02 July 2017

Take This Movie, Please.

by Leigh Lundin

John Floyd and Paul Marks cast giant shadows when it comes to films. John is known for the depth and breadth of his movie experience. I’ve managed to name a flick or two John hasn’t seen, but it’s difficult. Paul is recognized for his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage Hollywood. What he doesn’t know about Tinseltown could be loosely packed in a brown derby with room left over for a head.

Occasionally one or another of the rest of us bravely steps up to chat about films. Recently a little article caught my attention, ‘Ignore The Critics! 10 ‘Rotten’ Movies You Should Totally Watch Anyway’. I’m not sure what the word ‘totally’ quantifies in this context, but I liked the point of the article. They led with this list, about half which I’ve seen and a couple I wouldn’t have minded seeing.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
  • (2013)   The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • (2013)   The Great Gatsby
  • (2012)   To Rome with Love
  • (2009)   Defiance
  • (2005)   Mr. & Mrs. Smith
  • (2004)   50 First Dates
  • (2004)   Troy
  • (2003)   Eurotrip
  • (2001)   A Knight’s Tale
  • (2001)   Wet Hot American Summer
Take, For Example…

Take the Ben Stiller version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s less fanciful and more in tune with today’s world of corporate closings and layoffs, in this case the shuttering of Life magazine. It’s flawed, as are most of the movies on this list and yet it’s a satisfying romantic comedy.

Like Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler made early gross-out movies, but also like Stiller, he can be genuinely funny and play sensitive rĂ´les. To me, 50 First Dates is better than this list. It presents an original problem, one Sandler is determined to resolve, the fact his new love’s short-term memory means she forgets him the next day. Out of these ten, it’s my clear favorite.

50 First Dates

With half an eye on the small screen whilst doing paperwork, I watched Troy in one of those 2AM television time slots. It’s the one movie I would recommend only if your Netflix expired, your local Red Box dispenser broke, you don’t have enough light to read a tattered Danielle Steel novel, and you couldn’t even find your kids’ Bugs Bunny tape under the sofa. It survived in rental stores for, well, weeks by our teary, cat-loving gentle sex who watched and rewatched 2¾ hours of a naked Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Australian muscle Nathan Jones. It’s a pretty bad two hours and forty-three minutes you’ll never get back, but I give it points for a clever explanation of the Achilles’ heel legend.

Troy: Rose Byrne et Brad Pitt

Take Two

While I usually consult critics (Rotten Tomatoes, IMdb), I occasionally defy the experts. I might see a movie because it’s a plot taken from a favorite mystery or speculative fiction writer. When it comes to science fiction, most critics find themselves strangers in a strange land; they don’t grok the genre. (There’s a sci-fi reference.) That’s why SF reviews are often meaningless.

Ever wonder why the movie sound system is called THX? In my student poverty days (as opposed to my writer poverty days), I sometimes visited a pocket-sized dollar movie house off New York City’s Union Square. One afternoon they showed what’s now called a cult film, George Lucas’ THX-1138. It was considered beneath review by major newspapers. It ran on a bit, but I liked it.

THX-1138

My film-fanatic friend Geri should meet John Floyd. When I feel like a movie, I give her a call and she’s always up for a celluloid fix. She’s open-minded, so we’ve seen quite a range from 50 Shades of Grey (lush photography, great music, sad-ass plot) to The Accountant (violently clever). Despite the critics, we recently opted to see The Book of Henry.

The Book of Henry

Rotten Tomatoes’ critics weighed in at a low, low 23%, but audiences tripled that rating. Critic Susan Wloszczyna came up with the cleverest line in her review: “Every book needs an editor.” Zing. It’s true.

Henry's treehouse
We liked the film, the characterization and the childhood atmosphere, but it’s definitely not a children’s story. No child plans a murder and no mother carries it out… not in the real world and not in fantasy, but that’s the premise of the second half of the plot. Clearly the script writer failed to grasp that precept. British critic Kate Taylor said, “I began to wonder if [the screen writer and director] had ever met any children.”

