A few days ago my The Movie Breakdown podcast co-host Scott wrote a piece on his blog where he explored the good things contained in the box office and critical disaster, Gods of Egypt. I've seen Gods of Egypt and would never use the word 'good' to describe what I saw unfold on the screen. But I also agree with Scott that I wouldn't ever use the word 'boring' and I appreciated that it was a big screen campy B-movie throwback adventure that most big studios abandoned over thirty years ago.
One of the problem in this Rotten Tomatoes era where movie goers check out the percentage of a movie to see if it worth the time, there is a quick dismissal of any movie that doesn't reach a "fresh rating" or get bestowed with the "Certified Fresh" logo. It is puts movies into two categories where they are either "worth seeing" or "not worth seeing." It creates a culture where a low percentage movie does not have any value and should be dismissed without being given a chance. The plus side is that this mentality forces big studios to put a higher standard on quality and you have studios like Marvel that have created an enjoyable and entertaining template for big event movies. The downside is that taking risks and chances for wide release big screen movies is becoming rare.
It makes me miss the 1990s and the days of Blockbuster where you'd go to the store not quite sure what you will watch and be willing to take a chance on a movie based off its cover or trusting the video store employer who promises it has some pretty cool scenes. It was a time when you'd take the recommendation and word of a friend or acquaintance rather than the score on a web site. The thing about an individual is they are unique and have their own tastes and ideas of what constitutes "good." Those recommendations often would come weeks or maybe even months later where those memorable scenes or that unexpected twist is what marinated and blossomed in the mind rather than a complete critique of the actual movie, especially if that person is not paid to analyze and dissect a movie.
In a big shocking reveal, I have watched a lot of movies in my lifetime. I remember many nights in high school and college where after the picture ends, my friends would confess that the movie wasn't great but we sure loved a particular scene or thought the concept was really cool or would find ourselves still debating one of the themes explored. Comedies like Zoolander or Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story aren't what I would call great or even good movies, but they both had many lines and scenes that my group of friends would quote or laugh about long after seeing. Any time I have returned to those two movies, I am reminded that as a whole they do not entirely work, but I do not regret that those films are in my pop culture storage box. I also have seen far too many not-so-great horror movies in my lifetime including several heavily inspired by the success of Scream like The Faculty, Urban Legends, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, none of which will never be called classics but had moments that are still burned into my brain.
Now time to hit the rewind button even further to the 1980s, where the VHS was the hottest thing and you got thrilled when the movie channels (HBO in the United States and First Choice in Canada) had a free preview weekend. Of course, there were film critics like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel that had national attention and the local paper's film critic may have had some weight, but there wasn't some universal consensus on what was good. The decision to view something was based on how cool that trailer looked or what the kids were raving about at school (I was in elementary school, so their opinions meant more). Let's be honest, movies that are considered "classic' or beloved today like The Goonies or Tron or The Monster Squad wouldn't been remembered after two weeks if Rotten Tomatoes existed and declared it wasn't good enough for our attention. None of those movies are classics from a quality standpoint, but they have a special part of my heart due to nostalgia and each offered something unique to their specific genre. Tron was imaginative and added something to the special effects world even if the acting is wooden and the plot resembles Swiss cheese. There just aren't enough children on an epic adventure movies anymore like The Goonies or The Monster Squad.
Well remembered movies today like Conan the Barbarian and Flash Gordon were influential for their genre and have their loyal fans, but neither would come out with glowing Rotten Tomatoes scores if released today (nostalgia and their place in cinema is what gives them positive scores today). Both are considered cult classics, because they came out in a time when the movie goer was more willing to take risks and could enjoy a movie despite it being messy and flawed. Today, the clunky dialogue and wacky ideas would garner mix reviews and most people would take a pass. If Gods of Egypt came out in 1984 with a similar plot and style it would be a cherished cult classic today, but in the current climate, the majority of you have probably already forgotten this was even a movie that came out in theatres.
Movies like Beetlejuice, Big Trouble in Little China, Blade Runner and They Live are critically well-received today but took a beating when they were released. In each case, if one reads the reviews and engages with the critic's prose then that is how the movie fan can decipher if a lesser acclaimed movie is worth their time. The reality is even movies that are reviled today can be appreciated by someone and almost any film with its flaws has gold hidden within. Many genre pictures with Rotten Tomatoes scores that are deemed rotten have had ambitious and original premises that for that reason are at least worthy to check out like the major misfires Jupiter Ascending or A Cure for Wellness. In the article by Scott that I references, he mentioned box office flops like A Wrinkle in Time and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as movies that failed, while I admit both are very messy and disjointed movies with glaring flaws, but I recommended both because the ambition and creativity made for an immersive and rewarding experience.
One person that is really worth mentioning is Scout Tafoya, who for the last few years has been making the wonderful video series The Unloved, which is about analyzing and celebrating movies that were either critically panned or underseen by audiences. Unlike many other video series that look at critically panned films, he is not poking fun at them but rather looking at why they are good movies and worthy of a viewer's consideration. He does not argue that these are perfect movies and I am sure in some cases acknowledges their glaring flaws, but he is a champion of what many have labelled "bad cinema" and instead breaks out the glowing green gemstone from the porcelain rabbit. I am totally on his team when defending movies like The Lone Ranger, Speed Racer, and The Hudsucker Proxy, but he has just as many movies that I gave horrible reviews to like Transcendence and The Village. The point isn't about our personal tastes, but rather Scout is creating a positive minded conversation about creative works that most modern writers and media outlets are either ignoring or bashing.
The point of things like The Unloved or even this article, is argue that there isn't a very clear good or bad when it comes to art. Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe a movie is either fresh or rotten, but a lot of those rotten movies bring something valuable to the conversation of film and often have elements like a unique story or well-crafted scene or an atmosphere or stand-out performance that still makes the movies worthy to be seen. I also strongly believe that almost every movie that has been declared awful by a certain person is a favourite movie for someone else. I am even sure there is someone out there that loves The Emoji Movie and Independence Day: Resurgence.
This is the reason why that when I first started professionally writing film reviews for The Collective Publishing website (now sadly defunct) that I did not want to give star ratings, despite that being very popular. I wanted to create a conversation and take the reader on a journey with my views and opinions, and through my experience let them decide if the movie was worth their time. A work of art is a very subjective things that can resonate in various ways to various people. I wanted my words and analysis of a movie to mean more than some arbitrary rating (the dirty secret of all critics is that star ratings are very arbitrary and can drastically change on rewatchings). But my readers disagreed with me, on a weekly basis because I got emails and tweets asking if I would incorporate a star rating so that they have a quick gauge of where a movie landed for me. Since I was writing for the readers, I decided to finally give in, and now after doing that for five years, a four star rating system has become a regular for me.
I was already using the four star rating system when Scott and I started The Movie Breakdown podcast, so it made sense to bring it over to the show for all the movies we reviewed. On the show, we followed the Roger Ebert philosophy that three stars and up was a recommendation, so at the end of the show we listed each movie with either a recommendation or a pass. Sometimes it bothers me to pass on something that I feel is unique or may have some value, but I also realize people only have so much time to watch movies each week. It is better to champion the things that I enjoyed and think have the most value to offer. My hope is despite the show and my reviews having ratings and clear recommendations, that people really listen to our conversations and read my words to fully grasp the impact and value of a movie.
Definitely make sure to watch critically acclaimed and powerful movies like 12 Years a Slave or Shape of the Water, but don't forget to once and a while take a chance on something like The Great Wall or Gringo, because even if I didn't like it doesn't mean it won't be your own personal classic.