  Let's also take a look at the trailer for "The Dark Knight Rises," in which big action is highlighted above everything else in an attempt to make it look big.  Now, in this case the film that is being advertised IS in fact big in some seasons, and has a slew of really memorable actions sequences!  The movie itself, however, is more of a crime drama than it is an action film, with character interaction making a bulk of the film and the action sequences making up only a small portion in the grand scheme of things (about thirty minutes in a three hour movie to be exact).  If you were going to the movie based on these previews, whether you liked the movies or not, you didn't get what you were really promised in the grand scheme of things.

The trailers were cut in a way that marketers thought would best sell what they were shilling.  Audiences, for all their cynicism about how marketing works, seem utterly clueless to this fact.  They base their potential date nights on something that is meant to sell them something.  This is one of the reasons you shouldn't base your movie going choices on trailers.  They only have their own self interests in mind, and you are not one of them.  If you want a good example of how this works, just watch the full fledged trailer of "Frozen" and compare it with the movie you saw.

Tell me, does any of THAT remind you of the movie you saw?!  I mean, yeah, obviously that footage DID come from the film, but if you went to see a movie based on that trailer you were probably expecting more of a comical romp!  There is no sign of the sister relationship, the drama, there is no sign (surprisingly) of Oscar-winning song "Let it Go"... in fact, watching that trailer, we got something MUCH better than what we were promised!  Yet, if you were basing seeing that movie on the trailer, I doubt you would see it because that trailer impressed virtually no one when it hit the screens.  The marketers cutting the trailer thought that's what people wanted to see though.  If that's what the people really wanted, then the movie would have been a huge failure, because they didn't get that.

This is why you need to read reviews.  Because critics, believe it or not, do have your interests at heart.  Yeah, there are some critics who are snobs and act very elitist, but even those critics just want to watch good movies.  You rarely see a critic calling for more movies like "Norbit" and "Batman & Robin" to be made.  We gain nothing from you paying to see a bad movie.  Yet more and more we are being overlooked and undervalued, traded in for the almighty trailer that is about as much as a door-to-door salesman as you can get, and not only do you open that door, you let him speak on your Facebook page.  The sad thing is, this is only PART of the reason you shouldn't watch trailers!  The other reason I'll discuss in a future post.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Enjoying Movies

I was thinking about my review for "Fifty Shades of Grey" and... you know what, never mind.  I'm tired of talking about that movie.  I know it's generated a lot of controversy, has inspired two articles on my website, and has brought me lots of financial success through hits, but I'm done talking about it for now.  Movies like that might bring the eyeballs to the site, but they are not fun to think about.  Most of the time bad reviews are fun to write, but this time I just wanted it to be over with.  I'm amazed it managed to have enough Joyce to get a second blog post out of me.  Contrary to what I make it sound like sometimes, watching bad movies isn't the worst part of this job.  No, remembering bad movies is the worst part of this job.

If a movie is bad we normally like to move onto other things.  It's not fun having to decide whether "Freddy Got Fingered" or "Norbit" is the worse film of the two, because at the end of the day they are both so atrociously terrible that watching grass grow would be more worth your time.  That's one of the reasons I love Oscar week: Because friends and family members want to watch as many of the nominated films as they can and they usually invite me along for the ride.  Now of course I've seen these movies before, but if a movie is truly good you want to watch it again.  There is value in revisiting a good movie.  There are small things that can stand out more the second, third, and sometimes forth time.  You can share them with people who might not otherwise have seen this movie and will be thankful you recommended it to them.

As much as we like hearing that you loved our bad review, we love it even more when you say you went to see a movie you normally wouldn't have seen and loved it.  I mean, that doesn't even happen much anymore.  I wrote a review for a movie and concluded it was little more than physical abuse you witnessed, and people managed to make it the number one film of the weekend.  I mean, THAT hurts!  Not only because what I did professionally didn't really make a lick of difference, but you just think of all those people wasting away in a theater.  Tonight I was watching "Birdman" with my parents (or one of them anyway; the other slept the whole time).  It was a different kind of experience because I had already seen the film, I was watching it with a review not needing to be written, and sharing it with someone who was seeing it for the first time.

