Rules of Going to the Movies

There is a certain species of filmgoer that only appears during the summer and the holidays. They don’t see a lot of movies in the theater, so those of us who call the theater home are often baffled by their behavior. They usually pay full price for a movie ticket. Some of them even don’t know what they want to see before they arrive. They are: normal people.

I’ve always known that tentpole movies attract more than the usual movie buffs, but I’ve only recently realized that this leads to a clash of cultures between cinephiles and everyone else. Based on my recent trips to the theater with my wife, here are six guidelines I think we should all keep in mind.

1. There are people in line behind you.

My wife, Katie, waited in line for five minutes behind one person while he slowly and carefully selected the perfect beverage from the dispenser at AMC. I know those machines give you overwhelming options, but please don’t study all of them when there are people waiting for you.

If you don’t know what movie you’re going to see or what size popcorn you’re going to buy, stand behind the line until you do. If you get to the register and are still undecided, you might cause the people behind you to miss the start of their movie. Have your money in your hand before you reach the front of the line, or people will think of you as the old lady at the grocery store who doesn’t get out her checkbook until the cashier gives her the total.

2. Kids get cranky late at night.

My wife and I love kids, but when we go to see an animated or family film, we think we’ll enjoy the movie more if we go to a showing less likely to be packed with screaming, crying, talking children. On a recent trip, thinking that no one in their right mind would keep their kids up past 1am to watch a movie, we picked an 11pm showing. Apparently, a lot of people were not in their right mind.

Of course people will bring children of all ages to films like Frozen and Monsters University, both of which are great for kids. But they will enjoy it more, and so will you, and so will the people around you, when it’s not way past their bedtime.

3. Respect the rating.

This doesn’t really apply to the latest Pixar offering, which is rated G, but it does apply to Man of Steel, which is rated PG-13. The fact that the subject is Superman doesn’t automatically make it appropriate for all ages. Remember The Dark Knight? The rating is there for a reason, and it applies to all children. People attending a PG-13 or R rated film have a reasonable expectation that a baby won’t start crying in the middle of it.

4. We can all hear you.

It doesn’t matter how quietly you talk. In a full theater, you could be bothering dozens of people; in a more empty one, your voice carries, even if you whisper. The room is designed with acoustics in mind, so don’t try to beat science.

If you must have your phone on, put it on vibrate, and if you have to take a call, leave the theater. Not the little hallway behind the seats; like I said, acoustics.

5. We can all see that, too.

In complete darkness, the light from a single match can be seen by the human eye for 10 miles. In a dark theater, everyone behind you can see the light from your cell phone.

6. Spoiler alerts appreciated.

I was waiting for my wife in the hallway outside of the ladies’ room when people from the theater next to me started to leave. As they walked by, one young man was discussing the twist ending with his friends in full voice, a drive-by spoilering for anyone in earshot, including me. I didn’t bother to see the movie after that.

Hopefully, if we all follow these guidelines, we’ll all enjoy the movies much more this holiday season. There are plenty of good options this year, so enjoy!

In a World with No Blockbuster Video

It’s been a long time coming, but I never thought it would actually happen. Unlike most Americans recently, I’ve been a Blockbuster Online subscriber for years, choosing them over Netflix for physical DVD/Blu-ray rentals due to their storefronts and video game options. Now, I’m stuck with Netflix.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a Netflix streaming subscriber as well, and a happy one at that. But I use it mostly for TV shows, and even though the movie selection is improving, I’m unlikely to find a specific title at any given moment. I can add disc rental, but I’ll be paying the same amount as Blockbuster with fewer perks.

So I’m looking at a few other options…


The Blockbuster killer. Who needs a brick-and-mortar store when there’s a kiosk next to the grocery checkout lanes? With high availability and video games, Redbox is a great solution for a lot of people. Its major drawback is its lack of variety and complete absence of older and classic titles. It just won’t cut it as an exclusive option for a film enthusiast.

