Canadian Rambler – 10/1/06

Colin Moore’s brand-spankin’ new column



With Colin Moore

The Feel Good Review of the Summer

I was a teenage movie geek, which is fine. Thinking back to the time when fast food was a treat, not a dietary staple, bedtime was still enforced, and a blackberry was something you stole from your neighbor’s garden, I was in a world of my own, devouring anything that had some connection to movies. A few days ago I hauled out an artifact from the old days, a pile of movie ads I had clipped out of the daily newspaper back in the 80s. A friend of mine and I carefully looked through them, handling each one like the Holy Grail, even the Rob Lowe ads. Time warp. Everything from “A Cry in the Dark” to Remo Williams to “Spaceballs”. The paper had already begun to oxidize noticeably from years past, giving it a subtle off-beige tint that made me think, “maybe it’s time I get a real job.” The smell alone was straight out of the closet of the elderly. A feast for the senses. Yeah, and as worn out as that way of describing the experience is, I’m not the only one doing it.

It wasn’t long after we started flipping through the ads that the one liners, the quotations from reviewers slapped on the ads to help promote the film, became the highlight of the night. Always positive, these mini reviews generally take obvious impressions of films and pack them into emotionally charged language. They’re like the worm on the hook giving the trout a testimonial about how great he tastes. Take the following example from “Fatal Attraction”: “An electrifying thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.” It makes the point, just not very creatively. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. If it’s a choice between the reviewers being creative and the filmmakers, I suppose I’ll take the filmmakers. Besides, there can be more than one electrifying thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. And it would probably only present a problem if two electrifying thrillers were released at the same time, in which case one quote could read “An electrifying thriller that keeps you further out on the edge of your seat than the other electrifying thriller, where you’re actually sitting back quite comfortably.” Could be trouble.

In terms of the quotations though, there appear to be three main categories, which can be classified in terms of degrees of authority. Follow me through…

1: The Scholar – not necessarily at a Phd level, but a quotation coming from a mind that has clearly seen the film, understood it, and could at the least write a short review for an Australian based website. Something that appears to be thoughtful. Example: “Imagine” John Lennon. “‘Imagine’ is a definitive look at the real John Lennon…as haunting, remarkable and memorable as his musical legacy.” Not bad. You get the sense that the reviewer may be a Lennon fan, and so being, would know if the film was worthy of tickets, popcorn, beverages, babysitter, parking, and the frustrations that come from public washrooms.

2: The Poet – a blatant cry from the heart, emotionally charged all the way. Well written? They can be, and such opinions are an important reflection of why we go movies to begin with….to feel. But without a doubt, these are the most recycled of the three kinds. Many aren’t much more than long chains of adjectives that no movie can possibly live up to. Example: “Crossing Delancey” (Amy Irving). “A wise, funny, endearing movie…it’s terrific. A terrifically entertaining story.” Terrific. Another reads “Unqualified pleasure. Hip and romantic; wittily sophisticated and unabashedly affectionate.” I can’t read that without needing a hard slap afterwards. Others are simply annoying. One for “Dad” (Jack Lemmon) reads “Winner, Winner, Winner!” Perhaps I read more into these than most. I can’t help but think that any reviewer using the same three words just couldn’t think of three different ones. If you asked a friend how their ice cream was and they answered “Delicious, delicious, delicious,” how comfortable would you be getting one?

3: The Huh? – the strange, the overboard, the out of left field. It’s not a stretch to understand the meaning behind these quotes, just the state of mind of the reviewers when they wrote them. The most fun of the three by far. Example: “Benji the Hunted”. “I’ve lost my heart. It’s rated “G” for genuine, generous, and go at once. You have to be dead not to like it,” and “Remarkable! A feat comparable to building the Taj Mahal out of toothpicks!”

Other examples shouldn’t be taken so literally. Example: “Quick Change” (Bill Murray) “Steal a seat if you have to but don’t miss Quick Change, the comedy which gives crime a good name.” One to remember when you’re fighting a speeding ticket. An example from the original Die Hard reads, “‘Die Hard’ had audiences rising to their feet and screaming at the screen!” Must have just put the cup holders in. So what can we believe and what can’t we? And should we care. The story circling the release of “A Knight’s Tale” (Heath Ledger) a few years back is the latest classic example. Two creative heads from Sony Pictures invented a critic, David Manning, gave him a life, gave him a job, then plucked words from his reviews to promote certain films, Sony’s A Knight’s Tale being one. “Another winner!” etc. It’s a big deal in terms of upholding certain principles, in any profession, though personally, I’d be more influenced to see a film based on its costume designer. I believe in criticism. I believe in words and the spirit in and behind them, and their ability to inspire just as any person or art can inspire. I just don’t know if I believe in “One high octane roller-coaster ride of a thriller!!” anymore. But I’m waiting.