That helped make it funny the second time around.  It was fun to get a reaction from someone who doesn't do this for a living.  It was just a good experience overall.  It was a reminder that movies are supposed to be enjoyed.  They are supposed to be shared.  They should make you want to go back to them over and over again, to soak up the experience and gain new things from them.  This "Fifty Shades of Grey" crap does none of this.  Life is way to short to be giving it any more thought than need be (heck, the book the movie was based off of was Twilight fan fiction, so you know there was no thought put into that from the get go).  Movies should be enjoyed.  If they aren't enjoyable, they aren't doing their job.  I watch bad movies so you don't have to.  I'm supposed to convince you not to waste your money.  I'm also supposed to convince you to see movies that are worth it.

I don't know if I always do a good job at that, but I try the best I can.  The Oscars are airing Sunday.  There are eight movies up for Best Picture.  In a rare situation, they are all excellent movies and more than worthy of your time and money.  Many of them are in theaters and some are even on DVD now.  Spend the weekend watching these movies.  Watch them with friends and family.  Tweet about them if you must.  Remember that movies are to be enjoyed.  So be sure to do that, please.  Alright... I think it's time we move on from that pornographic film and start talking about real movies again, don't you think?

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Called a Job For a Reason

In case you haven't heard, there was a little movie that came out this weekend called "Fifty Shades of Grey" that showed how sick people really were to the tune of over $200 million worldwide.  I had the misfortune of having to view the film two weeks ago, which resulted in (what has possibly become) my most read review in the last year.  I also happened to get a lot of e-mails about it, and I'm going to answer the biggest question I got: Why did I choose to see the movie?  Why didn't I just choose not to go see it?  The reason I was asked this is because this movie has been a... well, a bit of a concern for Christians out there.  I have never been shy about my Christian faith nor have I ever pretended it doesn't affect my film criticism (sometimes I'll even preach in the reviews).  By willingly watching the film, I was setting a bad example.

I'm certain there are other critics who got this same question who aren't Christians, so I'm going to point out something that clearly must be escaping our readers: It's our job stupid!  Believe it or not, when we get up and say this is a job that we are paid to do some people must not realize we are being totally serious.  What, do you think the studios are inviting us to early screenings just for fun?  They want reviews.  Preferably good ones.  In some cases they even want bad reviews, because they know the dumb people they are marketing their films to will look at our negative reviews as snobbery and use them as justification to go have a good time (on another note I want to say to those people we don't care what you watch, just enjoy the movies you want to go see).

Now then, sometimes the studios will do us a favor and not screen a movie for us, but for the most part reviews are just part of the business.  Whether good or bad, they help get the world out about the movies, and without that publicity they die on a vine.  I want to take this moment to say that, no, I didn't want to see "Fifty Shades of Grey." Much like I wasn't that crazy on the idea of seeing "The Smurfs 2," "The Seventh Son," or "Hairspray" (that last one ended up being great though). Yet I got an e-mails saying there would be a screening of the film and that I was invited. So what do I do?  Well, I go see the movie.  I mean really folks, what did you expect me to do? It's a job. To choose not to see it would be the same as blowing off work.  To put this into context, let's say you work at Disneyland (or Disney World for my family back east).

Disney has Gay Days, Mickey's Trick-or-Treat nights, and the two weeks out of the year where there is a candle light vigil that ends with a celebrity reading the Christmas story (you know, the one with a little baby named Jesus).  They hold events for private companies, they celebrate Goth people, they even have something called Bat Day.  And believe me, it doesn't matter if you don't agree with some of the above celebrations; if you work at Disney you work on these days.  Unless you managed to get the day off in advance you can't not show up just because you disagree with whatever theme the park is celebrating that day.  Just because you vote for different values doesn't give you the right to refuse to do your job.

Yes, you technically can refuse, but then there would be the risk of you being fired.  This is how virtually all companies work.  If I were to refuse to see "Fifty Shades of Grey" I would be blowing off work.  I would risk not being invited to future screenings.  This is not a job where you pick and choose what you want to see.  Even if you are your own boss there are certain rules you play by if you want to remain in this business.  I did not want to see "Fifty Shades of Grey," but I was called to do so and thus I saw it.  Because it was my job, and I wouldn't be doing it properly if I let personal feelings get in the way.  Besides, personal feelings are part of the job, so it makes for a bad excuse. I want to end by saying I have been invited to see another movie I'm not looking forward to: "Paul Bart: Mall Cop 2." I REALLY don't want to see it, but I have been informed of a screening, and so I must!  Because that's my job.