Redbox is the only remaining physical DVD option, but streaming is the wave of the future…

apple_tv-q410-angled-lgApple TV

For a savvier system, you can spring for the Apple TV box and never leave your couch (or just plug your laptop into your TV and surf the iTunes store). The selection is better than Redbox, if not totally comprehensive. The main problem with this setup is cost. In addition to the hardware, everything is a la carte at the highest possible price. This is fine for the occasional rental, but if you’re on a real film kick, you’re going to be dropping a lot of cash.

Subscription services are definitely the way to go…

amazon_primeAmazon Prime

A little known perk of Amazon’s paid membership is unlimited streaming from much of their video library. It’s hardly comprehensive, but I’ve found it comparable to Netflix’s and could be a cheaper replacement for many people. The widely publicized free two-day shipping make this option the best value. For specific titles not included in Prime Unlimited Streaming, there’s always the regular video rental that streams through PC or Xbox.

Then again, maybe I could fill my time another way…


Who needs movies, anyway? With no perfect option to replace Blockbuster and plenty of cinematic, artistic console game titles in recent years, it may be time to take a break from my movie binge and spend more time in the more prevalent home media. GameFly is a bit more expensive that the above movie options, but it’s a great value for keeping up with the latest and greatest in the game industry (and is the last remaining option for game rentals outside of Redbox).

What’s your preferred movie solution?

Movies That Should Have Been Great (But Weren’t)

Some films are just ill-advised. No one is shocked when Saw 6 or Dredd aren’t exactly the pinnacle of filmmaking. On the other hand, some films, based on their pedigree or premise, should be a slam dunk. When they miss the mark completely, it’s not just disappointing; it’s baffling. Here are some of the best examples from recent years:

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Why It Should Have Been Great
The first Pirates film succeeds as an action movie, comedy, and old-fashioned adventure all at once. Credit goes largely to actors who simply devour their parts, especially Johnny Depp, but equally to a well-balanced script from Aladdin and The Mask of Zorro writers Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio. When the writers, director, and actors all returned for the sequel, I couldn’t wait to return to this world.

Why It’s Not
From the opening shot, this was not the same place anymore. The colorful, thrilling setting of the first film had been turned dark and moody, and so had the characters. Even the most likable people had become so self serving that the film actually hinges on the supposed hero behaving like a decent person (for which he is immediately betrayed). This tone clashes with a cartoonish goofiness that makes up a huge chunk of the second act, bringing the story to a grinding halt for jokes and action sequences that have no effect on the plot.

I could go on. And I will. When the story does move, it features more tentacles than any film ever should, mostly on the face of the villain. Why the filmmakers chose to bury an actor like Bill Nighy under millions of dollars of CGI and hamper his dialogue with spitting and gargling is beyond me. The only worse use of money in this film is the Kraken, which is the cause of several identical but interminable scenes of ships being crushed by – you guessed it – giant tentacles.

What Could Have Saved It
If the story had actually followed up on the promise of the continuing adventure at the end of the previous film, we would have had a cat and mouse game between Sparrow and Norrington, with newlyweds Will and Elizabeth caught in the middle. With Will struggling to adapt to his new life as royalty but having accepted that he is the son of a pirate, we could have had drama, comedy, and adventure without resorting to self-referential jokes and outlandish fantasy elements.


John Carter

Why It Should Have Been Great
Although it stayed out of the marketing, John Carter was helmed by WALL-E director Andrew Stanton, alongside many of his Pixar cohorts also making their live-action debuts. Savvy filmgoers would have been excited by this since a few months prior, fellow Pixar alum Brad Bird had made his first live-action feature, the fantastic Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, not to mention the fact that John Carter was based on a series of books by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Why It’s Not
Despite its pedigree, John Carter feels like it was handled by amateurs who saw Star Wars once and said, “Sure, I could do that.” Some movies seem to have multiple endings, but this one has multiple openings. It introduces so many settings, characters and factions in the first ten minutes that it seems to be daring the audience to keep up. Once the plot finally seems to be gaining focus, new concepts are thrown into the mix (i.e. the “voice of Mars”) that are never addressed again, just to make sure the details remain murky. Rather than giving the film the kind of richness found in the best fantasy, this complexity just distracts from what is on the screen.

