Category: movies

One Sentence Summer Movie Reviews

Over on my movie blog I have been chirping away reviewing movies with long-form essay reviews. When I was thinking of what to write about here it occurred to me you all might like to know my general thoughts as well. So I decided to go over all the new releases I’ve seen May-July and give a one sentence review of my thoughts. Of course longer reviews can be found at http://54disneyreviews.com and https://www.youtube.com/user/smilingldsgirl. I will put a big R next to the R rated releases so you know if that bothers you
I don’t see every movie. Nobody does but I have seen quite a few so here goes:
Wonder Woman- standard superhero plot but with an emotional journey for the lead character that dazzled me 👍
The Big Sick- hilarious true life story of love, sickness, family and religion. R👍
Personal Shopper- beautifully executed film with layers- part horror, tragedy, drama and best use of text messaging in film. R👍
War for the Planet of the Apes- epic and brutal prison film but in the end heroic ending for our heroes.👍
Dunkirk- reenactment more than a narrative but makes you feel like you are in the battle👍
Baahubali 2: the Conclusion- a jumbled insane mixture of song, dance, battle and fun👍
Captain Underpants- Cleverly mixes animation mediums, nice heart between 2 friends and some good laughs👍
Cars 3- it’s a cars movie but very well written with surprisingly touching message about society setting limits on us which we accept👍
Valerian- visual spectacle and fun ride through the galaxy👍
Everything Everything- touching teen drama executed well with great chemistry between the leads👍
Baby Driver- hyper-kinetic fun film with great music and chase scenes R👍
47 Meters Down- sharks under water are just as much fun as you can imagine- a blast!👍
Spider-man Homecoming- high school comedy and superhero meet up to an enjoyable mixture👍
My Cousin Rachel- Rachel is great and it is well made but lead male is so dumb👎
The Beguiled- pretty and very well executed but lacks tension of original R👎
Everybody Loves Somebody- unique bilingual romcom that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but is enjoyable👍
Wilson- very profane but has a sweetness to it that you can enjoy R👍
Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales- enjoyable romp with the pirates we know and love👍
The Hero- Great lead performance with a dull romance R👎
Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2- some nice visuals and moments but hurt by breaking the team dynamic which made characters a little annoying👎
The Mummy- some nice action set pieces but a pretty bland effort👎
Despicable Me 3- made me laugh a few times but a pretty poorly written plot👎
Band Aid- very little music and mostly lots of arguing and who wants to watch that for 2 hours? R👎
Diary of a Wimpy Kid- the Long Haul- strange mixture of adult and child humor that wears thin after a while👎
Sandy Wexler- much better than Sandler’s previous Netflix films but still bad👎
Lady Macbeth- characters with no chemistry make insane choices in this period dud R👎
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword- throwing a lot of stuff at the screen does not a compelling epic make👎
The Circle- uses a lot of buzz words but is surprisingly stupid👎
Gifted- good intensions by all but I was not buying what they were selling👎
Transformers 5- made me nauseated with the editing and story👎

Thoughts on Rotten Tomatoes and Criticism

I am not a professional film critic and am not on the website Rotten Tomatoes.  Recently the website has come under attack as well as critics in general, and I would like to explain what the site does and how criticism works and should be used by the average consumer.

Over the Memorial Day weekend 2 films were released, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Baywatch. Both were expected to do well but were released to underwhelming reviews and Pirates 5 did ok while Baywatch bombed. This caused star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to tweet that the movie was “made for fans not critics” and that “critics had their venom and knives ready but Fans LOVE the movie”. I haven’t seen Baywatch so can’t speak for that film but let’s talk about this idea of critics vs fans.

First of all, critics today come in lots of different styles and formats. Gone are the days when print media and formal articles/scholarship were the only way to be a recognized critic. To be a critic on rotten tomatoes you must be from a nationally published news-outlet or be a youtuber with over 20,000 subscribers and a certain degree of professionalism and consistency. Even with these rules you have everything from a review on Nerdist.com to something in the Wall Street Journal.