By now, you’re probably wondering how we managed to like anything about it at all, but the setting, character concepts, and acting helped offset a script that lost its way. I simply wish the writer had thought longer and harder about a smarter way to handle his premise. It’s one of those stories where you’re pretty certain you could have written a better outcome.

Take Three

Sometimes I find myself on the opposite side of critics when they over-rate a film. An example is the 2015 The Witch (title stylized as VVitch). Rotten Tomatoes’ critics tipped the scale at 91%. It might have been atmospheric, but it contained absolutely no plot, none, zip. It consisted of nothing more than a series of scenes that were supposed to lead up to… something… but didn’t. Leave it to Puritans to sour a modern day movie about Puritans.

Rotten Tomatoes gave 2013’s Gravity a 96% rating. Think of it as 2001: A Space Odyssey where HAL ate the script. The space scenes were meticulously, even beautifully filmed, but NASA forgot to launch the plot, not much of one at least, mainly a dream sequence. Movie critics aren’t the only ones who don’t understand science fiction… sometimes movie makers don’t understand it either.

Pia Zadora in Butterfly
Pia Zadora in Butterfly
I’ve already written about a poorly (and unfairly) received film, 1982’s Butterfly with Stacy Keach, Pia Zadora, and Orson Welles. Sometimes trashing a movie has nothing to do with the film itself.

Let’s spare a moment to talk about Django Unchained, the 2012 Tarantino movie. My acquaintances found it incomprehensible, but I give it marginally passing marks. My gripes weren’t the same as my friends. Tarantino bragged how much historical research had gone into the film, but its anachronisms overwhelmed the story. I quit counting historical inaccuracies when I ran out of 9.5 fingers. (Friends will recognize another in-joke) Yes, I gave it a passing grade– barely– but I’ve thought for some time Quentin Tarantino is way over-rated. His sense of color, style, and violence stands out among less colorful directors, but I suspect future film classes will look back and wonder what the hell we were raving about.

Take Four

What’s your take? What poorly rated films make up your guilty-pleasures list? And what films received high ratings that mystified you?

17 comments:

Melodie Campbell said...

The most hilarious (and now a cult classic) Wild Women of Wongo, including hand to hand combat with the rubber alligator, heads our "how could they have made this??" list. Definitely see if it you can. With spirits.
One of the funniest movies I have seen is a British black comedy, The Wrong Box, which doesn't get near enough praise and is virtually unknown to younger folk. It's brilliant.
I'm madly copying down titles from your post, Leigh! Thanks!

O'Neil De Noux said...

Yes, John Floyd and Paul Marks are the ones to go to. Good article.

Paul D. Marks said...

My giant shadow makes me loom larger than I am, Leigh ;-) .

I don’t often agree with the critics and often on something like IMDB I think the fanboys skew the results of the score. At least that’s what I’ve heard. Movies that I think are great sometimes get mediocre ratings and movies that I think are awful get high ratings.

For example, on IMDB, Chinatown, which imo is a close to perfect, if not perfect, movie, gets an 8.2 out 10 rating. Which seems low to me for a film that’s so great in so many ways. Casablanca, my personal favorite movie, gets 8.5, Citizen Kane, which many people consider to be the greatest American movie, gets 8.4. And Double Indemnity, my favorite film noir and another close to perfect movie imo, gets 8.3.

So more than films receiving high ratings that mystify me are movies that receive good but not nearly as good as I think they should be ratings such as those above. Though there are plenty that get high ratings that do mystify me too.

One guilty pleasure movie that I like a lot that doesn’t seem to get a lot of respect is Can’t Buy Me Love from the 1980s, with Patrick Dempsey. I really like this movie and don’t understand why the critics don’t. Oh well.

