Where did all the free time go? This week is no different than the last, so finding time to take a five minute break has been nearly impossible. Finding time to watch a movie is even harder. Sure, we should all be able to watch at least one movie a week but how is it possible to go back and watch all of the classics when there are three new films entering the Cineplex every Friday? Not many people have time to go to work, do chores around the house, gather with family and friends, AND watch a movie from both yesteryear and yesterday. Which is more relevant: going back to the past where the more-original movies came from so we can learn how history was made, or paying attention to what's current so we can entertain our friends at the water cooler? From a marketing standpoint, it's all about moving forward. From a critic's standpoint, you can't critique what's new without knowing the old.
By George Rose
May 26, 2009
This is just one of the many questions floating through my mind. I am conflicted with the answer because half of me is a marketer (my Northeastern University major) and half of me is a critic (currently writing for BOP). Being a recent college graduate and, more importantly, a member of a nation going through a recession, I know I'm not the only one who is broke and working far too many hours for far too little pay. If you happen to live in a home with other roommates or family, you also understand what it's like to be around others during your free time instead of being alone, collecting your thoughts, answering the deep questions that find their way into your brain or catching up on whatever your internet habits are. There isn't much time to do what YOU want and there sure as heck isn't time to watch Terminator Salvation, the original Terminator trilogy, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian AND its predecessor.
If you want to be a "real" critic going into either of the new films coming out this weekend, you'd probably also want to watch all of James Cameron, McG, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christian Bale, Shawn Levy and Ben Stiller's movies (plus all the films the supporting cast and crew have been a part of). If not, someone may not take your criticism of Terminator Salvation or Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian seriously. Then again, has anybody seen every movie ever made? Taking this to the extreme (as I usually do), you would need to see EVERY movie to be a fully accurate critic. This task is just as it seems: impossible. How, then, can someone become a good film critic? Like any form of politics, you can't be too far on either side. A balance of both worlds is needed for success. Nobody likes a straight critic (they come off pretentious and rob the movies of their true value - entertainment) and nobody likes a full-blown marketer (they have their own agenda and not enough knowledge of the actual product to please die-hard fans). There doesn't seem to be a way to please everyone, so what should I do moving forward with the Take Five article? Bore you to tears with pretentious knowledge or cover up my inadequacies with jokes and fancy words?
I have come across skeptics who question my ability to be a critic. I have also come across people who think my work is wonderful and accessible to a broad audience. I... feel... conflicted. System... cannot... compute... KABOOM (head explodes)! This, my friends, is what I assume the new half-man, half-machine Terminator feels like in Terminator Salvation. My half-critic, half-marketer mentality is enough to drive me crazy, but unlike a machine, I cannot explode from the confusion. Instead, I handle it the way any other whole-human would: lots of complaining and the occasional cocktail.
Instead of choosing a side, I will do what many movie-goers do. I will ignore the wide variety of critics that I've come across and go with my gut instinct, which is to remain as I am until the higher powers above (no, not God, but rather my employers at BOP) intervene and demand I change. Much like the newest Terminator model in T4, I will follow the path that has been laid out before me and wait to decide my fate until the final action sequence. At that point I'll either sell my soul and become a critic, or sell some products and become a marketer. Until then, I hope you continue to enjoy (or not) the recommendations I think of. Yes, some are better than others, but you'd be acting like a pretentious critic yourself if you didn't admit to at least a few cheesy, poorly reviewed titles in your own DVD collection.
Because of this question that conflicts me so much, and in honor of Terminator Salvation (which I thought was better than Wolverine but definitely not Star Trek quality), I have selected five films that revolve around conflicts or unanswered questions of sorts. These are films that leave you wondering throughout the entire film what the answer to the mystery/question is. Are they all Academy Award winning films that would make Roger Ebert want to take me on as his apprentice? No. Are they all the kinds of mainstream blockbusters that would suggest I only know what Hollywood has forced down my throat? No. They are somewhere in between and, much like my suggestions, I expect the reaction from my readers to be mixed.
12 Angry Men (1957)
While I have admitted to preferring star-studded and effects-laden pictures over black and white features, this recommendation is for everyone who questions my ability to enjoy films made prior to my birth year (1985). It is also an amazing movie (critics agree!). I have mentioned it in a previous article but it shows its face again here, as the first film with some major mental tug-of-war.