This job isn't all fun and games.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades of Red

Normally I would be spending this day relaxing and playing video games, but since my laptop is giving me problems I've been spending my day trying to get it to work so I could get some highly anticipated reviews uploaded on time (and there's one in particular I know you ladies are waiting for).  So I figured I'd try to keep you all entertained while I get those technical difficulties out of the way and share this story of box office ticket buying.  Yes, even at critics screenings, you still need to go to the box office and ask for the ticket.  Remember how in the last blog post I mentioned that critics largely don't look forward to seeing anything because there's always something to see?  Well, the same can't be said for us having movies we don't want to see, as there are PLENTY of those movies out there!

While I personally go into every movie hoping I will enjoy it, there are some movies that feel awful before the movie even starts.  Last week that movie for me was "Fifty Shades of Grey," a movie I wasn't going to rule out enjoying, but knew that the likelihood of enjoying it wasn't very high.  Whether I did enjoy it or not I'll leave for you to read in my full review, because the story here is actually going to see it.  See, this is a movie whose subject matter is so popular that you can't avoid it.  Everyone knows the book became popular because of the perverted sex scenes in the book.  In fact, you could argue it was the first mainstream pornographic novel to really hit it big with a mainstream audience.  I believe the reason the book has sold more eBooks than it has paperback books because of this stigma.

Few people like to go to the park, reading a book people know is full of perverted material, and just being judged by random strangers.  No, better to be reading it on an iPad or Kindle, where the content on what you could be reading is really up to the outside observers imagination.  With a movie you can't do that.  I was in the position of having to walk to the box office, tell this poor girl who is so cute I might want to ask her out for a cup of coffee for a ticket to see what is essentially known as smut, for a ticket to "Fifty Shades of Grey." Because this is a critics screening I can't use the kiosk to pick up my ticket either.  I might have been willing to but a ticket to another movie and sneak in to this one, finding that paying money for anonymity would be well worth the $10 at this point.

Ah, but the screening was in IMAX, which has it's own whole theater side to itself, so there will be no sneaking into anything.  I sized up my options and how I could possibly get this ticket and see this movie without looking like a total pervert.  Alright, so I COULD explain that I'm a critic, it's my job, and that she probably doesn't get assigned the most ideal tasks in her line of work either, but that would take way too long and I would still come off looking like a goon!  Then, I got an idea.  I swallowed my pride, walked up confidently, and said the following line:

"One ticket for the perverted movie playing on your IMAX screen, please."

The line worked.  The girl laughed, mentioned that it was a special screening, and asked for identification so she could authorize I was supposed to be there.  She then gave me the spiel about how I couldn't take any pictures of the movie with my smartphone.  And that, potential future film critics, is how you deal with having to see a movie you don't want to.  I wish I could say this information will never need to be used, but I have a feeling we'll be getting sequels for this.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"What Movies Are You Looking Forward To?"

"What Movies Are You Looking Forward To?"

I feel like I should address this question because I get it all the time.  Granted, this is probably to be expected.  After all, when you watch films for a living people want to know what they should see.  Here's the thing: I don't really look forward to watching any movie.  At least, I don't lie awake at night counting down the days to when a particular movie is coming out.  It just doesn't happen.  When you are a film critic you are seeing several movies a week sometimes.  I've mentioned this before, but I mention it again because this makes it almost impossible to anticipate the release of anything.  Seriously, it is.  Every week I'm watching action movies, dramas, stuff for kids that I doubt kids themselves would actually watch, but there I am watching it and taking notes to write a review no child is ever going to read.

When it comes to anticipating movies critics tend to run by a different set of criteria.  We are not swayed much with franchises, sequels are more of a bane to us because we feel like we are writing the same review sometimes, and we try not o watch previews because marketing campaigns don't sway us.  Personally, I tend to get excited about a film if it's being directed by a director I am a fan of.  Disney and Pixar animated films tend to be events for me, so those I admit to looking forward to.  And I'm sure the closer we get to the release of the new Star Wars movie the more I will get excited despite being disappointed in two of the last four movies we got (yes folks, I am counting the Clone Wars animated movie).  Otherwise, no, I'm not looking forward to seeing a whole lot.  This is a job, and there's always work to do without looking forward to doing more.

