Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Balcony Is Closed

So, Roger Ebert passed away this week.  He was seventy.  The man had suffered for a long time since getting cancer and losing his jaw, but had soldiered on, continuing to have a voice (so to speak) every time a new movie came out, good or bad.
He was easily the most influential film critic in my lifetime, there was a time when I would check to see what Ebert had to say about a flick to help me determine whether I'd go or not.  He was the fat one (at least that's what Chevy Chase, and half of America called him), but he struck me as having more of a sense of humor than Gene Siskel did ("the bald one").  And he had actually made movies, so it seemed like he had a bit more credibility than most.

When I discovered the internet, I thrilled at being able to read his reviews, rather than the small-town hayseed movie reviewer I guess I could've been, if that's what I really wanted to do, and was more of a people person.  It was fun to read what he had to say on whatever was just coming out, or read his recommendations of movies from long ago I'd never even heard of.
All in all, my two favorite reviews of his were for TRANSFORMERS 2 and ALMOST FAMOUS.

I hated the 2007 Michael Bay Transformers film.  Because people around me liked it, or because it had a pretty girl in it, or because I had once loved those robots in disguise, I saw it.  And though I still get upset when I think about it, I don't entirely regret seeing it.

However, when a couple years later, a sequel was made, and people started getting excited about it, I had to draw a line in the sand.  I didn't want to see it, even if the rest of America did, and I didn't want to spend a dime to support it.  But I've always been of a mind that, if you haven't seen something, you have no authority to talk as though you do (this is actually something I learned in college, where people would decry the evil of certain movies, books, or TV shows, only to reveal that they'd never seen, read, or seen them.  But they were still authorities, mind you, and could speak with confidence that they knew what they were talking about).  How could I talk about how awful, worthless, and poorly-made it was, if I didn't go see it?

Well, along came Roger Ebert.  He did sit down and watch TRANSFORMERS 2, and he wrote both a review and an essay about it.  In the essay, he talked about how stupid summer blockbusters had become, and how the public still kept supporting them, and held up TF2 as the worst example Hollywood has yet produced, and shuddered at the state of the industry if people weren't up in arms about it.  The review said the best part of the flick was when a robot dog humped Megan Fox's leg, and that, "If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together."

I never did go see TRANSFORMERS: THE UNMEMORABLE TITLE, because my integrity is worth more than the chance to complain about a movie (hey, I paid to see 1998's THE AVENGERS, and SPAWN, and DIE ANOTHER DAY, and BATMAN & ROBIN, and HIGHLANDER 2, and HOOK, and HOME ON THE RANGE, and VAN HELSING, and GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, so I can complain until the cows come home).  But reading what Roger Ebert said about it made me feel like I knew what I needed to know, and when others described to me the various magical moments, like Devastator's swinging balls, I could shake my head in shame just like I'd been a part of it.  So thanks, Roger.

When I read his ALMOST FAMOUS review, I was the poorest I have been, newly living on my own, and able to afford to see about a movie a month, or fewer.  But he said, if I recall, "This movie made me want to curl into a ball and hug myself."  For some reason, that just spoke to me, and I went out and saw the flick first-run (though I did hit a matinee; I'm not crazy).*

If I remember right, I paid to see it, and snuck into a second film as a sort of bonus (I missed the first fifteen minutes).  And while I never actually hugged myself after seeing ALMOST FAMOUS, I enjoyed it, especially the music of the era it was set in.  I went out and picked up Elton John's Greatest Hits because of that movie.  And I still love the quote from the film, "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."

So, two examples.  One good, one bad.  There are films of all kinds out there, and I do love the movies.  I would have done so without Roger Ebert, but I might not have tried my hand at being a movie reviewer without him.  Sometimes I miss those days of seeing a film and rushing home to write about it, counting the beheadings or times a killer comes back to life after being knocked off.  I was really, really sick the day Roger Ebert died.  I watched five movies, that day.  One totally sucked.  One looked like it would suck and I turned it off.  One was alright.  Two were pretty good.  One made me cry.

I think Roger would call that a day well spent.

Rish Outfield

*I looked this quote up just now, so I could get it right, and it turns out I misremembered it.  The actual quote is, "Oh, what a lovely film. I was almost hugging myself while I watched it."

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