Ratings Systems

For my own sanity, I feel that I need to say something about ratings systems and how to rate entertainment fairly. Specifically, rating movies fairly, although the descriptions for the basis of giving a particular rating can be broadly applied to more than just movies. But it’s movies that I’m going to be talking about here.

Full disclosure. The Wife’s latest film project has just been released. It is the fourteenth film she’s worked on, the second that she has produced. The title of the film is Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains. No, it is not that kind of movie. It is a horror-comedy with strong female leads, a reasonably well-known director and a reasonably well-known leading actor. I give the film a solid eight out of ten stars on IMDB, four out of five everywhere else.

Why did I give it this rating? There is a logic to it that most people should recognize. First off, I liked the film. When I got to the end of it, I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time, and I didn’t feel like I had been sitting there for too long. If you look on Netflix you can see that logic reflected in their star rating system. For those who don’t have a Netflix account, I’ll go through the generic descriptions using my own language.

One star – I hated it. A one star rating goes on films that you can not even sit through, or that if you do sit through it is simply to grasp the full extent of the filmmakers crimes so that you can testify to them later. If your eyes aren’t bleeding after fifteen minutes of viewing, the movie is probably not a one star experience.

Two stars – I didn’t like it. I made it to the end and for whatever reason, the movie didn’t make me feel the way I expected to feel at the end. This is not to be confused with feeling sad when the film is a sad film (See Schindler’s List) paranoid when the film induces paranoia (see the Matrix) Or angry when the film wants you to be angry (pick any work by Michael Moore) If you need happy endings, stick to solid hollywood releases. They are the movie creators that will feel compelled to leave you with a happy ending.

Three stars – It was OK. There was no particular reason why I couldn’t watch the entire film. It didn’t feel too long, it worked the way I think the creators wanted it to work, but it didn’t make me want to recommend it strongly. Most films are going to rate a solid three stars because most films are made by people who want the average moviegoer to feel like they weren’t wasting their time watching the movie.

Four stars – I liked it. The movie spoke to me in a way that was unique to the movie. A four star movie is one you can remember, and you can remember it fondly. A movie you might even watch again with a friend so that they can experience it too. This is perhaps the most unambiguous rating because most people know when they like something. Either they do or they don’t, there isn’t any uncertainty about it.

Five stars – I loved it. The film is near-perfect in execution. The soundtrack adds to the film, the cinematography is beyond reproach, the subject matter is something that people will relate to in later generations. You feel compelled to tell people to watch the movie, because it is just that good. For me, it’s hard to rate a movie five stars that I don’t feel was a singular experience. Few movies will rate five stars in my estimation. The vast majority of them simply do not measure up to that high standard, not even films made by a lifetime companion who could kill me in my sleep if she wanted to.

For a ten star system like IMDB, you double the star rating you would give it on a five star system, with some added granularity. Five instead of six stars because I really did feel like the movie lost me somewhere. Seven instead of eight stars because there were some technical flaws that I just can’t get past (see the duplicate droid scene in the original Star Wars) nine instead of ten stars because you don’t think the film will be that timeless, but it was damn good all the same.

You don’t, for example, give a film a one star rating and then offer a wishy-washy description of why the film was so bad that you felt like you had to gouge your eyes out rather than watch it. Either you hated it, and you can describe why, or you are trashing the film because the mood struck you and you went for it. Or you are simply an idiot that doesn’t understand what the correct star rating for the movie you just watched was. For those of you who made it to the end of this short guide, you can now be excused from the class of idiot that doesn’t understand what the star ratings mean. You are welcome.

I’m just sorry that I wasn’t in time to save the idiots that gave Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains a one star rating and then said I thought it was meh. Meh is three stars, moron.


I half-jokingly tell people that it’s kind of autobiographical. I had written a script called Creature From Blood Canal, which was an entry and official selection at the NoLa film festival screenplay competition, and that’s where I met [director Paulo Biscaia Filho]. Now Creature was a $100 million script, and I couldn’t get anyone to read it, and Hollywood wouldn’t read it, so basically that’s the same thing that Shane says in Virgin Cheerleaders.

Gary Ganaway in the Austin Chronicle the author of Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains.

Thriller on Halloween

Michael Jackson – Thriller (Official Video) I wish he hadn’t put a disclaimer on this.

Happy Birthday, Son!

A video from the year after I graduated high school, back in the time when Michael Jackson was just a really good dancer and singer. One of two albums of his that I bought and cherished, after listening to his and his families music all through my childhood.

The Rise of Skywalker?