While I'm at it, let's tackle the other question that I consider to be the sister question to the one listed above: What's coming out that's good?  For the most part this is a bad question and I'll tell you why.  The reason this is a bad question is because unless I've seen the movie I can't tell you.  This is another reason critics don't like previews: They can convince you that you are getting a better product than you actually are.  In fact, I'm going to stop here because I think previews deserves it's own post, so we'll tackle that in a week or two.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Depressed Writing

Film critics, like everyone else, have problems just like everyone else.  We rarely discuss them in our movie reviews, but there is no doubt that they affect our writing.  My problem is a major one that makes the daily tasks of doing this job unbearable sometimes: Depression.  This is a topic that many would say should not be written about in public, that it should be saved for a therapist or diary, but I'm going to discuss it now because I feel like I must.  I also want to discuss it because I'm feeling a little down right now and I'm hoping writing such a post will help sooth some nerves, but that is another topic altogether.  The bottom line is I suffer from depression and have for many years at this point.

Like allergies it's something you can learn to live with, but when it hits it hits hard, and it's not the least bit of fun.  It makes it hard to focus when you are watching a movie.  It makes watching the new SpongeBob Squarepants movie way more annoying than you might otherwise find it.  It's hard to put words to paper.  If you take notes I can promise you there won't be any at screenings where these feelings are overcoming you.  Heck, leaving the house just to go to work becomes such a monumental task that you sometimes find yourself blowing off work so you can stay in bed and pull the covers over your head.

And there's absolutely nothing you can do about this.

Yeah, sure, you can take medication (and I do), but clinical depression never goes away.  The medication only lasts so long before your body gets used to it and you need to have it tweaked.  All the while you will have a couple weeks before you find out if the tweaking of the meds actually does anything or has side effects that impose on your life for the worse.  While you fix this you still have to go to that stupid screening of "Fifty Shades of Grey" and actually pay close attention to it, collect your thoughts, and write a review.  Worse, sometimes depression can hit when you are watching "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," and it's hard to trust if the action sequences are just boring or if you personally are just unable to get into them.

There aren't too many movies about real depression that I see every year.  The reason is because depression is bleak, leaves the person unmotivated and in many cases broken without much to look at.  Movies about depression tend to make the depressed character emotionally unstable rather than a lifeless noodle.  Sure, that looks more like bi-polar disorder than depression, but it's more interesting to watch for the audience.  The best example of both these worlds (which also revolves around a writer, ironically enough) is "The Hours," where the depressed characters truly seem to just be going from situation to situation without much excitement or motivation in their lives.  While still motivated enough to keep things moving, rarely has a movie captured the pure lethargies depression brings to the table.

So what does the depressed film critic do?  Mostly, he just keeps writing.  It takes so much effort to write any little thing, but he tries to write.  Even if he has to write about the very thing that is making his life miserable.  That is why I'm writing this post now.  I am so depressed it hurts.  Thinking is hard.  Energy is low.  The last couple of movies I've gone to have almost been like blurs to me.  All the while the homepage of my website lists "American Sniper" as the latest review even though that movie opened three weeks ago.  Heck, I still need to do my voice actor Oscar's feature I do every year and who knows how long THAT will take?!

There was a spark though when I realized that I hadn't updated this blog in months.  This was a perfect topic for it.  So I sat down to type it.  It will not be proof read or "fixed" with a second and third draft like most of my writings.  To do so would guarantee that it never saw the light of day, and I can't even begin to hope to start crawling out of this hole unless something - anything - goes up.  If there is a point to this it's that depression attacks people regardless what they do.  Even people with relatively fun jobs like watching movies are not immune to it.  That doesn't make you a bad person it makes you a sick person.  So get help.  Write about it if you have to.  Don't let it beat you though.  That's what I'm going to spend the next few days doing: Fighting back and not letting it beat me.  Part of that fight will include continuing to write, even if the articles are as bad as this one I will write because that's the very thing my depression doesn't want me to do.

Well, though, because this depressed critic is going to keep writing anyway.