I have not seen the tide turn on what most film observers have portrayed as a fairly dismal summer movie season. Did I say dismal? I meant atrocious. And that is not me saying that because I have not yet seen one summer film. (Does Rio count?) However, I do not feel that a lack of immediate familiarity with the current crop of film fare disqualifies me from stating the rather obvious. I mean, I have not eaten at Taco Bell in ages, but I know how the food will taste. Similarly, does anyone need to see Green Lantern to know how awful it is/will be.
So despite our collective distaste for what we are seeing (or not seeing) in the theaters this summer, there is one silver lining. Awful films often produce awfully good movie reviews. I probably learn more about film through voraciously reading movie reviews than I do by attending the cinema, and while I rarely go to a bad film, the existence of rather putrid cinema spurs some excellent writing and provides a good amount of laughter and knowing smirks.
It is not that I do not enjoy reading a positive review of a film; such a review often confirms some of my own bias, stirs up my level of anticipation, and encourages me to see a film more quickly. Yet rarely do I remember the writing in a positive film review. Now a bad film review, if done correctly, can inspire writing that will linger luxuriously in one’s memory. I have never forgotten Roger Ebert’s review of Blade: Trinity (2004), which you may not remember for anything other than Ebert’s wonderful skewering of it. Ebert does a particularly great job with his negative reviews; he has a good deal of fun when the fun is to be had. A more recent review of his, this one on Thor, is more fun than drinking Dr. Pepper, the official soft drink of Asgard.
Ebert’s reviews are a wonderful trove, but I would also recommend A.O. Scott of The New York Times and The New Yorker‘s David Denby and Anthony Lane. My own film sensibilities are probably more closely aligned to Scott’s than any other reviewer I have read, but his inclusion here is warranted on his ability to deftly deflate and undercut the poor filmmaking that his job makes him watch. Scott’s, Lane’s, and Denby’s recent reviews on some of 2011’s massive clunkers prove far more entertaining than the films themselves. Below are samples from Scott’s and Lane’s respective reviews of Transformers: Dark of the Moon. (When I first typed the title, I automatically wrote out Dark Side of the Moon and then realized that Michael Bay would never be cool enough to utilize Pink Floyd in a film.) Each review remarks that this might be the crowning achievement of the Transformers trilogy, which is akin to saying that Star Wars: Episode III was the crowning achievement of the three Star Wars prequels. It is not particularly hard to reach for the crown when the bar is set so low. The first few moments of each review are worth quoting at length.
From Scott . . .
There are filmmakers whose work is characterized by thrift, efficiency and devotion to the subtleties of cinematic expression. And then there is Michael Bay, whose films are symphonies of excess and redundancy, taking place in a universe full of fire and metal and purged of nuance. I’m not judging, just describing, and since today’s theme is bluntness, I might as well come out and say that “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is among Mr. Bay’s best movies and by far the best 3-D sequel ever made about gigantic toys from outer space. — from A.O Scott’s “One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Autobots.”
And from Lane . . .
A Solemn Voice declares, “We were once a peaceful race of intelligent mechanical being.” Not, as you might hope, a trailer for the Second Republican Presidential Debate but a prologue to “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” a much less homely event. Welcome to the third phase of the franchise, and to the bizarre news that the first ten or fifteen minutes of Michael Bay’s movie tremble, unaccountably, on the verge of being fun. — from Anthony Lane’s “Fired.”
Each review could have simply taken up a fraction of the space and said “don’t bother.” Instead, we have some wonderful sentences (or non-sentences) and expertly woven passive-aggressiveness. For just these reasons, I eagerly look forward to reviews of such waste. Films like Thor, Green Lantern, and Dark of the Moon might keep me away from the cineplexes, but at least they keep me reading.
On a most tangential note, I re-watched one of last summer’s big box office attractions, Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), this past weekend. On Sunday night, I watched the season premiere of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Ever since, I cannot stop thinking that it would have been awesome if Cobb and the rest of his dream team invaded Larry David’s subconscious. The psychoses and neuroses of Larry David would make dealing with Mal seem like rather simple therapy.
Curb Your Inception is a film that needs to be made. Hell, with the movies that are out right now, I will take a cheap YouTube mashup video cribbing my idea.
At least we have some wonderful reviews.