Obviously these critics will have different perspectives and audiences, but Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t care about that. They take all these different reviews for all these audiences and merely look at positive or negative. So if the Nerdist gave Movie A a 5/5 and Wall Street Journal gave it a 0/5 their scores together would be a 2.5/5. Do this with 500 critics and you have your fresh or rotten score.

Where things get a little murky in the algorithm is when you have a bunch of people giving 2s and 3s to a film. I think most of us would agree the difference between a 2/5 and a 3/5 isn’t that much. However, let’s just say a movie gets 400 reviews at 3/5 it could be a 90% on the algorithm despite most not being super high on it. It is the same for a movie with a 20% that has a ton of 2.5s or 2s. It seems like an awful movie but in reality it’s kind of a mixed bag. That’s where you have to look at the average rating on Rotten Tomatoes and actually read  some of the reviews.

I recommend using Rotten Tomatoes as a tool but not making it the complete say in your decision making process. For example, if a  review for a comic book film is reviewed highly by a comic book website like Heroic Hollywood then maybe give it a chance? Maybe you are in the percentage that will like the film and that it is made for? Most romantic comedies end up with a low percentage score but I like a good chunk of them. I also recommend finding critics that you like and that you can turn to on a regular basis.

Rotten Tomatoes is an aggregator and aggregates are helpful in broad decision making and trends.  We can know a majority of critics liked something or didn’t. That’s it and then you decide for yourself what you like and what you are going to see. Rotten Tomatoes gives no scores itself. It writes no reviews itself. It just gives you a resource to help you make decisions. It should not make the decision for you.

But let’s get back to this idea of critics as the enemy of film. The idea Dwayne Johnson suggested that a movie is made for the fans and not critics is problematic on many levels. First of all, you don’t decide to spend your life viewing films if you aren’t a fan of cinema. And for every negative review from any critic worth their salts in any genre you can find positive reviews for films they like. So to say that critics in their ivory towers (again we talked about the diversity of critics these days) are looking down on certain films just isn’t true. Critics love base R rated comedies when they are done well.  They like horror movies when done well. They like dopey action movies when done well.

Look at Wonder Woman. For the last few years some have claimed critics had it out for DC films. Not so much. They just didn’t like the movies. Now that DC has released a movie they like it surprise has good reviews! It’s as simple as that. Critics are not out to destroy any movie. They like movies and want them to succeed. All that I expect out of a critic is that he or she be honest with their views. That they aren’t saying things or engaging in hyperbole just to get hits and views and I think you can only know this by following someone for a little while or reading/watching a number of their reviews. If they are super click baity you will realize soon enough.

I disagree with a majority of critics sometimes (like I said I have a tolerance for romcom cliches more than most). Just recently I liked Smurfs: the Lost Village and it has a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes. All that means is I’m part of 38% of critics that liked it. There’s lots of other parts of my life where I am in much smaller minorities than that (my religion to begin with…)! For instance, I bet the number of people that like to open water swim is less than 38% and yet that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it to my hearts content.

All critics are trying to do is provide a resource to help you spend your hard earned money wisely and maybe share their love of film every now and then. They aren’t the enemy. They don’t hate you or the thing that you love. Their opinions are just that their opinions. You can go right on ahead loving whatever it is you love. They are trying to help the fans not create this adversarial relationship between them and the fans.

You can make an argument that Rotten Tomatoes forces a dichotomy on a film- so you either love something or hate. It’s rotten or not. It’s a valid point but that’s where you have to be a grown up and recognize it is an algorithm and the actual reviews are usually more nuanced than ‘I HATE THIS MOVIE’ (most critics worth your time save such vitriol for when it really counts).

It kind of annoys me when people like Dwayne Johnson float this idea that critics are ruining movies because it obfuscates the true one to blame. Critics don’t make the movies. It’s the studios which should MAKE BETTER MOVIES! I did a whole podcast on this with my friend David Gerlach. Blockbusters have been pretty disappointing over the last 2 years and that’s coming from the perspective of an amateur critic and fan. I can’t tell you how many supposed epic movies I’ve walked away feeling hollow and empty. This is not the fault of critics!