The release date for the ninth and last of the originally slated sequels to the 1977 blockbuster, Star Wars, has been announced. When George Lucas was rewarded for his work on the original film, put together with a shoestring budget (judged by today’s movie budgets) he was floored by the fanbase that he had unwittingly created. People who willingly shelled out money for tickets to see the same film, over and over again for over a year, a feat that hadn’t been witnessed in movie history since Gone With the Wind had been released, a full human generation previously. When George Lucas saw how much money he could make in creating sequels to his original work, he abridged his stand-alone creation and let it be known that he had a lot more story to tell, if people were interested.

Star Wars: Teaser Trailer
Star Wars Original Trailer 1977

…and they were interested. The Empire Strikes Back was the second-best selling film after Star Wars when it released. Mr. Lucas went outside of the group that made the first film possible in order to realize the second film, but the movie made big bucks and set us on the course that we’ve been on, Star Wars and movie-sequel-wise, ever since.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Trailer

Return of the Jedi, the third film in the franchise, didn’t do as well as the previous two films, even though Mr. Lucas brought the film back home to have it made under his direct supervision. It was at this time that the nine film series narrative emerged. After the third film was in the can and George Lucas was looking for his next project. This was when Star Wars became Episode Four, and the plotting of the three prequels began.

Of course, we had to have the digital updates of the original trilogy first. And then we got the forgettable Star Wars episodes one, two and three. The kids liked them, so they sold well enough. There was a cartoon series about the Clone Wars and there were other spin-offs too numerous to mention. For someone who was let down watching the first Star Wars because the novelization was better than the film, it is hard to imagine waiting on the edge of your seat for anything Star Wars after those prequels dropped.

There were no theaters in Leoti, Kansas or Stinnett, Texas, the places where I was trapped during the year 1977, when Star Wars first hit movie theaters. The family had zero funds and bigger problems than my desire to see the epic adventure of our time, to deal with. So I didn’t get to see the movie when it released. I had to borrow a paperback copy of the novelization from the library in one of those two places. It was probably Stinnett. I didn’t get to see the original film until Empire Strikes Back was in release, and then I managed to catch the two films back to back in a new-fangled, dual screen twin cinema, constructed on the edge of my place of exile in 1980, Garden City, Kansas. One of the last things I did in that town before being shipped back to Texas.

My Star Wars diorama

It should be no surprise to long-time readers of the blog that I was much more impressed with the second Star Wars than I was with the first. An impression only strengthened after watching the third film, and then in witnessing the digital cheapening of the first trilogy in preparation for the release of the prequels.

I knew that what would come out after that would be questionable, and my impressions of all six of the later films is filtered through that doubt, the unwillingness to be suckered once again into paying money for an experience that couldn’t possibly be as good as what my own imagination could create in just reading the screen plays. Enjoying fantasy requires the suspension of disbelief, and I don’t have the willpower to suspend disbelief for something so clearly created just to manipulate my feelings with familiar characters. One. More. Time.

Is anyone waiting to see this film? Waiting like I waited to see Empire Strikes Back? Wanting to know what will happen next? Will Luke and Leia get together? They blew up the Death Star but the Emperor is still out there. Surely he has more versatile weapons at his disposal? We know all that stuff now, and none of the original characters have survived to be part of this last film.

Everyone has known the name of the ninth film for awhile now. The Rise of Skywalker. Does anyone care about these new characters? Just curious. I don’t. I’d like to care about Rey, but episode seven was just an orgasm of special effects loosely hung around the bare bones of the exact same story that George Lucas used in the original Star Wars. I watched episode eight specifically because Mark Hamill was going to be in it. It too was largely forgettable and I have mercifully forgotten it over the course of the last few years.

The best Star Wars film I’ve ever seen isn’t even one of the nine films. The best Star Wars film was Rogue One, with Solo coming in for a close second. Rogue One spins out a tale about how the plans that are mentioned in the original film’s crawler came to be in the hands of the rebel alliance. (h/t to screenrant) no, the film does not follow the previously established narratives for how the plans were stolen. None of them were in movies, so their relevance to the canon as established in film is really irrelevant, unless you are a die-hard fan.

Solo of course is all about Han Solo, my favorite character from the first and second films. I followed Harrison Ford from then to now, watching every film that I could afford to go see that has had him in it. Harrison Ford has been worth the effort to follow. His career has encompassed many movies that cannot be described accurately with words. You simply have to experience them to appreciate them. Movies like Blade Runner. The man is a master on screen, like few movie stars can be. The actor for the Solo movie did a passing good job of capturing Han Solo, the character, not Han Solo as portrayed by Harrison Ford. A subtle but important difference lost on people who aren’t movie buffs. He did well enough on screen following the master that I have to give him credit for trying, even if he fails to be Harrison Ford in presence on screen. No one but Harrison Ford could be Harrison Ford, in much the same way that no one but Morgan Freeman can be Morgan Freeman.

