It's Always Ridiculously Hot or Raining in Philadelphia

I've been absent from the blog lately as I've been in the process of relocating from beautiful, bucolic Iowa City to Murder City, USA (TM). Apparently Philly just hit the 238 mark for year-to-date murders, which I learned via a helpful USA Today-style graphic on the front page of the Sunday Inquirer. I'm not sure what's more disturbing -- that there have been 238 murders so far this year, or that the mayor's solution, delivered via live television address, was for people to "take a deep breath and count to ten" when they get angry. On the plus side, I hear if we hit 250, everyone in town gets an ice cream party.

Anyway, since it's Movie Monday, can we talk about how Entertainment Weekly's movie reviews have completely gone off the rails? It used to be you could count on EW to be soft on pretty much everything. In fact, they even ran a little chart that showed their ratings of popular movies next to other news outlets, which generally made EW look like the friendly, grade-inflating TA Who Really Just Wants to Be Your Friend, especially when compared with the New York Times' Grumpy Old Professor Who Thinks All The Kids These Days Are Damn Near Retarded From Their Stupid Videogames And Crystal Meth And Don't Even Deserve To Be In College In The First Place.

In the good old days, if a movie got anything below a B- in EW, you knew it stunk. Police Academy 4 was probably a C+ movie in the old system; Weekend at Bernie's 2 would get a B and the review would probably use the word "romp." There was a certain utility to this inflated rating scale. Since EW gave out so few bad grades, if a movie got a C or -- God forbid -- a D, you knew enough to avoid it. The only movie I can remember ever getting an F was that horror flick with Paris Hilton in it.

Now, though, something's changed. Maybe the EW reviewers have just gotten something up their collective butt. Maybe other mags have been calling and taunting them about their grade inflation. Whatever the reason, the old standard has gone out the window. Trouble is, I can't make heads or tails out of the new one. A couple months back, an EW review slammed The Break-Up, which, admittedly, wasn't Fellini, but which was a pretty decent movie for what it was trying to be. Better than most romantic comedies, anyway. The review kept harping on how unlikeable Vince Vaughn's character was, to the point where it became obvious that the reviewer had some personal baggage he or she was bringing to the table, baggage that had nothing at all to do with the actual movie.

Then, in the Aug. 4 issue, Little Miss Sunshine got a C (and a scathing review from Owen Gleiberman), which was almost enough for me to not see the movie. But then I did, and I thought it was great (the dying grandpa was a little too Vacation, but I certainly didn't find the end to be "smarmy" or the characters to be made up of "screenwriter index-card data").

These bad reviews would be fine if I could believe we'd switched to the NYT model, where nearly everything is mockable for its badness, and where I can feel free to assume anything remotely resembling a passing grade means the movie's worth a look. But I've heard only bad things about Superman Returns (which got a B), I thought The Devil Wears Prada was competely clunky and predictable except for Meryl Streep (another B), and I have trouble believing The Descent -- the women-go-spellunking horror flick -- is worthy of its A-.

So, is Quinceanera, a movie that looked pretty good in the trailer, worthy of a viewing? It got a C. Is Barnyard (C+) better? What about Miami Vice (B)? Who knows?

Actually, an even better question is asked in the Aug. 4 EW by reader Lee Lodyga of Clermont, Fla.

If Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is such a terrible film [it got a D], why does it warrant the cover and a six-page story?

A question I might ask of the Aug. 11 issue, too, the cover of which features the smiling stars of C-worthy Little Miss Sunshine.

1 comment:

aaron said...

maybe the magazine was recently purchased by Straussians and your exoteric reading of the mag must give way to an esoteric understanding of what the magazine is REALLY trying to say...read between the lines, man!