Poor Andrew Stanton seems to be in way over his head. He’s completely lost in what to do with all of this material and never defines what makes this story so special. The title character is indistinguishable from the character of Aladdin, but lacks the same charm. The indigenous species with which the audience is expected to side is introduced in a series of gut-wrenching, savage behaviors that are never appropriately resolved. All of this likely stemmed from Stanton’s reported arrogance about his team’s methods from the start.

What Could Have Saved It
A disciplined writer. Peter Jackson and his team adapted the Lord of the Rings trilogy into three Oscar-worthy films by maintaining focus on the characters’ journeys and writing material designed for the screen based on the original concepts, not by translating the original text directly or by squishing as much of the books as possible into the movies. In addition, stronger actors were needed to breathe life into the characters. Everyone looks great, but they all seem to have been typecast rather than chosen for what they could add to their roles.


The Village

Why It Should Have Been Great
Once upon a time, M. Night Shamalyan was on a rare streak for a writer/director in Hollywood, with three successful, highly original films in a row. Even with a mixed critical reception to Signs, he had established a reputation as a master of supernatural thrillers. When his newest film would be a period piece about a colonial town possibly surrounded by monsters, the promise of mystery and suspense was too great to resist.

Why It’s Not
The first half of the film is actually quite interesting, meticulously building questions in the audience’s mind like any good mystery. But when it comes time to answer those questions, the audience realizes that it’s the victim of a bait and switch, and the answers are both undesirable and shaky at best, existing only as an excuse for certain scenes earlier in the film. A good twist should boil down to a simple explanation that ties up the film neatly, but the explanations for The Village have too many pieces and leave the audience feeling like they’ve been cheated rather than entertained.

What Could Have Saved It
What makes the twist work in The Sixth Sense, Shamalyan’s directorial debut, is that we didn’t even know there was a mystery to be solved, but when it’s revealed, the film suddenly makes sense in a whole new way. The Village hinges so completely on the solution to the mystery that no answer can support the weight of what preceded it. The internal drama is powerful, but not central enough to keep our minds from wandering back into the forest to scrutinize the evidence and play with hypotheses that were more interesting than the film’s given ending. The film needed either a more original ending, a more engaging plot notwithstanding the monsters, or both.


Funny People

Why It Should Have Been Great
Here’s another case of a highly anticipated original film from a fairly new, sensational writer-director. Judd Apatow made his name with his unique brand of adult humor withThe 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but also showed an ability to shepherd other projects like Superbad. A pairing with his longtime friend Adam Sandler seemed like a match made in heaven.

Why It’s Not
It has its moments, but Funny People tries so hard to be hilarious and dramatic that it ultimately winds up being neither. Tonally confused and overly ambitious, it’s bloated and even boring at times. Sandler and Seth Rogen play comedians who mope half the time and make poor decisions the other half, making them sympathetic but not empathetic, a crucial distinction that leaves the story rudderless. The problem appears to lie in the fact that it’s actually two movies smashed together, connected by theme but not by story.

What Could Have Saved It
A co-writer. Apatow doesn’t usually need the help, but for whatever reason, he was too close to this material and needed a discerning eye to help him streamline this narrative and make it punchier. Also, a viewer can only tolerate Sandler being an ass to everyone around him for so long. Though the role was written for him, he doesn’t have the geniality that would enable some actors to deliver the same lines and remain likable. Perhaps a rewrite would have smoothed out the character’s rough edges to give Sandler a bit more to work with and show that he’s worth rooting for.


Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Why It Should Have Been Great
Video games have been rising as an art form in the past couple of decades, and at the time that a Final Fantasy film was announced, the franchise represented the best example of creative and compelling storytelling in the medium. Expertly creating brand new fantasy worlds on each outing complete with kingdoms, magic, ancient beasts and a struggle brtwern goof and evil, the games by Squaresoft were rounded out by memorable characters and increasingly impressive visuals. Indeed, early footage of the fully animated film was as captivating as it was jawdroppingly realistic.