Harrison Ford has been worth the effort, even having to suffer through episode seven just to see the ignominious end of the character of Han Solo. As Harrison Ford said, when asked about the film “I got paid”. His were the only scenes in episode seven that were worth the price of admission. Episode nine has the abramanator once again in the director’s chair. Nothing the abramanator has done has ever been worth the price of admission when viewed in hindsight. I doubt that episode nine will be, either.

It is scheduled to be released on December 20th.

wait til it comes to cable

Mark Hamill

Highlander

Looper caught me again. The short clip on Youtube named The Untold Truth Of Highlander doesn’t really have anything untold or anything particularly decapitating in its truthfulness. It did, however, reference an anime movie spin off that I’d never seen before.

Highlander: The Search for Vengeance – Trailer

For that, Looper gets a hat/tip. Highlander was an obsession of mine for quite awhile. I never could get into the TV series spin-offs of the movie, even though I had friends who loved them and wrote fan fiction for them. Spin-off series for blockbuster movies have been things that I’ve avoided like a plague, with the significant exceptions of M*A*S*H and Stargate SG-1. I can blame youth for the first. I don’t have an excuse for the SG-1 addiction. I just like it, and there is no explaining taste. Planet of the Apes and Galactica 1980 burned me on TV series spin-offs, and I never looked back.

But I loved the first Highlander movie. I collected all the songs from the film that I could get my hands on, before a friend gifted me a copy of A Kind of Magic. I was so obsessed with the film that I knew immediately on listening to Queen, The Works that Hammer to Fall was the song that is playing in the gunner’s car when he stumbles on the sword fight in Manhattan. I knew that film backwards and forwards and even went to the trouble of tracking down the fabled European version (not mentioned in the Looper short) that has the scenes explaining how he adopted his loyal secretary. The woman who inexplicably loves him like a father, even though she is clearly older than he is.

Highlander II was the sequel that burned me on all movie sequels after it. If I decide to go see a movie that is a sequel to another movie these days, I do it with the memory of Highlander/Highlander II firmly held in mind. Surprisingly, there are very few sequels that end up being quite that bad. Some of them come close (yes, I’m looking at you Terminator 4. Alien 3, 4, 5, etc. don’t think I’ve forgotten how bad you all were. I haven’t) but they still can’t quite be as unforgivably bad as Highlander 2 was. Unless it was Highlander 3, 4, 5, etc.

After hating on Highlander II for about a decade the Renegade Cut showed up and I could see what Russell Mulcahy had in mind for the film when he shot the scenes in Argentina. What he had in mind, before the economy there tanked and he ended up losing control of the film. That film would at least have been watchable. It still would have been unforgivably bad (never, ever, remove the mystery. Your explanation will never be as good as the imagination of the audience.) but it at least made narrative sense, while still being bad storytelling.

I have to quit watching Youtube videos. That is clearly the only fix for this tangent problem. No, I probably won’t watch the Highlander remake that is supposedly in the works. Like Star Trek, Highlander‘s emotional vein has been worked out. There is no feeling left there for them to mine. They’ll probably make a goldmine off of it, though. Nothing sells like nostalgia.

Uncomfortable Conversation

All conversations are uncomfortable for me. I think this is why I don’t find most comedy sketches funny. The comic part of the sketch is nearly always somebody getting something wrong, and then the awkwardness of maneuvering around that misunderstanding. Like the dog turd in the middle of the living room floor that everyone is too afraid to mention. This sketch structure is basically every single episode of Three’s Company, a show I was forced to watch with the family, all of whom found it uproariously funny. There were other shows back in the day, back when entertainment was three broadcast channels or a trip to the library. Any number of situation comedies that weren’t funny because they made fun of awkwardness directly, and so I didn’t watch them. Between Two Ferns is the latest awkward thing that isn’t funny to me. Not funny because that is every single conversation I’ve ever been a part of, for my entire life.

Not until The Big Bang Theory did I find a show that was both awkward and humorous, mostly because it made fun of normal people (represented in the person of Penny) people who just can’t grasp the truly geeky nature of the wonder of science. Every episode of the show is immensely funny for me. The geekier the better. Awkward is what Leonard Hofstadter is all the time, and it works. It gives me hope as well as makes me laugh.