Anyway, I hope this post has been helpful in talking about the way Rotten Tomatoes works and how criticism should be used effectively. I grew up reading and watching criticism and I love it. Even if I completely disagree with the person if they are a good writer/speaker I love it. Their opinion isn’t an attack on me but a chance to see the world from another point of view. Find some critics that you like and use Rotten Tomatoes in the right way. I’m grateful we have critics who can help be a quality balance to the decisions studios make that would otherwise be based solely on the box office.

Modern Media and the Paradox of Choice

Have you ever heard of the concept of ‘the paradox of choice’?  This is the idea that choice is not always a freeing experience but quite the reverse. That an abundance of choices can lead to unhappiness, anxiety, depression and loneliness.

It seems kind of counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t choice be a liberating thing? But it makes sense when you think about it. For example, if I have one restaurant to eat at then I will be happy with said restaurant. When I have 15 restaurants then what was once pleasurable for me at the lone restaurant may be gross in comparison. Plus, now I have the anxiety and frustration of picking out a restaurant when before I went and made it work.

I was thinking about this particularly in terms of media. Never in history of time has there been so many options for entertainment. It is quite overwhelming.

I couldn’t find the exact number but I believe around 700 films are currently released each year. That is triple what we had in the 80s and 90s.

Just think about animated films alone:

By my counts we had 35 animated films both indie and main studio released in 2016. In contrast, 1984 had 0 animated releases. Can you imagine that? A whole year without an animated film? Now we get 2 or 3 a month.

Because of the scarcity of options we would see a very flawed movie like Oliver and Company and have a good time with it. It felt more special because it kind of was. I think you could say the same thing for a movie like Space Jam. It’s not a very good movie but it was an animated comedy and we didn’t get many of those.

Compare the experience of Oliver and Company with the recent release of Smurfs: the Lost Village. I liked the film but it did not do well at the box office. Critics were pretty harsh on it and audiences weren’t drawn to it. Imagine if that was the only animated film of the year? People would have went to it and enjoyed it.

But on the other hand, a plethora of options can be a great thing. To use 2016 as an example we got so much great animation. I had 9 animated films in my top 25 of the year and they all deserved their spot. In one year I was treated to Zootopia, Moana, Your Name, The Red Turtle, Kubo and the Two Strings and more.

On the other hand, I can’t help but compare my experience as a little girl watching Little Mermaid and obsessing about it for 3 years hard core. Kids don’t do that as much now because the next movie has come in the next month and they’ve moved on. It seems like movies like Zootopia and Moana aren’t as special as they would have been in the 90s. Not because they aren’t great films, because they are, but because we simply have so many other options.

It is even worse with TV where the options are endless. Literally every day I hear about a new show I have to see. At least with movies I can pump it out in 2 hours where a TV show requires so much investment. A side of me misses the day when there were 10 channels and you found something to entertain you on that channel.  Now we have the networks, premium channels, streaming and even online providers and youtubers.

I end up having to narrow my focus and watch animation and period pieces as top priority. Then I have innocuous comedies and food shows as my unwind. But I would love to watch Dr Who, Avatar, Legend of Kora, Steven Universe, and a million other shows. I’ve been wanting to watch the original Star Trek for forever but I’ve only seen a few episodes (which were brilliant). Even for someone like me with a flexible schedule there just isn’t enough hours in the day!

Dr Barry Schwartz says about the paradox of choice:

“Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.”

He then talks about how having a choice can make our eventual decision less satisfying:

“Schwartz finds that when people are faced with having to choose one option out of many desirable choices, they will begin to consider hypothetical trade-offs. Their options are evaluated in terms of missed opportunities instead of the opportunity’s potential….afterwards, it affects the level of satisfaction we experience from our decision.”

I feel like this is true with so many aspects of modern life. Even many deciding their major can be super overwhelming when back in my grandma’s day you just picked bachelor of arts or science and went on your merry way. Maybe there is something to that?

What do you think? Do we almost have too many choices these days and do you find it overwhelming? How do you decide what shows to watch and movies to see? Have you felt this paradox of choice with media or other part of your life? I would love to discuss it!