Why It’s Not
Even while watching it, the visuals and atmosphere promise a much better experience than what the film ultimately provides. To begin with, the story doesn’t remotely resemble fantasy; it’s sci-fi horror through and through, set on Earth (!) in the future. By the time any recognizable elements from the games make their appearance, it’s far too late.

Even if the Final Fantasy moniker were stripped, the film still wouldn’t stand on its own. The characters are detailed on the outside but disappointingly flat otherwise. The only one who makes an impression is a hateful villain. On top of that, the story is revealed way too slowly, opting instead to give screen time to disturbing, depressing scenes of monsters stealing people’s souls.

What Could Have Saved It
Possibly nothing. The story simply doesn’t work. What a Final Fantasy feature film needed was to mine the games for what makes them so entertaining to play and put it in a cinematic context. Instead, the screenplay focuses on the hardest element to translate, the spiritualism, and bases an entirely different story on it. There’s nothing to salvage.

Who Should Take Over Star Trek After J.J. Abrams?

Though controversial among long-time fans, there’s little doubt about the wide success and acceptance of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek universe. Paramount is certainly itching to begin production of another sequel, but given Abrams’ commitment to Star Wars and Disney’s aggressive release schedule, his departure from Trek is all but assured. I haven’t heard any reliable rumors about who may take over, but I have a few ideas of my own:

Peter Jackson

Pedigree: Lord of the Rings, King Kong

Why He’s a Good Choice: Jackson’s beloved LotR trilogy speaks for itself. He pours unequaled passion into his projects, always telling an epic, definitive story. His reverence for source material might win over fanboys the way Abrams’ revisionist approach never could.

Why He Might Not Be: Not everything has to be three hours long. Also, Jackson is no stranger to action scenes, but he’s not known for a good romp and a light touch. His heavy handed style may not mesh with the previous films.

Duncan Jones

Pedigree: Moon, Source Code

Why He’s a Good Choice: After his thoughtful and innovative Moon received widespread acclaim, Jones surprised many by showing equally powerful action chops with thriller Source Code. He’s a sci-fi man through and through, and could bring an original genre story to what has become a popcorn franchise.

Why He Might Not Be: Despite his successes, he’s still new to the scene, and has never taken on a franchise before. Also, like Jackson, he may not be adept at the banter and relationships we’ve seen in the Abrams films.

Bryan Singer

Pedigree: The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Valkyrie, Superman Returns

Why He’s a Good Choice: He’s a self-confessed Trekkie, so he would bring a fan’s passion to the franchise, not to mention a likely adherence to the source material that Abrams plays so fast and loose with. Singer’s focus tends to be on relationships between characters, which would match the latest films well.

Why He Might Not Be:He’s hardly impervious to box office failure (Jack the Giant Slayer is this year’s John Carter). Also, he’s likely to want more creative control than Paramount would be willing to give him for a sequel.

Joss Whedon

Pedigree: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV), Firefly(TV), The Avengers

Why He’s a Good Choice: You read his pedigree, right?

Why He Might Not Be: He might be too busy.

Brad Bird

Pedigree: The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Why He’s a Good Choice: When he made his live action debut with M:I-4, Bird showed more prowess than many action directors do in their entire careers. Throughout his films, he’s shown an unusual ability to balance excitement, humor, and drama to great audience-pleasing effect. Additionally, Bird has followed Abrams before and managed to maintain a similar flavor without sacrificing quality.

Why He Might Not Be: Given Pixar’s culture for cultivating talent from within and taking on projects as a team, and the fact that M:I-4 was a Cruise/Abrams production, Bird may not have had this much creative control without a seasoned team of filmmakers behind him. Combine that with his lack of sci-fi background, and he may have difficulty putting his own stamp on a film like this.

Tell me below: who would you like to see take over for Abrams?

