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On the Road

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Name: Jack Neefus
Gender: Male
Hometown: Newark, NJ
Home country: US
Current location: Baltimore, MD
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 20,783

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Email: jneefus@gmail.com

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Viewers Come to Movies Looking for Very Different Things

and bringing very different histories and tastes. Many bad reviews of good movies seem to be the result of one of the following:

1) People often have difficulty distinguishing a movie they just couldn't get into at the time, or a movie with themes and characters they can't relate to, from a bad movie. IMDB message boards are full of posts consisting of little more than "I fell asleep," "I walked out," or "this sucked."

I saw Blade Runner years after it came out on VHS, and simply couldn't get into it. Maybe the expectations were too high, or maybe its innovations had become commonplace by the 90's. But I would never call it a lousy movie.

2) Movies are often judged by what the viewer expects the film to do rather than what the director is trying to do, which may be quite different. Countless posts complain "what was the point of X" when X had a very clear point and was crucial to the storyline or understanding the characters.

This was responsible for a lot of the outrage over Drive, which was a wonderful example of breaking expectations and mixing genres and standard plots. Didn't follow the pattern of an action movie? No, it didn't, which made it more shocking and confusing when things went wrong and turned violent. Main character just stood there not saying anything? The director wanted the audience to be taken aback a little and to pay attention to other cues (plus it was consistent with the character). Why was that kiss in the elevator all gussied up with slow-mo and magical lighting? Because that was the culmination of the entire relationship -- the only moment that it could ever be consummated.

3) Much of the audience seems to miss character development unless it is spelled out or brought about by common devices like "facing your fears." Several IMDB posters on Moonrise Kingdom made comments to the effect that the plot went nowhere, whereas virtually every character underwent some sort of growth or transformation. It takes a special set of blinders to miss that in that large a cast.


That's one reason IMO why older reviewers are sometimes kinder than newbies. Someone like Roger Ebert is open-minded enough and has been around a sufficiently long time that he can see better what was being attempted and can give credit even when the result was flawed, and why his reviews of a film like Snow White and the Hunter was much more positive than a lot of younger critics and message board posters.

Having said that, a lot of relatively simple, formulaic movies often receive high praise if they fall into certain genres or deal with certain themes. Million Dollar Baby was well crafted, but it never violated expectations, brought out surprising elements of the characters, or made the audience look or think deeply. For that reason, I didn't find it memorable, affecting, or thought-provoking in the least.

On the other hand, a movie like It's a Wonderful Life has some vocal detractors. It certainly contains some corny elements, a bizarre frame about angels, unecessary exposition, and caters to an 1940's small-town, middle-class sensibility. At the same time, it is one of the more subtle character studies of its era, all the more so because George Bailey is not a saint in the usual sense. It deals with odd themes that are hard to bring to life -- choosing responsibility over dreams and the importance of financial saving, building networks of friends, and affordable housing financed by involved, forgiving creditors. It's unique and deserves to be considered an all-time classic.

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