Friday, February 24, 2017

Hodgepodge 118/365 - Taste in Movies

David was out playing rock 'n' roll this evening, and I am nursing a kidney infection (it seems), so I settled in for a movie on Amazon Prime: Mr. Church. From 2016, it stars Eddie Murphy (promising) and was directed by Bruce Beresford (his Tender Mercies is one of my favorite movies—so, also promising). It got 4.7 stars on Amazon (out of 5). Okay!

About 35 minutes in I had to stop and look at iMdb to see what viewers there rated it, because I was feeling decidedly underwhelmed. The marks, it proved, were consistently pretty high—7.7 out of 10—with words such as "must see," "Unbelievable!!!!," "Murphy's tour de force," etc.

One person commented, "Implausible sob story" (5 stars), and I should have stopped right there, but I thought maybe he was just a cranky viewer.

When I see good reviews (many people gave Mr. Church all 10 stars), though, I think there must be something to redeem it.

Well, not in this case. It is an implausible story; it's way too neatly tied up, with tidy circles within tidy circles in a completely predictable plot; the acting was so-so (Eddie Murphy was fine, but great? not so much: he deserves a much better vehicle); and it had an annoying voice-over narrator in the character of the somewhat precious, somewhat unpleasant little girl who, along with Mr. Church, inhabits the movie for sixteen years. (That is, she's unpleasant at the start—a ten-year-old acting out—though of course she grows up to be a shining diamond of a human being.) Worst, it aroused no emotion in me (which could just mean that I'm cranky, but we'll leave that discussion for another day).

Now that I look at Rotten Tomatoes and Roger Ebert, I find they both gave it one star out of five.

I do tend to read reviews of movies before I go see them. I tend to trust the New Yorker and usually the New York Times. The New Yorker (Richard Brody) had this to say about Mr. Church: "It's repugnant for its dehumanizing view (however unintentionally so) of a black man, and repugnant for its emptying-out of one of the great black performers of the time into a sanitized symbol of acceptable blackness" (quoted on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics gave the movie an approval rating of 15 percent, but the audience gave it 80 percent). (Brody also really didn't care for La La Land—see yesterday's post—and in certain respects I agreed with him. His colleague, Anthony Lane, went easier, but did not exactly rave.)

It seems as if many people just want a feel-good movie and don't care about the quality of the package—or perhaps they don't know what makes a quality movie. Critics may get reviled, and sometimes rightly so, but some critics actually do know what they're talking about: the difference between bold and innovative (even if it's a quiet movie), on the one hand, and hackneyed and merely competent, on the other. Fortunately, I've found a few critics whose taste coincides with mine.

I don't like wasting my time on pablum. Next time, I'll seek out more reliable reviewers than "the audience" before deciding what to watch. There's too much good stuff out there already.

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