Posts Tagged ‘sense’

A Beginner’s Guide To Spotting Sucky Movies

April 15, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

It’s an age-old conundrum: How can I know if a film is worth seeing, without actually seeing the film?  With ticket prices as high as they are today, it makes sense that consumers wish to know – or to at least have a decent amount of probability – that they will enjoy a movie before they see it.  The goal here is to find the great movies, and avoid the godawful flicks.

I can be of some assistance in the latter half of that puzzle.

Assuming the potential ticket buyer either has no access to the film’s trailer, or is not satisfied with the information found there, it’s a good idea to read the reviews.  Still, reviews are opinions, and those of other people, no less.  How can this be helpful?

The key, dear friends, is in how the reviews are written.

First, a lesson in wording and definitions.  The review words “zany,” “wacky” and “madcap,” exclusively used in reviews of comedies, ironically means unfunny.  Not in a dictionarial sense, but in a real-world sense.  These three words come to a reviewer’s mind when a screen writer’s idea of ccmedy involves such tired images as pie throwing, stop-action sped-up chase scenes, and cartoony sound effects whenever someone is hit on the head with a real-life lethal object, such as a sledge hammer.  Unless you are under the age of six, and have time-portalled back to 1972, this is by no means cause for smiling, let alone roaring with laughter.  This is actually cause for peeking at your watch every three minutes and praying for end credits.  For the wiser set, these buzzwords are code for “Do not even think about coming near this film.  Pretty much, ever.”

And second, the excessive use of ellipses.  Ellipses are those three dots you see in movie reviews, placed between one-to-three-word bullet phrases, such as “. . . a must-see . . . brilliant . . .a classic!”  Now, legally, you cannot misrepresent someone’s exact words.  This is called libel.  Therefore, you cannot change someone’s words and keep quote marks around the phrasing, because they did not actually say what you’re writing.

However, there is a loophole.

Let’s say your film gets absolutely trashed by a respected reviewer.  Well, you certainly don’t want to write the awful remarks into your advertisements, but the conspicuous absence of a review by, say, a Roger Ebert might shout “Load of rubbish!” to the money-holding public, as well.  So what do you do?  Well, legally what you can do is quote a person’s words . . . even if you don’t quote all of them!  Take the above made-up review:

“. . . a must-see . . . brilliant . . .a classic!”

Sounds good, right?  But consider that since some words are missing, this could be an accurate partial quote of the sentence “This piece of garbage film will never be A MUST-SEE in my book!  The BRILLIANT thing to do is to avoid this mess of a movie like The Plague.  Only an escaped lunatic would consider this release A CLASSIC!”

Accurately partial-quoted, but somewhat misleading by the marketing squad, wouldn’t you say?  To be safe, don’t trust a review you can’t actually read.

I hope this tiny cinematic lesson has been of some service.  If I save one human being from sitting through one horrid film, I’ll consider my work here justified.

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“Boomtown”: A Diamond Among The Rejects

March 11, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Cop shows come and cop shows go.  Good guys, bad guys, arrests, convictions, lawyers, blah blah blah.  In the fall of 2002, a new show got my attention with just its commercials.  The ads for the soon-to-premiere drama promised “One crime, seen from every point of view.”  This intrigued me, as did the cast of characters, which didn’t just include cops, but reporters, medics, detectives and the assistant district attorney.

Boomtown, the brainchild of Graham Yost, premiered with an incredibly impressive episode about the shooting of a six-year-old child.  By showing key scenes more than once, each time with just a hint of difference in angle or detail, the viewer learns what happened and why and how, but like no other show in its day.

Several elements made this show unique and worth seeing.  In general, the entire ensemble cast was made up of three-dimensional personalities with weaknesses and character flaws alongside their strengths and gifts.  Among these acting talents, however, three deserve spotlights: Mykelti Williamson, Neal McDonough and Donnie Wahlberg.  Williamson, probably best known for his portrayal of Bubba in Forrest Gump, gave Bobby “Fearless” Smith depth.  His happy-go-lucky personality was laced with wounds from his past that were revealed over time through skillful writing and multi-layered acting.  McDonough (of HBO’s triumphant Band of Brothers miniseries) played dynamic assistant district attorney David McNorris, an adulterous, self-loathing alcoholic who always knew how to shine for the cameras and courtrooms.  Wahlberg (also of Band of Brothers) will be known to some as one of the original New Kids On The Block (and brother to another singer/rapper-turned-accomplished-actor, Mark Wahlberg).  The first time I ever saw Wahlberg act, he was unrecognizable as the skeletal mental patient in the beginning of 1999’s megahit The Sixth Sense.  I next saw him in Band of Brothers, and was equally impressed.  His work in Boomtown displayed subtleties of toughness and sensitivity that few seasoned actors can muster, let alone a relative newcomer.

Add to the phenomenal acting a crew of remarkable special effects experts who could show scenes with subtle differences as well as run scenes back and forth to reveal tiny elements, and an opening credits sequence rich with fine music and scenes from actual crimes of Los Angeles (including the Watts Riots, a shot of Bobby Kennedy moments before his assassination and footage of the O.J. Simpson “slow chase”).  The eighteen episodes of the first season were a roller coaster of emotions and story.  The second season was cut short well before its time, and has gone virtually unseen ever since.  Luckily, through the magic of DVD and services like Netflix, the entire first season is available to see.  The passage of time hasn’t taken anything away from Boomtown’s achievements.

My only demerit for this favorite show would be that the blatantly best episode was, in fact, the pilot.  While almost every episode had its high points and watchability, that first hour-long story did the best job of utilizing the multi-angle retelling that should have been the pinnacle of each episode.  In fact, given enough time, it ideally should have gotten better as the show went on.

Boomtown should not have been cancelled at such a young age.  It should have gone on for five or ten more seasons, and the characters should have been allowed to grow and reveal even more layers of themselves.  But, in this imperfect television world, at least we do have options, even with cancelled shows.  It is well worth the effort to put this DVD set on your list.  If you saw the show then, you’ll be amazed how good it is after so many years.  If you never saw it while it was on, prepare to be stunned.  It’s that good.