The Good Place – Another example of a smart, funny sitcom.

The one exception to this situation, the one time conversation isn’t awkward for me, is when I’m talking alone with the Wife. I know she will be straight with me, and I with her. I don’t have to wonder about what is the right thing to say? I just say what is on my mind, and she does the same thing. No other conversations are absent the discomfort of awkwardness. How can something that is always present be funny? I wonder how many comics are tormented by this, only worse? Having to do the same schtick over and over and you hate it? I’m just being me, and it isn’t funny being me. It’s just being me.

The Between Two Ferns movie is out now. I will be as far away from that movie as I can get from this point onward. I hope that Zach Galifianakis makes a boatload of money from the movie so that he can finally stop doing the shtick and find something else to do that he really enjoys.

Raise Hell

Texas has always been the national laboratory for bad government.

Molly Ivins
Magnolia PicturesRaise Hell: The Life & Times Of Molly Ivins – Official Trailer – Aug 8, 2019

A hat/tip is due to the Texas Standard for the interview clip of Janice Engel, the director of Raise Hell: The Life & Times Of Molly Ivins. I will be watching this documentary. I loved Molly Ivins’ columns. This is one of those times I kick myself for not being willing to drag myself through the news each day (another mass shooting last week sent me away from the news again) Had I listened to the Texas Standard last week when the segment aired, I might have had time to get a ticket to the advanced screening at the Alamo. But probably not. Most of these special Alamo events sell out long before the public learns about them.

The Impossible Dream

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

The Impossible Dream, Man of La Mancha
The Impossible Dream – Man of La Mancha

We performed this song at the Leoti grade school I attended back in the late sixties. We did quite a few songs from Man of La Mancha that year. Some Spring or Fall festival that we as a school choir practiced endlessly for. I can still remember that gymnasium and the asbestos filled rubber flooring of the hallways. They were a mottled pink, as I recall.

I will never cease to be inspired by this song. I don’t think that Miguel de Cervantes would appreciate what the playwrights and composers did with his novel or characters. Or maybe he would. It would be interesting to be able to ask him what he thinks about the play. He’d probably don a shaving basin and tilt at windmills himself. Trying to change popular belief is like that.

Good Night, and Good Luck

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men

Edward R. Murrow

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History contains a portion of this quote in the intro to each episode. I recognized it as being an Edward R. Murrow quote the first time I heard it. It was also featured in a scene in the movie about him titled Good Night, and Good Luck, Murrow’s signature tagline for his broadcasts.

Good Night, And Good Luck (2005) Official Trailer

Edward R. Murrow stared down the last demagogue that held high office. He did it at great cost to himself and his fellow journalists. Where are those people brave enough to stand up to the demagogue currently seated in the chair of the President of the United States? Are we too amused by the circuses to bother with it?

This instrument can teach; it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.

Edward R. Murrow

Character Investment

Facebook Memories has served up the hack job I did on Star Trek: Beyond when that trailer came out. I’ve run across it more than once now, enough times that I feel I should at least mention how wrong I was about the film somewhere on the blog. The trailer I saw on Facebook, shared on Facebook, was not the first trailer, but trailer number two. This trailer.

Star Trek Beyond | Trailer #2 | Paramount Pictures International

When I shared the trailer I simply paraphrased from Abramantions Multiply: It is still an Abramanation. The possibility of suckage is high.

The damn trailer has the Bad Robot logo on it. I consider that to be fair warning of impending suckage after the disaster that was LOST seasons 4 through 6. I suffered through all of LOST, the Abramanator will not trick me into liking his work again. I tried. I really did. I tried to make sense of those last seasons of LOST. I tried watching the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Then I declared Trek dead. The Nutrek reboots are bad in many ways, as I and others have gone into great detail to describe in the past. Details that long-time readers of this blog will know about. They are bad in ways that a lot of popular movies are bad these days (Star Wars 7. Mad Max 4) but also bad because of the disconnect with the universe that Gene set out to create.

However, I did finally break down and watch Star Trek: Beyond, just as I watched Star Trek: Into Darkness edited for television and wished I could have my two hours back. After watching Star Trek: Beyond I had to admit that not all Nutrek sucks ass to an equal degree. In fact, Star Trek: Beyond really does try to go beyond, to leave all the previous attempts to tell grand movie stories using Star Trek as a vehicle, and just try to do a Star Trek story as a movie.

