Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Summer of Three

Photo by Andrew D. Wells

The “Law of Three” is folklore that claims bad things come in threes. Every time I hear about a celebrity dying it seems I hear about this Law of Three. It’s pretty easy to evoke the Law of Three when a celebrity dies because like all human beings, celebrities are mortal. Whenever one dies, you simply cite the last two who died before that one, and you’ve got your three.

Sometimes it’s a little easier to believe in the Law of Three. As a cineaste in Marshall, there were three bad things that occurred this summer. First, we lost our video rental store. It was a Movie Gallery, which has closed stores all over the country over the past few years. As a long time Netflix member, this did not really affect me all that much; however, my membership certainly didn’t help keep the local video store open. Second, August saw the final episode of the long running syndicated movie criticism show “At the Movies”. No longer could I learn the opinions of a couple of top critics in a format the provided these opinions in the form of a heated discussion. Third, and probably most devastating, was the closing of our local cinema.

Those aren’t the three I really want to talk about, however. No, the three I wanted to address were not bad things, but rather quite enjoyable ones. The three that concern me today are the three-star reviews I handed out just about every week over this summer movie season. It became a bit of a joke by the last few weeks of the summer blockbuster season. “Let me guess, you gave it three stars?”  a friend of mine said more than once.

Now, not every movie I reviewed received three stars. There were some exceptional movies this summer. The uber-popular “Inception”, the retro action flick “Salt” and underrated spoof “MacGruber” all received coveted four star ratings from this critic. There were also a few duds, including Ridley Scott’s disappointing version of “Robin Hood”, the uninspired comic book western “Jonah Hex”, and the depressingly awful “The Expendables”. But for a summer when I spent more time in front of the big screen than ever before, there was surprisingly little divergence from basic popcorn enjoyment.

As a critic, when you get on a streak of similarly ranked movies, it begins to worry one about questions of credibility. I can imagine readers rolling their eyes at yet another three star review. Especially when some of those reviews were pretty far off the general consensus of what most considered failures. Some might think that continuing to reward questionable films with three stars was just laziness on my part. But it wasn’t easy to say that I liked “The A-Team”, “The Last Airbender”, and “Knight and Day” when everyone else in the critical world was recommending people should avoid these movies like the plague. The truth is I enjoyed them, and I didn’t feel it was right for me to pretend otherwise just because no one else did.

In fact, this summer was one of the most enjoyable summers I can remember spending at the movies. Perhaps that’s a reflection on our times. Perhaps it just felt good to get away from the burdens of our current political and financial environments. Perhaps it was a way to return to simpler, easier times for me.

There have been a lot of retro trends in film recently. “Toy Story 3” was a return to a franchise that last bowed on the silver screen over a decade ago. “Predators” picked up from where the franchise was twenty years ago, before they started hunting Aliens. “Piranha 3D” added to a film series that hadn’t reared its head in almost 30 years. And the whole 3D phenomenon harkens back to the early eighties and even further back than that.

There has been little produced by Hollywood this year so far that I would really jump up and down about. It seems most of this year’s best movies are being imported from other countries. Australia’s noir “The Square”, the Swedish hit “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, France’s Academy Award entry “A Prophet”, and Korea’s “Mother” are the best movies I’ve seen this year.

I’ve had a good time at the movies this year. I can’t knock that. Oh, and as far as the Law of Three goes… well, it seems to go both ways. A local family is supposed to be opening a new movie rental store, another local family will re-open the Marshall Cinema on October 22, and Roger Ebert announced his resurrected “At the Movies” will begin airing in January.

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