A Walk in the Woods
These guys still know how to not just hold our attention but grab it, even if their current film needs them more than they need…
My third collection of reviews of movies I really hated. Order A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck from Barnes and Noble, Amazon or the independent bookstore of your choice:
Introduction to the bookBy Roger Ebert I received several messages from readers asking me why I felt it was even necessary for me to review "The Human Centipede II." (There was also one telling me it should have been titled "Human Centipede Number Two," but never mind that one.) My reply was that it was my duty. I feared it would attract large crowds to the box office, and as it turned out I was right. I did what I could to warn people away. Certain colleagues of mine discussed it as a work of art (however "flawed"). I would beg them to think really, really hard of another movie opening the same weekend that might possibly be better for the mental health of their readers.
It was not my duty to review many of the other movies in this book. I review most of the major releases during the year, but I also make it a point to review lots of indie films, documentaries, foreign films, and what we used to call "art movies" and might now call "movies for grown ups." If I had skipped a few of these titles, I don't believe my job would have been threatened. But I might have enjoyed it less.
After reviewing a truly good movie, the second most fun is viewing a truly bad one. It's the in-between movies that can begin to feel routine. Consider, for example, the truly bad "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (2009), the movie that provided the title for this book. I saw the movie, returned home, sat down at the computer keyboard, and the opening words of my review fairly flew from my fingertips: "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. Where did those words come from? They were the simple truth. Gene Siskel always argued that he was a newspaperman first and a film critic second: "I cover the movie beat." What that meant for him is that his first paragraph should be the kind of "lead" they teach you to write in journalism school. Before you get to your opinion about a new movie, you should begin with the news. We could have an interesting discussion about whether the opening of my "TROF" review was news or opinion. To me, it was completely factual. To many readers who posted comments on my blog, it was completely inaccurate. It was opinion, and my opinion was wrong.
Yes, there are people who like the Transformers movies. I sorta liked the first one myself, in 2007. The charm wore off. The third in the series, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011) was no better. Predictably, some critics were inspired by TDOM to analyze the visual style of Michael Bay. Finding success in a Michael Bay film is like finding the Virgin on a slice of toast, but less rewarding.
Sometimes in my negative reviews I have weaknesses. I'm aware of them, and yet I indulge them all the same. Show me a bad movie about zombies or vampires, for example, and I will inevitably go into speculation about the reality that underlies their conditions. A few days ago, I was re-watching Murnau's original "Nosferatu" (1922), and something struck me for the first time. As you may recall, Graf Oriok, a character inspired by Count Dracula, encloses himself in a coffin and ships himself along with a group of similar coffins on a freighter bound for Wisbourg. He carries with him the Black Plague, which will kill everyone on board.
It struck me that this was an extraordinary leap of faith on his part. Inside the coffin he is presumably in the trance-like state of all vampires. He certainly must anticipate that everyone on board will soon be dead. The ship will be at the mercy of the winds and tides. If by good chance it drifts to Wisbourg (which it does), what can the good people of Wisbourg be expected to do? Prudently throw the coffins overboard or sink the ship to protect themselves from the plague, I imagine. But if they happen to open his coffin in sunlight, Graf Oriok will be destroyed. Luckily, he releases himself from the coffin at night, sitting bolt upright in a famous scene. But think of the things that could have gone wrong.
That's how my mind works. We are now far away from the topic of "Nosferatu." I am also fascinated by Darwin's Theory of Evolution as it implies to zombies. Since Richard Dawkins teaches us that the only concern of a selfish gene is to survive until the next generation of the organism that carries it, what are the prospects of zombie genes, which can presumably be transmitted only by the dead? And now do zombies reproduce, or spread? Oh, I could go on. Why must they eat flesh? Why not a whole foods diet of fruits, vegetables and grains? Maybe a little fish?
I know this has nothing to do with film criticism. I am blown along by the winds of my own zeal. If a good vampire or zombie movie comes along, I do my best to play fair with it. With a bad one, I am merciless and irresponsible. That's why I like the bad ones best.
Perhaps my reasoning goes like this: Few people buying the newspaper are likely to require a serious analysis of, for example, James Raynor's "Angry and Moist: An Undead Chronicle" (2004). This is a zombie movie I haven't seen so it will work well as an example. Therefore, it is my task to write a review that will be enjoyable to read even if the reader has no interest in the film and no plans to ever see it.
I suppose that explains a good many of the reviews in this book. Some of the films herein are only fairly bad. Some are not bad so much as evil and reprehensible. Others, let's face it, have no importance at all other than in inspiring movie reviews. Of all the films in this book, it is for those I am most grateful.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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