The film has one location: inside a jury room. It has only 12 actors (plus less than a handful who appear for no more than ten seconds). It is the most simple sort of film that ever was and has been since its release, yet it captivates and leaves the audience wondering, "How will he convince them?!" After a trial has ended, it is up to 12 white men (not all of whom are actually "angry") to determine the fate of a Spanish-American boy accused of murdering his father. The film starts with only one juror (Henry Fonda) defending the young man, under the pretenses that you cannot convict someone if there is reasonable doubt, which there seems to be. Because all 12 jurors must agree on the outcome for the judge to make his final decision, it is up to the lone juror to sway the others' opinion. You can probably guess how the film ends based on the plot but getting there will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Despite the film's utmost-simplicity, so many questions are asked throughout. Whose story can be considered truly accurate, the witnesses' or the accused? Is a citizen, someone who has probably also committed some small crime of their own (don't act like you haven't), a worthy juror? Is making it home in time for dinner worth quickly declaring a man guilty of murder? I can only try to answer these questions but 12 Angry Men sure poses them in an interesting fashion. Each of Fonda's attempts to sway the individual jurors is mesmerizing and can be learned from for use in your own future arguments. While the film doesn't have an ounce of color or any scenery worth calling "breathtaking", it will leave you more satisfied and informed than most of this Summer's band-aid covered (I mean special-effects filled) blockbusters.
Speaking of blockbusters... wait, Clue failed miserably at the box office? It was also blasted as garbage by critics? How's this for a question without an answer: how can a movie that makes no money and has no support have a remake in the works with an A-list director like Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) attached? A cult following has that affect sometimes. That should tell you something. Though both critics and moviegoers agreed that this movie wasn't worth the time of day, it was later appreciated by an audience from a different decade for a whole different set of reasons. Wait a minute! That means that maybe older critics who have seen more movies from the past ("classics") aren't necessarily the voices the modern day man (or woman) wants to listen to. Is this new voice good or bad compared to past voices? There is no one answer or one perfect kind of critic, people! The answer is variety. Enter my opinion...
I am part of this cult following. I loved the board game and thought the dark comedy was fun and exciting. How often can you laugh at death, especially when people are dropping like flies? The cast is killer (sorry, I couldn't resist), including such talent as Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren, Martin Mull, Madeline Kahn and Tim Curry. You should be fairly familiar with the idea of the plot, since it was a board game EVERYONE has played: several guests attend a party at a mansion where the blackmailing host, Mr. Boddy, is murdered. There are several supporting characters added to the movie (a cook, French maid, cop, singing telegram) but all for the sake of additional comedic murders. The question, like in the board game, is: who is the murderer? What weapons were used and in what rooms are also part of the fun!
Unlike most murder mysteries, the main question cannot be answered. The movie was released with three alternate endings and is among the few movies to use such a gimmick. At least in the board game you come to some sort of temporary answer, until the next game is played and a new murderer is selected. The film may not have done well in theaters since the audience was only privy to one of those answers, but all TV viewings and DVDs of the movie include all three, leaving it as open-ended as movies come. Other questions are also asked: What is the connection between the invited guests? What is their connection to the random visitors that add to the body count? Watching the movie is as fun as playing the game and is sure to leave you as baffled as I was when I discovered the movie bombed (I was born the same year, so I was not a part of the masses that wrongly turned down the chance to see it). Hopefully Verbinski will do the same thing for board games as he did for the pirate genre and make it worth reintroducing for the next wave of movie goers. I definitely won't be a part of the group that made the mistake of missing it when it finally does hit the big screen again.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Didn't expect to see this selection as a movie with a deep moral question, did you? Movies about monster sharks, sinking sea facilities and B-list actors running around in wet-suits don't usually make it to the top of "deep thinking required" lists. Though this movie doesn't demand much thought, it is exciting, fun and poses somewhat of a moral dilemma.
The underwater facility in question is a laboratory where Alzheimer's disease is researched. It is kept underwater since the cure of the disease seems to have been found in the brain of sharks, which have been genetically altered to be larger for the sake of mass producing the brain serum. Make sense? Well, naturally bigger sharks mean stronger sharks and being the test subject for the human species doesn't sit well with them. Once they discover their size and strength, it becomes the mission of these monsters to escape into the deep blue sea. Their meal ticket includes stars like Thomas Jane, LL Cool J, Stellan Skarsgard and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson (because he can't seem to work enough).
It is a great movie to watch on a Saturday afternoon (back when I had Saturday afternoons off from work) and has that moral question I made slight mention of before: is it okay to use animals as test subjects for the sake of extending human life beyond its natural point? Many would say "no", while those saying "yes" need only to see Deep Blue Sea to change their minds. While accidentally killing an animal during testing seems like collateral damage done for a good cause, being the target of a monster created because of testing can't be viewed as such. Sometimes our actions have negative consequences that proper caution beforehand could have prevented. While giant sharks seems like too small a chance to take seriously, the many painful (yet intricate and creative) deaths found in DBS are enough to have me protesting against animal cruelty. I know it's a long shot but the movie has me wondering if one day a dog will be accidentally altered into a killing machine if makeup companies put the wrong chemically-imbalanced lipstick on the poor pup. Keep your fingers crossed that this doesn't happen.