You mention THX 1138. When I was at SC cinema grad school in the olden days that movie loomed large in legend as Lucas was a grad and the movie was based on a short he did there or something like that. I don’t remember much about it except the general plot and the stark images.

--And thanks, O'Neil, for shoring up my rep :-)

John Floyd said...

That's high praise, Leigh (and O'Neil)--too high for me, but Paul deserves it. Like him, I can't figure out why viewers like certain movies and can't figure out why they don't like others. He and I have swapped a lot of emails about this kind of thing, and I find that (amazingly) we're in agreement most of the time.

I've seen all ten of the so-called "rotten" movies in the list you mentioned, and sure enough, I thought some were rotten, but a few of them (including Walter Mitty and 50 First Dates) I liked.

Some of my all-time favorites are still To Kill a Mockingbird, Casablanca, Once Upon a Time in the West, Goldfinger, Aliens, The Big Country, and Double Indemnity, and a few good ones I've seen over the past few weeks are Split, Hidden Figures, La La Land, and an old one called Dead Again. And I have many, many guilty-pleasure movies--way too many to name here. Some of those NObody would like but me. But if there's anyone out there who's never seen an early Coen Brothers movie called Blood Simple . . . you should.

Anyhow, great column!! Glad to hear there's someone else who likes all this stuff.

Leigh Lundin said...

Melodie, I haven’t seen either of those movies and yeah, they sound worthwhile. I’ve seen a few British films of that sort. Friends who had a cable channel made a kitschy movie where the terrible special effects (which included a spaceship on a stick) were visible to the audience. In either that one or another, fake plywood scenery fell down revealing a couple obliviously making out literally behind the scenes.

Thanks, O’Neil. What these colleagues don’t know, they know where to find. That’s very handy.

Paul, I don’t think I’ve seen an IMdb higher than 8.8 or so. I’ve wondered if it’s possible they average all reviews, including those with no rating– some reviews include no rating whatsoever. If so, that implies they’re including zeroes in their averages.

I’ve not seen Lucas’s director’s cut release (2005?) that included freshly shot footage and new CGI. THX-1138 provides the prototype of the Star Wars stormtroopers and it’s possible those cattle prod rods might have given inspiration for the light swords.

Leigh Lundin said...

☛ Kindly bear with me, readers. Starting at midnight, I’ve been experiencing extended internet outages making it difficult to reply. My ISP keeps changing their name, but they don’t change their habits.

Leigh Lundin said...

John, I like all on your best-of list. I can’t look it up to be sure, but I think I’ve seen Dead Again, probably on 2am television, likewise with Blood Simple. Split doesn’t sound familiar, but if my internet ever starts working, I’ll check it out. Hey, thanks, John!

Jeff Baker said...

Anybody here see "A Night In Heaven?" Total guilty pleasure from the early '80's! (Reportedly star Leslie Ann Warren didn't list it on her credits!) I have since seen far worse movies! (Sample dialogue: "Hey, what about my clothes?" "I hear you're better without 'em!")

Fran Rizer said...

When it comes to movies, I bow to John, Paul, and Leigh because I'm very unsophisticated about them. As a teenager, my favorite movie was "Raintree County" with Elizabeth Taylor. I cut school one day and went downtown to the movies. Loved it and went back several times before it went off. At that time I was also into old films and a favorite was "The Sound and the Fury" with Joanne Woodward and Yul Brynner when he still had hair. Tennessee Williams was a favorite and I went to see any film or stage production of his work. But, as I thought about your blog this AM, Leigh, I asked myself, "What is my favorite movie of all time?" Most of your readers have probably never heard of it because it's "Sibling Rivalry." It's as close to a chick flick as I ever liked, but the reviewers said this wasn't chick flick. It stars Kirstie Alley (not a favorite of mine) but also has Carrie Fisher as her sister in law and Sam Elliott as her brother in law, with whom she has an affair that ends when he dies in bed in the hotel. Funniest scene of all time to me was Kirstie poking vitamin pills down dead Sam Elliott's throat with a pencil hoping the death would look like suicide. Okay, I've confessed enough. If I keep on, I'll confess that "Weekend at Bernie's" made me laugh, too, and as Melodie can attest, some of us just love to laugh.

