Tag Archives: Movies

It’s Not About the Acting—Four Boxes Review

Movies are a form of therapy that help distract us from the constant assault of negativity in the world, and I love them for it.  A small luxury in life is Netflix, and my plan allows unlimited streaming. The selection of movies available for streaming is meager compared to regular-delivery DVDs, it’s only the gratification of an immediate need for escape that supports its appeal. I often scan the instant movie list looking for something that isn’t awful. Many of them are either Independent or “B” movies, but you can sometimes find a sparkler among them. I don’t read professional reviews because they often pan my favorite movies but praise convoluted hipster crap.  So it’s helpful to read customer reviews, but not for reasons you might think.

One common complaint by amateur reviewers is the quality of acting and/or graphics. You should hear them go on. Even low-budget movies I really loved such as Four Boxes continue to get terrible reviews full of much worse clichés than the movies they complain about. It’s as if the reviewers see this venue as a legitimate invitation to flame something that displeases them. Many of the reviewers are semi-literate and out of 78 reviews for Four Boxes, a few people loved it and nearly everyone else complained about the bad acting. The reviews basically read like these:

stupid, the acting is bad, and im glad they all die.

i got to say this was the worst movie ive got from u it absolutly sucked never quite got the plot and far as acting VERY POOR.

whoever wrote the dialog for this steaming pile of feces should do the world a favor and never write again. words cannot desrcibe how much I detested this aweful, aweful abomintion before god.

And here I thought the characters in this movie were acting like real-life 20-somethings. I had no idea that made them “bad actors.” I was finally compelled to join about three other people and write my own favorable review.

How do they know the acting was bad? Is it because they found the characters annoying? Then what difference would it make if they cast Shia or Leo or Keira? Why does the acting matter so much if a movie is original and intriguing? It’s all about the writing. I would watch a school play if the story was good and I could hear it. Half-billion-dollar budgets featuring gorgeous Hollywood clones are no guarantee of a good movie—just witness the heap of boring clunkers starring highly paid actors. My biggest complaint is the trend toward non-articulate speech, and that’s why subtitles are indispensable. In streaming, subtitles are rarely available, so if the music is overpowering, the actors mumble, or the script ridiculous, they lose me. Subtitles would have greatly enhanced Four Boxes, but despite the fact they weren’t available I was completely absorbed.

I don’t care how primitive the production or how unskilled the actors. Movies are all about the script, and that’s what smaller production companies should strive for.

Sherlock is My Drug—Masterpiece Mystery Review

In times of stress, I turn to Sherlock Holmes. When I’m in a book-flinging mood where bestsellers are irritating and classics make me want to slit my wrists, Sherlock Holmes is my morphia. I read the stories over and over, each sentence stands alone as a work of art. A nightly chore is the attempt to distract myself from daily stress before I try to sleep, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories get it done.

I’ve watched most of the Sherlock Holmes movies out there and some series were pretty good, such as the one with Jeremy Brett. Others try to cast Holmes in Jack the Ripper scenarios or other plots not in the original stories, and that’s fine with me, but so many of these productions completely miss the essence of Doyle’s character (see The Terrible Things People Do to Sherlock Holmes). Guy Ritchie’s movie Sherlock Holmes was even pretty good, though an absolute fabrication and in Ritchie’s trademark way, too violent.

But nothing has reached me like Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock, originally presented on BBC, then aired on PBS in 2010 and now available on Netflix. They only made 3 episodes and have promised more in the fall. I have always wondered how Sherlock Holmes would translate to 21st century technology—Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, who created these new stories, show us how it’s done.

This version of Holmes is thornier. His retorts are more barbed and impatient, but brilliantly delivered. He’s not a blowhard like in some books and movies. He doesn’t brag, he states facts. Physically, he’s tall and thin and handsome in a wraithlike way. I love the closeups of his strange and beautiful visage and its many expressions. Even the music is perfect for the show—not old, not new, but an ethereal air played off and on throughout the show that underscores the horrors being perpetrated without resorting to melodramatic violins or modern rock remixes. It sticks with you when the show ends.