Simon Pegg penned a decent little story when he wrote the script. The actors playing the parts delivered their usual best work; and since they weren’t working from the Abramantors crap scripts, the resulting blockbuster spectacle is pretty watchable from just about any perspective that you might come to it. It’s not even bad Trek, per se. There are some points that I might object to from a purist standpoint, but those points can be overruled by watching any number of classic episodes that diverged from Gene Roddenberry’s strict guidelines for how the Trek universe manifested itself. At least one of the episodes that breaks his rules is one he wrote himself. So there are flaws that a purist might take exception to, but anyone trying to watch it with disbelief suspended and a willingness to let the story progress unprotested (how to approach watching any film) will probably walk out of a showing counting it as time well spent.

So, apologies to the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond. For the first time since First Contact they produced a show that was truly worth watching. They produced a payoff for all the fans who have hung on through decades of bad filmmaking. The characters we’ve loved since the sixties finally felt like they might actually be the same characters that we fell in love with, even though they were portrayed by different actors.

Paramount should try to make sure that Abrams’ company logo does not appear on any more Star Trek properties if they want to win fans back to the show. Abrams has burned too many bridges among the fan community to be welcome even producing films that have any kind of fan following. This should have been clear after the failure of Star Trek: Into Darkness. When he screwed up Star Wars after screwing up Star Trek, it has to be painfully obvious that he screws up everything he touches.

I mentioned it more than once on Facebook.

But when all is said and done, it’s just another summer dark ride. Lots of great stuff to look at, lots of things exploding, lots of spectacular FX, and when it’s over, you get out of the chair and go pee. There’s not a lot here to argue about. There’s no moral dilemma.

What attracted me to classic Trek is that the show was about something. Every episode had a chunk of idea in it, big enough to chew on for a while.

Too much of what passes for entertainment today is about justifying cruelty to someone else. Not enough is about sitting down and finding a way to avoid the violence.

And I wonder if that’s a reflection of what we’ve become … or one of the reasons we’ve become what we’ve become.

David Gerrold

Treason

During my recent convalescence, I watched a lot of television. A lot of television for me, considering I haven’t watched TV much since cutting the cable three years ago. I went through the several series on Netflix that I mentioned previously, but I also spent a lot of time watching several Ken Burns’ PBS series that I’ve had bookmarked for years.

The one that stuck in my mind was The Vietnam War, especially episode seven. You know the one. The one where we discover that Richard Nixon committed treason, and Lyndon Johnson caught him lying about it? For some reason, that series and that episode specifically reminds me of the political climate of today. More than one person has said to me,

You can’t say Donald Trump has committed treason because he hasn’t been conspiring with anyone we have declared war on.

…and I’ve found that non-denial denial quite revealing. Yes it is true that he hasn’t been shown to be conspiring with anyone we are currently at war with, but it is rather convenient that congress doesn’t declare war on enemies anymore. It’s also rather convenient that conventional war is limited to puppet governments and so-called third world regions, while information warfare is carefully treated as different from conventional war. As if destruction of a country’s political and social structure is somehow less damaging than the wholesale bombing campaigns of previous generations.

I mean, it is easier on the furniture and the infrastructure. It costs fewer lives, for the most part. But the uncertainty created by the mis- and dis-information campaigns currently being waged is psychologically as harmful as physical violence. You never know what is true and what is not true these days. All words are lies, especially words that come from government authorities. Sources that most people want to trust, demonstrably cannot be trusted. This has been true since Donald Trump took office proven time and again by investigative reporting.

Just like in Nixon’s time, White House sources deny that the reports are true, but their denials are clearly stamped as false, stamped as face-saving bullshit put out by the Bullshitter-in-Chief. Nixon conspired with Hanoi to prolong the Vietnam war in order to gain the White House. Donald Trump conspired with Vladimir Putin to gain the White House. No, we can’t prove it aside from the synchronicity of events that bear out coordination of efforts. But those events do occur in a properly causal relationship, and Trump did have business interests in Moscow that he still denies existed.

No, we aren’t at war with Russia, so that’s not treason per se. But if you think that just because we aren’t at war with another country, it’s OK to take their stolen information, their disinformation structures and use them against our own people? If you think that is OK, then I seriously have to question your sanity, your loyalty.

I just finished watching All the President’s Men. That line that Robard’s character utters near the end? That line keeps replaying in my head now. Those same pressures that were on the Washington Post back in 1974? Those pressures are on every single American today. There are no more gatekeepers. There is no barrier to information any longer. If we are misinformed, it is because we allow ourselves to be misinformed. Not allowing yourself to be comfortably deluded? That is what it means to be a good citizen. To know what the truth is, and to stick to it no matter the pressure to conform.

“We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there,” Robards’ says. “Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Good night.”

All The President’s Men