Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Problem with Movie Reviews

I read movie reviews not to find out if a movie is good or bad (I'll be the judge of that, thank you) but to see if a movie generates enough interest for me to actually watch it. Also included in movie reviews these days is an assessment of how the film delivers on racial and gender issues. Too many white people? It will be noted. Problematic treatment of women? Whether they're being sexualized as "the whore" or marginalized as "the girlfriend," this too will be noted.

These things are, apparently, crucial a certain audience's ability to enjoy the film. Which brings me to this review of Z for Zachariah, which almost avoids that stuff before dropping it like a deuce at the end.

Z for Zachariah could have benefitted from a deeper plunge into the ways race and gender relate to faith.

I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know...maybe a deeper plunge into those issues would have improved it.

Maybe a deeper plunge would have proved to be a distraction. Watch the trailer below. Would a deeper exploration of race and gender make this movie more interesting to you?

Meh. Seriously. Just because Chiwetel Ejiofor is in it doesn't mean it's 7 Years a Slave. Ejiofor is a fine actor and a bonafide leading man. For him, talent not ethnicity should win out. Surely not every performance needs to become an opportunity to talk about race.

Still, this kind of thing in the commentary world may be waning. Not completely, I fear, but there was a time I think when a piece like this wouldn't have waited until the last paragraph to discuss the "deeper plunge" into racial and gender issues. It would have been front and center, in the first sentence under a piece titled "Z for Zachariah's Race Problem."


It's never been difficult to incorporate reading into my daily life. I've always thirsted for knowledge and appreciated the novel and short story as art forms. But if you're careful, you'll do a lot of reading and not much finishing.

I have on one side of my bed a stack of half-read books that I finally admitted I would have to revisit at a later date.

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, much more different than I expected, but printed with a weird, blocky typeface meant to thicken up the pagecount of the book. (I suppose publishers can justify this kind of thing with aesthetic concerns, the larger print and extra white space make it "easier to read," but I always come away with the impression they do it to justify the list price, make you think you're getting more book than you are.)

Vanilla Ride by Joe R. Lansdale, one of my favorite authors, a Hap and Leonard book. I got about seventy pages in, before I started reading...

Imajica by Clive Barker. I've attempted this one a few times, couldn't manage the physical effort required to read the book. It's 896 pages, a real brick. Open it on your lap and within minutes your legs will go numb. Luckily they published a split version, cutting the novel in two, so that you can actually hold it in hand. Unfortunately, I got through half of the first volume and lost interest.

So I moved on to Barker's latest, The Scarlet Gospels. Also rather disappointing.

What about Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert? My God, what a slog. Dune is rightfully held as a masterpiece. (It was way better than any book should be, a real stunner.) But the sequels have a bad reputation. I now know why. I have 60 some pages of this one left, so it's going on my "finish" pile. Once I finish it, though, I think I'm done with the Dune books.

Or Hannibal by Thomas Harris. I've been reading this one off and on for a year, and it just dawned on me that one of the reasons is that I don't want to actually finish it. The writing is so good. Is it a good book? Not really. The plot is rather absurd, the characters even more so. But the words... This book I picked up, saw my spot marked, and unlike my reaction to Dune Messiah, thought, "Oh, good, there's still at least a hundred pages left."

So while I'm slogging through Dune Messiah and savoring Hannibal, I've committed to reading Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, hopefully a better book than movie, and Child 44 by Tom Robb Smith, also hopefully a better book than movie. So far, I'm enjoying both of them. Shutter Island has Lehane's page-turning readability and Child 44 is showing off some pretty decent literary-type writing. (Seriously, though, Tom, who said you could put your dialogue in italics?)

If these don't work out, there are a thousand others on the shelf waiting for their turn.