5 Reasons Man of Steel Will Be the Best Superman Movie Ever

Next weekend, we’ll be treated to the first new cinematic interpretation of Superman since Richard Donner wrote the book on superhero origin stories in 1978. A Superman film without John Williams’ sweeping score, the crystalline Fortress of Solitude, and a Christopher Reeve type in the suit is difficult to imagine, but I believe that Man of Steel has the potential to become the new definitive take on the character. Here are five elements in its favor:


5. Christopher Nolan & David Goyer

Any comic book film’s dream: a script by the team that reinvented Batman and influenced every comic book adaptation in every medium. Nolan spearheaded the project, and he’s known for only taking on projects he can approach in a unique way, so this story should be quite original. Even Richard Donner should be jealous.


4. Action Galore

The Donner films were epic in scale, but each only features one major action sequence, due in part to the technical limitations of the time. After Superman Returns lacked punch, the world is more than ready to see Superman go toe-to-toe with a well-matched opponent. Which brings us to…


3. Michael Shannon as Zod

We’ve already seen Zod played memorably by the Caesarean Terrance Stamp, but Oscar nominee Shannon promises a newly unhinged warlord who comes not as a king, but as a vengeful conqueror. If Lex Luthor is Superman’s Joker, than Zod is surely more than equivalent to Bane.


2. Superman Struggles

With apologies to Brandon Routh, the most recent version of Superman didn’t have as much personality as we’ve come to expect from the character. Reeve was confident and charming, but he could be intimidating and also emotional. Our new Superman shows all of these qualities in the trailers, but he’s not just out to catch the bad guys; he has a plan of his own to execute. Even so, in several shots presumably late in the movie, Superman looks like he’s fighting for his life… and he looks afraid. This is a whole new hero.


1. Zack Snyder

The choice of macho director Snyder solicited groans before shooting began, but I find it very promising. For one thing, he was hand picked by Christopher Nolan to take over the project. But aside from that, I believe Snyder has a great movie inside of him, and Man of Steel just might be it. He’s shown he knows how to please a crowd (300), direct a faithful comic adaptation (Watchmen), and display directorial range (Legend of the Guardians). He has a lot to prove with this film, and I’ll bet he put every artistic fiber of his being into it.

I’ve always been a big Superman fan, so I’m rooting for this film no matter what, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this is going to be something truly special.

Me Vs. The Critics: 2013 So Far

The beginning of the year is an awkward time for movies. Having been released at the ended the year for Oscar contention, the best films of the previous year intermingle with the weakest entries the studios have to offer. January has become a worse dumping ground for disappointing movies than August. Then things start to get interesting.

A few risky, potential blockbusters hit screens in March, and April is a real grab bag. The summer movie season now begins in May before the real heavy hitters take over for the season. Since we’re about halfway through the year, I thought I would compare my reactions to this year’s films so far to their critical reactions. In order of release:

20130605-001155.jpgSide Effects
Rotten Tomatoes critics: 85%
Rotten Tomatoes users: 75%

My Rating: 75%
Steven Soderbergh bounces back nicely from his misstep with The Informant! and reminds me that he knows how to craft a thriller. It’s not as surprising as a good mystery should be, but the slowly unfolding plot through Jude Law’s eyes is quite an experience. I’m glad I trusted the reviews.

20130605-001357.jpgJack the Giant Slayer
RT critics: 52%
RT users: 60%

My Rating: 35%
The title suggests an original take on the fairy tale, but while the approach is new to this story, it’s all too familiar to anyone who’s ever seen Lord of the Rings (or any fantasy film, for that matter). Despite a few fun action scenes and charming leads, the experience is ultimately too thin and juvenile to be very exciting.

20130605-003424.jpgOz the Great and Powerful
RT critics: 60%
RT users: 63%

My Rating: 70%
While not all of the scenes survive Raimi’s stinky cheese (poor Mila Kunis), this trip to Oz was much more fun than it should have been for an adult. The jokes land perfectly, and the emotion is real, thanks largely to supporting, non-human characters that are voiced by actors chosen for their suitability rather than their box office draw. It’s not as original as the Wizard or the revisionist Wicked, but it’s quite a good time.

