What the Ratings Mean

There’s been some confusion about what my ratings mean, so I’ve decided to commit an entire page for a thorough explanation. I’ve talked to people who’ve expressed confusion, bewilderment, and even some pointed anger in their criticisms of my criticisms.

So, here goes.

First off, I am against the idea that movies should not be judged or critiqued. Just because Transformers 2 was made for entertainment does not make it exempt from common filmmaking standards. Even if it’s based on a cartoon series, no director should expect me to turn off my brain, well at least without good reason. It’s okay to enjoy Transformers 2. I personally didn’t.

And that brings me to the next point: A rating on my site is not entirely based on whether I liked or hated a movie. Let me repeat: Liking/disliking a movie will not give it a perfect/zero score. For example, I liked The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which received a 14% from the top critics at RottenTomatoes.com (Transformers 2 got 16%). How would I rate TLoEG as a critic? I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5 for lack of characterization, getting too far away from the source material, and being pretty ridiculous. That proves, in small part, that judging movies is somewhat akin to arguing about colors — in the end, people have different preferences. What I try to do is hold movies to a certain standard which are summarized by these questions:

Did the writers/director/producers make good decisions in their movie making? (Think: Clash of the Titans 2010.)
Does the movie make coherent sense? (Think: Transformers 2: The Revenge of the Fallen.)
Is the movie original or well executed? (Think: Ninja Assassin.)
Is the movie showing the action or narrating? Think: The Last Airbender.)

Here are my ratings shown with examples and a reason why that particular movie deserved that score. Beware of spoilers.

Rating: 1 — Poorly made.
Movie: Battlefield Earth

There are so many issues with this movie from the cinematography to the special effects. A science-fiction movie that’s part Blade Runner and part Looney Tunes: Hare-way to the Stars, the movie is poorly executed and rife with head-scratching moments concerning direction and script. After Earth is taken over by aliens, it’s up to Terl (John Travolta) and Ker (Forest Whitaker) to oversee operations. They’re constantly outwitted by the humans, and the unintentional comedy is off-putting to say the least. When Terl isn’t spilling every detail about his dastardly plots, he’s shouting petty lines like, “Crap lousy ceiling! I thought I told you to get some man-animals in here and fix it!”

Rating: 1.5 — Less offensive, but pretty painful
Movie: Dragonball: Evolution

The source material fills up volumes of comic books. You would think the problem would be trying to squeeze all the mythology into an 85-minute movie, but Dragonball: Evolution failed to live up to even a tenth of the American version of the anime which is saying a lot. The acting, the underwhelming special effects, the poor execution and/or lack of a solid script with its illogical and thin plotting — Evolution is the movie that could have been. The Matrix made Keanu Reeves fly, and D:E could have taken that to another level. This movie would probably be enjoyed by young children who don’t know any better, but even that’s expecting a bit much.

Rating: 2 — Not a total waste of time
Movie: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Before Perseus enters Medusa’s cave with his entourage, he gives a riling speech meant to inspire his fellow fighters to give their all. Moments later, Perseus leaves the cave sans entourage. In its quest to achieve epicness, Clash of the Titans shoots forward leaving behind its audience. Characters and situations feel artificial and forced. The special effects, though miles ahead of the original movie it inherits little imagination from, can’t erase the plot holes or create enough real tension. The acting is solid, but where’s the substance? There’s potential but the movie never keeps its promise — there are clashes, but the movie is hardly titanic.

Rating: 2.5 — Flawed
Movie: Reign Over Me

Reign Over Me is the movie I wish I liked. It’s got compelling characters, a great thematic element and overflowing passion but it’s in need of a good amount of editing that strips away the fat. There’s also no real sense of urgency which undercuts the drama between the characters and it loses a lot of its energy halfway to the detriment of the rest of the movie. Jada Pinkett Smith’s role becomes relegated to a plot point for Don Cheadle’s character’s quest to become a better man. Saffron Burrows looks reasonably awkward playing a sort of forced upon love interest to Adam Sandler’s broken widower. It’s a movie full of good intentions, but intentions don’t always a good movie make.

Rating: 3 — Average
Movie: The Break-Up

The war of the sexes has raged for centuries. Cats and dogs, Venus and Mars, sugar and spice versus snips, snails, and puppy dog tails — men and women have had it out and in for each other. The Break-Up pits Jennifer Aniston against Vince Vaughn in an average movie that doesn’t try too hard — it’s a measured effort that doesn’t make for anything spectacular or terrible. It’s relatable (cliche), solid (typical), and interesting (superficial). It’s hard to talk about what really stands out, good or bad. It’s a movie that goes by the numbers starring two beautiful people. It’s comedy with a little drama, but instead of going for a fever pitch, it just floats over the plate. The potential is there, but what you see is what you get.

Rating: 3.5 — Above average
Movie: How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon was sort of a sleeper hit — it made a relatively low $43.3 million in its first weekend even though it was one of the first movies after Avatar to screen in yet-to-be-played-out 3D. Eventually word got around that it was pretty darn good and it hit the #1 spot in its fourth and fifth week of release. While the story and characters are pretty standard — boy with father issues befriends a misunderstood enemy, finds love, and saves the village winning his father’s respect — there’s a sincerity that definitely carries the movie. The writing brings out great performances from the voice actors, and the art style is keen. It’s nothing extraordinary or particularly original, but’s worth a go.

Rating: 4 — Favored
Movie: Casino Royale

Bond’s reboot took didn’t just take a character and make him modern — it took a handsome fantasy playboy spy and gave him real-life issues. The original Bond movies didn’t change the formula too much — they were all separated by degrees, but Casino Royale puts everything on its ear. The young and reckless James Bond (Daniel Craig) earns his 007 number after he gets his first kill, a hardly glorious confrontation. His first mission shows how rough he is around the edges — he gets a woman killed, loses his first poker buy-in, and almost succumbs to poison. Casino Royale works because it’s got a strong script and actors comfortable in their roles. It’s fresh, polished, and sharp as a blade.

Rating: 5 — Masterpiece
Movie: Schindler’s List

The supposed distinction between films and movies is that films are created for more than entertainment. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is technically perfect with a stellar ensemble cast, a diamond-cut script, and some risky but brilliant directorial choices. Spielberg’s decision to shoot the film in black and white, even in this modern age, results in an edgy film classically presented with profound effect. It’s the definitive World War II movie from the perspective of living casualties of war. As Schindler progresses from womanizing capitalist to hero, the tearjerker moment comes when Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) finally sees the fruit of his efforts only to regret he couldn’t do more. It’s a film that wreaks emotional havoc for the sake of humanity, and for what it’s worth, it’s definitely had an effect on my life.


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