Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Your Movie Sucks

            A review of an anthology of reviews, how meta! Your Movie Sucks* consists of Roger Ebert’s most scathing reviews of movies that earned two-stars or less. The collection comes seven years after I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and five years before A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length, which cover different time frames but have the same agenda. There are a lot of movies that suck and Ebert wants you to know about them so you can run far, far away and save the $12. Good looks, Roger Ebert.

            Unlike me, who is only “qualified” to write book reviews insofar as I read a lot of literature because my roommates and I can’t afford cable, Ebert wields over forty years of film criticism experience in an official capacity. He began as a critic for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967 and ended up as a household name. Indeed, he was the first of his kind to earn the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Maybe if I complain about not getting bagels at 9 AM staff meetings enough, I’ll get a prize for criticism too. #Hangry.
            I was first drawn to this book when I saw it listed on Anyone who has heard me rant about electronic reading mediums knows that I am fundamentally against e-books in that it renders the reading experience inauthentic. I like to support local bookstores, hold an actual book in my hand while I read it, and place it in my bookshelf to either lend it to others or revisit it later. At the same time, there are plenty of books that I’m only mildly interested in—material that I think would be entertaining but not high enough in the queue to purchase. There are also moments in my day in which reading a physical book is impossible. Like when the subway is so crowded that I’m nuzzling a stranger’s chest, or when I’m at my desk allegedly doing work. Acknowledging these evil forces vying to prevent me from peeling open a paperback, I succumb to using Oyster only when the alternative is not an option. You can succumb too by using my link for a free trial for both of us. *Shameless*.

            I’m no movie buff, but I immediately respected Ebert’s opinions when I discovered we shared an extreme distaste for Adam Sandler, who is so desperately unfunny that it pains me to watch him on screen. But even without this communal bond, I found Ebert’s reviews impressive. He exudes a commanding presence in his writing, creatively attacking every movie without missing a beat. Each assault is new and imaginative, even if the underlying problems in some of the films are the same.

            He is also pretty funny, which supplements his expertise in a way that makes the book more enjoyable to someone with a less methodical approach to the movies. For instance, with regards to the 2001 film Company Man, Ebert applies “Gene Siskel’s classic question, ‘Is this movie better than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?’ In this case, it is not even better than a documentary of the same actors ordering room service while fighting the stomach flu” (Company Man, section C). Let’s goooooo. He’s not afraid to call a shitty movie out for its shittiness, as when he declares, “to call [A Lot Like Love] dead in the water is an insult to water” or when he notes, “Elements of [No Such Thing] seem not merely half-baked, but never to have seen the inside of an oven” (A Lot Like Love, section L; No Such Thing, section N).

            Not only are his derisions amusing, they’re also well informed. Ebert is obviously very knowledgeable in his field. He consistently reveals how certain character names or attributes are subtle connections to past films and he is thorough in explaining why remakes or prequels/sequels pale in comparison to the originals. Because of his film-familiarity, he is fair in his critiques, giving credit to writers/directors who have made good movies in the past yet still relentlessly berating them for a flop. Interestingly, he generally deflects blame from the actors and on to the screenplay itself and the director behind it; he accuses the “character” rather than the one who plays it. He has seen so many movies at this point that he is especially attune to recycled clichés—formula films that draw on a number of unoriginal devices to garner a laugh or secure a scream from the audience. As such, horror films take a big hit.

            Most importantly, I trust him. A good review gives you some context and perspective, but leaves a sliver of wiggle room to figure out for yourself if this (book, movie, or otherwise) is something you might be fond of. There is a method to his madness—he takes notes during films and peruses the reviews of his colleagues (House of D, section H). And he doesn’t look at the entertainment factor alone; he also considers gender and racial politics, as well as larger moral implications. Despite this high praise for his process, I’m thankful that he allowed me wiggle room to disagree with his low ratings on the following films: Crossroads (I mean, it’s Britney, bitch), The Hills Have Eyes, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Pearl Harbor (hiiiii Ben Affleck), Serendipity, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (although I will admit the OG version is best).

            These minor qualms aside, I enjoyed his book. He’s witty, not afraid to be honest even if it means making enemies, and meticulous in his ratings. If you’re movie savvy, you will recognize most of the films and relish in their degradation; if you’re like me-- where you watch a decent amount of movies but don’t pore over the details—you’ll think it’s good for what it is, but not spectacular. It is alphabetically organized, and once I reached “W”, I felt the redundancy of the negativity. So, for me, Your Movie Sucks clocks in at a solid 3 out of 5 camel humps.

*Ebert, Robert. Your Movie Sucks. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2009.

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