20130605-003434.jpgOlympus Has Fallen
RT critics: 47%
RT users: 74%

My Rating: 20%
The best part about this film is that I didn’t pay full price to see it. Is this the same Antoine Fuqua who directed Training Day? I had hoped this would be more of a thriller than the bombastic Roland Emmerich’s upcoming White House Down, but there’s more suspense in any given episode of 24 than this two hour insult to action movies. Cliched, repetitive, and lazy.

20130605-003445.jpgG.I. Joe: Retaliation
RT critics: 28%
RT users: 63%

My Rating: 60%
The film knows that it’s ridiculous, but that only makes it more fun. The plot is somewhat disjointed, and fan service is a little heavy-handed, but this is the only movie I’ve seen featuring a mass ninja fight on ropes on the side of a mountain. Enough said.

RT critics: 55%
RT users: 64%

My Rating: 70%
While predictable to hardcore sci-fi fans, this love letter to the genre boasts stunning visuals and strong performances from its leads, especially Andrea Riseborough. Regardless, this is Tom Cruise’s show, and he does what he does best, which is great for fans, but won’t win him any converts.

RT critics: 77%
RT users: 87%

My Rating: 75%
This Jackie Robinson biopic has its strengths and weaknesses, and they’re often the same. For my part, I found the focus on Robinson’s first year and his internal struggles refreshing. Its lack of adult themes also makes it a great family film and conversation starter about race relations. Harrison Ford gives his most likable performance in over a decade.

20130605-003510.jpgIron Man 3
RT critics: 78%
RT users: 83%

My Rating: 80%
After a slow start, RDJ’s potentially final turn as Iron Man picks up steam after the first major action scene, which is just as breathtaking as the trailers make it look. From there, the film is great fun, even throwing few good twists into an otherwise straightforward plot. The humor style has a slightly different twist owing to its new director, but the tone feels very consistent with the previous movies and proves both fulfilling and worthy of succeeding The Avengers.

20130605-003515.jpgThe Great Gatsby
RT critics: 50%
RT users: 72%

My Rating: 65%
Proof that 90% of directing is casting. Though I left the theater with a shrug, the experience was fun at the time, owing to the actors’ dedication and charisma. The good news is that it follows the book very well, so at least it’s faithful. The bad news is that it follows the book very well, so the characters are pretty detestable. English teachers would love it?

20130605-003523.jpgStar Trek Into Darkness
RT critics: 87%
RT users: 92%

My Rating: 95%
More fun, more surprising, and more gripping than its predecessor, this is the Dark Knight of Star Trek movies. The first half of the film is all intrigue and build-up to the second half, which is a suspenseful sprint to the finish. Benedict Cumberbatch turns an underwritten character into an Oscar-worthy performance.

20130605-003531.jpgNow You See Me
RT critics: 42%
RT users: 75%

My Rating: 30%
It wants to be The Prestige meets The Usual Suspects, but that would require more cleverness and insight into the world of magic than the film is willing to give us. What we have instead is a lackluster heist film featuring paper thin characterization and CGI instead of sleight of hand. It has its moments, and the cast looks like it’s having fun, but I never felt invited to play along.

There’s plenty more to come this year; hopefully, more like Star Trek than Olympus Has Fallen. Also, there are a few smaller and independent films that look promising, so I hope to expand my palette a bit more by the end of the summer.

Oscars 2013: They Blew It Again

Four years ago, an incredible film took theaters by storm. Praised by critics and fans alike for its complexity, scale, and powerhouse performances, it was immediately an awards contender, potentially the first of its kind to be named Best Picture by the Academy.

The film did receive considerable recognition, garnering eight Oscar nominations. But the big news was what lists it didn’t make. No writing nod. No directing nod. And perhaps most egregiously, no nod for Best Picture.

That film was The Dark Knight.

Why? The obvious answer would be that it was an especially great year for movies, and it was simply beaten by better films – but looking at the nominees, you’d have a hard time making that assertion. If anything, even the best films that year were relatively unexciting. The only other explanation is that the Academy members balked at the idea of giving a blockbuster superhero film a shot at the top honors, which obviously didn’t sit well with the public.