So many questions come with answers that are met with doubt. When the question is profound or provocative enough to raise a few eyebrows, doubt is necessary in making sure alternative options for answers are found before rushing into any one decision that could later be regretted. Since it so often coincides with answers, why not have it be the answer to "What movie should I watch that George recommends?" or "What's another reason Meryl Streep should be Queen of the World?"
It was only released a few short months ago, during the winter awards season. Oddly enough, it received wide release on Christmas Day. It seems strange to me since the day it was released is, as far as religion is concerned, is the day a child was born, whereas the film itself is about the day a child was possibly taken advantage of by his mentor priest. Oh, Catholics, you sure are a funny bunch. Well, not really. Streep plays a tough-as-nails nun who takes on the task of convicting the church's priest based on allegations she has no proof for. This seemed like a great addition to this week's list of movies, since it was recent enough that you might still be thinking about it and was recently released on DVD (making it possible to rent and watch in the near future). The film spends so much of its time thoroughly convincing you to believe one side of the story but ends with proclaimed doubt. Can we ever really be 100% sure of anything we are not directly involved in? Do we have the right to interfere with other people's families and choices? Where is the line drawn between caring teacher and principal dictator?
Despite the known ending to the film (the title sort of gives that away), it only failed to meet my expectations with regards to profits. The shallow revenue seemed shocking due to the absurd and inexplicable gross of Streep's much less Oscar-worthy Mamma Mia! though I suppose it makes sense since the subject matter isn't really geared towards the family-holiday. My faith in the public (critics and ticket buyers alike) was restored when, despite the lack of mainstream appeal, the film was nominated for a bevy of acting awards (Streep for actress, Phillip Seymour Hoffman for actor, Amy Adams and Viola Davis for supporting actress). All were deserving and though the film was a bit awkward to watch with my more-religious-than-me mother, it was more than worth seeing nonetheless.
HBO's True Blood: Season One (2008)
Oh no, it looks like I broke a rule! Am I seriously recommending a season of television instead of a fifth movie? You betcha! Sometimes you have to break rules and go against the grain to be unique and stand out. Sometimes you have to be different than the other "critically acclaimed" critics and occasional recommend something unexpected. BOP itself is proof to that, since we discuss more than just films on the site as forms of entertainment, despite being self-proclaimed Box Office Prophets. In honor of this week's DVD/Blu-Ray release of True Blood, I offer it to you as my final suggestion for entertainment.
Yes, I know you barely have time to watch a two hour movie, let alone a 12-hour-long episode season of TV, but you will (hopefully) not regret taking my advice. Vampires are sexy. HBO knows sexy. Based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, and adapted for television by Alan Ball (of Six Feet Under fame, so the man knows death), the story follows Sookie Stackhouse (for which Anna Paquin won a Golden Globe) as a small town waitress who meets and falls in love with a gentle vampire named Bill (Stephen Moyer). Think Twilight (which I only saw because of True Blood) but for adults, with plenty of sex, mysterious murders and vampire-blood drugs to go around. Where Twilight is mostly teen-romance with a bit of action, True Blood raises the bar and brings philosophical questions to the adult-oriented table. Are vampires hunting humans or are we hunting them? What are the implications of having a society where vampires legally co-exist with human? Who has the right to tell us who we can love (vampire-loving humans are taunted as "fang-bangers") or what sub-culture of the mainstream we can be a part of? Inserting the ability for humans to drink vampire blood for drug-like consequences (I wasn't kidding) and a killer on the loose whose primary target seem to be these fang-bangers makes for a tough break between episodes.
Considering the length of the season, much discussion could be had around the show. There is far too much for this one portion of the article which may be a critic's reason for my "poor selection" (they won't be saying that after they watch the season). Given the DVD release and the upcoming June 14th Season Two premiere, I think the good outweighs the bad here. If nothing else, it will leave you with one final question for you to ask yourself as you part ways with this week's Take Five: are television shows really that different from movies? Yes, in many technical ways, but for the sake of entertainment the answer is no. I have seen the first season twice now (some episodes more) and would rather find the time to watch it again than watch Wolverine EVER again. Thanks to True Blood, my interests have fallen further away from the once beloved super-hero genre and closer to the blood-thirsty world of vampires. At least their lives are filled with exciting drama and not pointless action sequences. And if I need to justify my selection any more than I already have, here is one last excuse: I've already picked four films that satisfy my interest as a critic but have picked none to satisfy my selfish needs to market and promote things I like outside the ordinary. Is it so wrong to every now and then indulge in our darker side? True Blood says no. So what do YOU think?