Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ratings (further) explained

Kerbot's comment on my previous post reminded me that I had been meaning to explain the numerical ratings I give each film. As I wrote in my very first post, the ratings are intentionally unreliable because they're relative to the movie itself and others like it. Therefore, you can't use them to create an overall ranked list of all the films rated, like Rotten Tomatoes has been doing with certain genres lately. What I didn't say, though, is that there is sort of an absolute quality scale at work, too.


10 = perfect, or, one of my all-time favorites
9 = extraordinary
8 = excellent
7 = good
6 = a little above average
5 = mediocre
4 = watch only on cable when there's not much else on and you can't sleep
3 = watch at your peril
2 = now playing in hell's cineplex
1 = an abomination

0...? Let's not contemplate a 0 rating.

Basically: take the rating, divide it by two, and you'll usually get the star rating I gave it on Netflix. Three stars on Netflix translates to "liked it" So, if I give it a 6 or above here, I thought it was worth watching. A 5 is not bad, but is totally inessential viewing--you might like it if you're a fan of the particular actors, creators, genre, etc. That means, for example, my 6.5 rating of Waitress is positive -- an upwardly-pointed thumb, if you will -- but other movies out there are better. But remember, the scale applies on a relative basis to each film.

Nutshell version: don't put much stock in the ratings!


The movies watched since my last entry are starting to pile up, so here's some brief commentary on the latest viewed.

Frantic (1988)
dir. Roman Polanski
Viewed on: 2007-06-12
Rating: 7.5

An alternate title could be "Fuming." It's pretty amusing to hear Harrison Ford's dialogue devolve from normal to increasingly clench-jawed as his character, whose wife has been kidnapped for no apparent reason, becomes more desperate and angry. By the end, you half expect him to stop talking altogether and instead breathe fire out his nostrils. So... angry... Can't... open... mouth.

Actually, at some point I started to add one of Ford's lines from The Empire Strikes Back, "I'll see you in hell!," to whatever he said in Frantic. It's sorta like the game where you add "in bed" to the end of your fortune cookie fortune.

For example, in my favorite moment, Dr. Walker (Ford) is on the phone with the terrifically frustrating American Embassy, trying to explain his encounter with the men who are holding his wife captive. The embassy doesn't seem concerned with his wife, and keeps asking him mostly trivial questions. Finally:

Embassy bureaucrat (on phone): What number are you calling from?
Walker: How should I know? I... I'm in a cafe, the Paris Midi.
Bureaucrat: How do you spell that?
Walker: How do you...? With an "S"-- for shithead! [hangs up]
["And I'll see you in hell!"]

Anyway, despite the odd casting of Betty Buckley as Harrison Ford's wife (they make a strange couple; she'll always be Abby from "Eight is Enough" to me), Frantic is fun because it is essentially Polanski doing a Hitchcock movie--an ordinary man gets thrown into extraordinary circumstances, gets zero help from the authorities, and ends up chasing after a MacGuffin so
that he can get his wife back. Good stuff.

Ocean's Thirteen (2007)
dir. Steven Soderbergh
Viewed on: 2007-06-10
Rating: 7.0

Like my friend the Food Librarian said after we watched this, it was like seeing old friends. I didn't see Ocean's 12, but I'm not sure I needed to. This was essentially the same set-up as in Ocean's 11, but with less character development (actually, almost zero) and no Julia Roberts (not a huge loss, in my opinion). Still, the ensemble cast is enjoyable and the premise is still fun: a bunch of smart, cool guys banding together to stick it to the Man. It's like a comic book for adults. Avengers Assemble!

Internal Affairs (1990)
dir. Mike Figgis
Viewed on: 2007-06-09
Rating: 8.0

The great thing about the early '90s is that it was really an '80s hangover, so the contemporary movies all feature hair and clothes that are very '80s and cheesy. For instance, Nancy Travis with her linebacker shoulder pads and frizzy mega-'do is freakin' hilarious.

Beyond that, Internal Affairs tuned out to be one of the better cop movies I've seen. Richard Gere as Dennis Peck is SO evil in this movie. He goes from a sociopathic corrupt cop who is nevertheless partly sympathetic (he's a family man and looks after his friends--basically, law enforcement's version of Tony Soprano), to a raging, paranoid, megalomaniacal psychopath. That's highly entertaining in its own right, but add to that Andy Garcia's character Raymond, a new internal affairs detective who becomes so obsessed with bringing Peck down that he risks sinking into the same psychotic oblivion as his enemy -- and the tension goes to 11.

Waitress (2007)
dir. Adrienne ShellyV
iewed on: 2007-06-02
Rating: 6.5

This is a cute, but fairly typical indie romance movie. The acting is good, but I felt like I'd seen most of the characters in many other indie movies before, particularly the abusive husband, the quirky friends, and the gruff old man with a heart of gold. It's totally worth seeing, though, if (a) you're sick of summer blockbuster fare and want something lighthearted but grown-up, or if (b) you love homemade pie. Half the movie is food porn.

Don't see it on an empty stomach, though, or you could end up on a desperate search for food afterwards, made worse by the fact that everything nearby is way crappier than you're willing to settle for, lacking in baked goods, or too damn crowded.

Another warning: Waitress has a sad background story involving its director. If you don't know about it already, you may not want to read it until after seeing the movie. It could ruin the lighthearted mood.