The Academy attempted to avoid similar issues in the future by expanding the field of Best Picture nominees to a maximum of 10, paradoxically implying that The Dark Knight had deserved a nomination, but had been outdone fair and square.  The following years didn’t do much to help the Academy’s case:  at least half of the nominees stood no chance of winning, and their status as Best Picture nominees seemed dubious at best.

Last year was a different story.

2012 hosted some of the best films in recent memory, both from Hollywood heavy hitters and promising new talent, but some of the biggest standouts were blockbuster films like The Avengers, Skyfall, and The Dark Knight Rises.  Finally, the Academy gets an opportunity to erase the past and prove its point by filling the Best Picture category with worthy films regardless of their genre (with the added bonus of attracting more and younger viewers for a change).

But it was too much to hope for.  The headslapping nominations include all of the usual suspects and a couple of obligatory independent films for good measure.  As for the films mentioned above:  No writing nods.  No directing nods.  No acting nods.  And most insultingly, only nine films were nominated for Best Picture, making the exclusion of films like Skyfall seem that much more intentional.  It’s 2008 all over again, but worse; The Dark Knight Rises didn’t receive a single nomination.

The Academy blew it again.

5 Movies That Aren’t as Bad as We Remember

I recently mentioned to a friend that I hadn’t bothered to see The Words since it had only received a 17% on RottenTomatoes. He was shocked; he had attended a test screening of the film and loved it. So I started thinking: what movies have I enjoyed until people started talking about how bad they were? Over time, some mediocre films seem to get worse in our collective consciousness.

In honor of all such films that get a bad rap, here are a few of the most notable cases (IMHO).

Spoilers below. Ye be warned.

Spider-Man 3

Following up what many called the best comic book movie ever (at the time) is no small feat, as Christopher Nolan will gladly tell you. Spider-Man 2 had taken Sam Raimi’s universe to its stylistic limit, ratcheting up the action, the romance, the awkwardness, and the post-adolescent themes. The question of how the third adventure could possibly top it was a valid one, but that couldn’t topple the incredibly high expectations.

Even while the movie broke opening weekend records, word spread about Spidey’s emo-Venom dance, and as the name implies, it wasn’t positive. Raimi had taken a bit too much license with the Venom character, a fan-favorite, and the only other new antagonist available to pick up the slack was Sandman, whose presence in the film is never justified.

But in the midst of these lackluster villains and black hair dye, we’re taken on an emotional ride as Peter Parker learns a hard lesson about pride. In these scenes, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are at the top of their game, portraying the kind of relationship growing pains anyone who’s been in a long term relationship understands. It’s unusual territory for a superhero film, and Maguire’s dancing notwithstanding, it’s executed quite effectively. In addition, vengeance-seeking Harry’s amnesia subplot, which should be old hat, creates a ticking time bomb of tension bookended by exciting action scenes with sharp, detailed special effects.

I believe so many remember the negatives because Raimi committed three cardinal sins: 1) overhauling a beloved villain, 2) failing to balance too many new characters and subplots, and 3) making a third film in a trilogy.

War of the Worlds (2005)

For the first 15 minutes of Spielberg’s remake of the sci-fi classic, I forgot there were aliens involved. I was immediately gripped by the family drama, so when giant pods stood up and started vaporizing people, I was already invested in the characters enough to follow them anywhere. The rest of the film played out just as I’d hoped, with lots of deftly directed set pieces in which Tom Cruise rescues Dakota Fanning. Did anyone walk in expecting something else?

I’m honestly not sure why this film got such a bum rap. It wouldn’t be fair to omit the fact that, just prior to this film’s release, it seemed as though everyone in America was inexplicably angry at Cruise for jumping on Oprah’s couch. Why, was it an antique? If I were to guess as something related to the film, however, I’d have to say that I see how Cruise’s on-screen teenaged son would get of some people’s nerves. Along with being outlandishly rebellious and hard-headed, his story arc might have felt rather forced and distracting in a story whose source didn’t include such family dynamics.

