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.