B.K. Stevens said...

Enjoyed your post, Leigh. I haven't seen Fifty First Dates, but I'll admit to watching and enjoying another warm-hearted Adam Sandler movie, The Wedding Singer--not the sort of thing you'd want to watch fifty times (unless you could forget it each time and start fresh), but it's sweet and funny. John, I'm glad you mentioned Dead Again. So often, whodunits don't translate well to film, but this one certainly does. In some ways, I think it may be the best whodunit movie I've ever seen.

A Broad Abroad said...

Don’t think I’ll watch Walter Mitty or Great Gatsby as I am happy with the originals.

Leery of Adam Sandler, but thought 50 First Dates was gentle, warm and funny.

I enjoy films with historical settings, but Troy, nah.

Mr & Mrs Smith is what we call a skop,skiet en donner. The literal translation means kick-shoot-thunder and describes melodramatic action adventures.

The remainder I shall save for a time when they seem a better alternative to boredom.

Eve Fisher said...

Dead Again was, literally, frighteningly good. So was Amour, which should also scare the crap out of everyone.

Movies I thought were way over-rated: Mr & Mrs Smith; I didn't think "The Artist" would have been even nominated back in the days of real silent movies; The Life of Pi; and, as I've said before, I don't watch anything with Hannibal Lecter as the hero.

Guilty pleasures? Bubba Bo-Tep; Harold & Maude; Tombstone (Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday - perfect, perfect, perfect); The Darjeeling Express; most Kevin Smith films ( I like the combination of raunch and good hearts)...

Thanks for the post, Leigh!

John Floyd said...

Bonnie, if you liked The Wedding Singer, I promise you'll like 50 First Dates; and Eve, I absolutely LOVED Bubba Ho-Tep.

Leigh, I have not seen The Book of Henry. But I will.

Thanks again for this great post.

Leigh Lundin said...

Jeff, that sounds like a trip. What scintillating dialogue!

Fran, of those you name, I’ve seen only The Sound and the Fury. I wanted to see Weekend at Bernie’s, but never made it. I like your suggestions.

Your mention of actors that don’t shine for me reminded me of The Prince of Tides. Nolte seems to be one of those “Call his agent if you need a thug” actor, so Prince of Tides pleasantly surprised me.

Leigh Lundin said...

Bonnie, I think you’ll enjoy 50 First Dates.

Bonnie and ABA, the Adam Sandler movie that seemed to turn the corner into serious work was Spanglish, where Sandler played a sensitive and thoughtful family man in touch with his daughter and the servants. You might enjoy it. ABA, thanks for the warning advice re: Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

Eve, I also thought The Life of Pi was over-rated. I rarely care for unannounced dream (or hallucinogenic) sequences. They usually make me feel the writers and director abused my trust.

Tombstone was excellent, wasn’t it! I not only enjoyed it, I felt like I learned something. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen a single Kevin Smith film and he came to my attention with his airline dispute. Didn’t one of the airlines declare him too fat to fly and later denied it?

John, I’d be interested in your take on The Book of Henry.

Eve Fisher said...

Leigh, yep, that was Kevin Smith. And maybe he was. But I think "Clerks" and "Dogma" are both wonderful. (And the late great Alan Rickman signed on to do "Dogma" because he loved Kevin Smith's "Chasing Amy" so much.) To me, "Clerks" is a classic, even with so-so acting skills (it's Smith's first film), because no other movie has ever captured so accurately the reality of working in a dead-end job in a bad neighborhood. Plus it's really funny. I even enjoyed "Clerks 2" and "Zach and Miri Make a Porno". But then, there's a flaw in my character.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, after this how can I not seek out Kevin Smith films?

Yes, we must have the same character flaws.