I have a couple of theories about why I didn’t see the problems. For one thing, I’d been a teenage boy shortly before War of the Worlds hit theaters, so I found the character at least a little bit understandable, if not exactly lovable. Also, as a science fiction fan, I had a passing familiarity with the story and knew the broad strokes of the plot, so that when events occurred that weren’t explained clearly (such as, spoiler alert, the alien invaders are eventually defeated), I recognized and appreciated the events more than the average moviegoer. I rarely hear anyone say good things about this film, but it didn’t exactly tank at the box office, so that makes it a good choice for this list.

Batman Forever

If there’s one person Batman fans love to hate, it’s director Joel Schumacher. And after his braindead Batman & Robin all but killed the franchise, he’s certainly an easy target. One of the worst things about it is that the previous film is often forgotten or remembered as just as dreadful as its successor, which isn’t the case at all. Batman Forever was well-received by audiences after Tim Burton’s increasingly gloomy and disjointed films.

Forever has a lot going for it when compared to the other Batman films in this series: it features the best action scenes, is technically well-executed and is full of iconic visuals. The plot actually contains an internal logic, even with its sci-fi elements. Jim Carrey is right at home playing the Riddler, an unhinged scientist-turned-supercriminal. And for the first and only time until Begins, Batman’s origins are addressed from a psychological angle, if only in a half-formed subplot (the rest was cut for time).

Of course, like all films on this list, it’s not without its share of problems. The never-ending rave party that is Gotham City is difficult to reconcile with the previous films. Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face is wacky and cartoonish in a film that already had that angle covered, not to mention its incongruity with the character’s history. But I believe that most films live or die on how their central characters are treated, and even through the neon lights, Batman shines.

Die Another Day

Another film that gets a scarlet letter for one regrettably silly scene. I’m sure we all could have lived full and happy lives if we hadn’t seen Pierce Brosnan windsurfing in Iceland with the help of glaringly obvious CGI. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

The increasing ridiculousness of the film overshadows a rather promising first half. The opening hovercraft chase is fun and ends on a unique note with Bond’s capture. The title sequences end with a bearded Bond resigned to die in prison. When he takes off after whoever betrays him, it’s a great setup, and the film is chock full of crowd pleasing one-liners and creative action scenes. What’s not to like?

Well, plenty. A bland bad guy. A sci-fi plot that’s old hat. Too much cheese and not enough drama for its exciting setup. Even Oscar-winner Halle Barry is more distracting than scintillating. Unfortunately, these issues are most glaring late in the film, as though the filmmakers gradually ran out of steam in the planning stages.

Now Bond is all blood and grit, and while the quality and risk-taking is undoubtedly higher, some people yearn for the more fun, playful Bond they loved as they grew up. Die Another Day is the last Bond of its kind, and may be for a long time.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Wait, don’t leave! I can explain!

Since its release in ’99, The Phantom Menace has been a favorite punching bag of fanboys everywhere. Most people probably would point to stiff directing from George Lucas, but the inclusion of one of the most annoying characters in blockbuster history certainly didn’t help. It’s way too easy to make fun of, but none of those issues are the primary reason this film is considered such a joke.

I believe that, like Spider-Man 3, the first Star Wars prequel was a victim of impossibly high expectations. Lucas tried to following the films that practically invented blockbusters and had the greatest cultural impact of any film property, and because it wasn’t one of the greatest movies ever made, because it didn’t cover the same ground, because it didn’t emulate the look and feel of the original trilogy, it disappointed many. The criticisms above (and more) are still valid, but they didn’t become the film’s defining features in our minds until later.

We forget just how flat-out entertaining the film is. It features Jedi tearing through bad guys throughout, not to mention a climactic, badass lightsaber duel that redefines the term. The ingenious podrace doesn’t need 3D to be jawdroppingly effective. It features groundbreaking special effects that wouldn’t be replicated by other films for years. Its legacy includes making Natalie Portman a household name and giving nerd culture a boost and sends it mainstream over the past decade. That’s right: you can thank George Lucas for The Avengers.

I suppose the point I’m making isn’t that these films are forgotten classics, but that they don’t have to be in order to be enjoyable or significant. Have we reached a point where we need every film to match our exact expectations to enjoy it? Sounds like a topic for a future post.