In this series Holmes and Watson are known as Sherlock and John, the way we would informally address people now. John Watson, like the original, is an ex-army doctor fresh from a modern-day tour in Afghanistan. Sherlock has his own website, and John blogs about the cases they solve. Sherlock is a wizard with smartphones and computers, of course he would be. He finds so much information instantly on his smartphone that I wonder if he subscribes to database sites like Lexus Nexus. The viewer sees what he looks for online, and some of it seems as if it would be unavailable to normal users. Snippets of Doyle’s original stories are superbly intermixed—but not expanded upon—and I wonder if the writers almost had to do that because of modern technology. I’m not a purist, I’m much more interested in good writing and characterization so I love what they’ve done.

As Holmes responds to accusations from a local officer that he’s a “psychopath,” he says, “I am not a psychopath, I’m a highly functioning sociopath. Do your research.” And so he is, and we don’t want him to change. Benedict Cumberbatch pulls it off beautifully, and Watson is played sympathetically by Martin Freeman. This Watson is streetwise, depressed, gets irritated with Holmes, but craves the adventure. In this series Lestrade and Sherlock get along well and Lestrade allows Sherlock a lot of freedom. But the very best scenes are the interactions between Sherlock and John alone. They are often mistaken for gay partners, a modern assumption and something naturally never mentioned in the late-Victorian originals, and it’s amusing to see them fend off well-meaning remarks how it’s perfectly OK to be gay.

I love the way Sherlock redeems his brusque personality at the end of each show. He and Watson walk off, trading quips and laughing. I always put the subtitles on so I don’t miss a word, and I’ve watched these three episodes at least five times each. The third episode ends in a cliffhanger as Holmes clashes with a much more sadistic Moriarty than the original, this one comes with bombs, and they’ve promised more episodes in the fall.

I must take utmost care to never watch or listen to an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch. I don’t want to know him personally because, as in many characters we love, finding out that they’re simply good actors and not much else is a letdown. Let us have our Sherlock and John then. Let them solve their cases with brilliance, wit, and dark humor. It’s all about the writing anyway. Let it wash over me and give me hope that all is not lost.

Ruined Young

When I was a kid we were forced to read a lot of depressing books. I knew which ones were going to be a problem way beforehand, but reading and writing book reports on those tearjerker novels were rites of passage—or a form of hazing, depending on your view.

Nothing, nothing was worse than the animal stories. I hated that young adult crap of the day, though there was less of it back then. Why couldn’t I just pick titles off my parents’ bookshelves like I had been doing since first grade? They had all the basics, from the classics to the modernists to the beatniks. One of the first books I ever remember reading was the utterly delicious play Bad Seed.

Why make a kid read The Yearling? Or Old Yeller? Or Where the Red Fern Grows? I still don’t know. I didn’t learn any lessons from these books except that adults suck and life sucks. The books weren’t inspiring to me in any way. They were disturbing and horrible, and to some neurotic kid who’s stupid over animals they may as well have been pornography. Wait, there was pornography on the shelves in my house. My father had Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Story of O, and plenty of Henry Miller. Nobody ever told us that any of the books were off-limits. Maybe we didn’t actually read the racy stuff in front of my parents, but we sure as hell read it on the sly.

But even the most violent, smutty adult fiction I devoured as a kid didn’t affect me like the animal stories. There is no animal story that isn’t a tearjerker, they don’t work that way. The truth is I’m a basket case long before the ending so I can barely concentrate, because each word leads closer to abuse and/or death. I recently read a scene in a Joseph Wambaugh novel where an ashamed, alcoholic cop is preparing to commit suicide. His dog knows. He puts cottage cheese in the dog’s bowl as a final act of love and then walks outside and shoots himself while the dog howls in agony, not touching the food. I was howling myself by then and I admit I threw the book. So if I get that mental over a scene in a book at this age, imagine the 10-year-old version with a damp, snotty copy of The Yearling in her hands.

As I grew up my fear of animal stories deepened. If there was the slightest suspicion of animal abuse I wouldn’t read it. I never read Charlotte’s Web, Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, Call of the Wild—all very popular books when I was growing up. People have told me many times what I’m missing.

I can’t watch Incredible Journey or Eight Below or Marley & Me or the Horse Whisperer. People say, “oh I cry every time I see that movie!” Huh? You mean you watched it more than once?

I know I’m hopeless and no one feels the weight more than I do, but everyone has some baggage we just can’t unload, this is in a suitcase of mine.