February 6, 2012

Living and Dying by the Tomato

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Rotten Tomatoes can be great.  The online mecca of movie reviews offers a comprehensible “freshness rating” for nearly each and every movie in existence, with a classic like Raging Bull earning a 98 percent on the Tomatoemeter, and a less-than-stellar film like Eddie Murphy’s Norbit garnering a lowly nine percent

Rotten Tomatoes told me to go see The King’s Speech four months before it took home the Best Picture Oscar, and the site guided me through last summer’s superhero blockbuster selections (X Men: First Class = real good, Green Lantern = real bad). Yet there are pitfalls to living and dying by the Tomato.  Blindly following the little green percentage number on the left side of the website can land you in a theater of a supposedly “good” movie that you hate (The Descendants, anybody?) or on the couch at home, flipping the channels past a movie you might actually have loved, if only your opinion of the film had not been negatively altered by your predisposition to the film’s poor freshness rating.

Today I’ll talk about films from this latter category of cinema; movies that have a “rotten” rating (under 60 percent favorable), despite their overall worthwhileness.  There are several reasons why a movie might get unjustly labeled as being rotten.  From falling victim to the overly-sophisticated tastes of elitist critics, to getting misinterpreted as a movie that is “so bad”, when it really  is “so bad, it’s good”, these films will hopefully provide some guidance when (if ever) you feel adventurous enough to taste some rotten fruit.

How High (2001, 27 percent / Half Baked (1998, 29 percent): There is a time for peace, there is a time for war and there is a time for a stoner-movie. Critiquing the artistic merits of these two films is equivalent to critiquing the health benefits of a Twinkie.  Of course Twinkies are not good for you and of course How High and Half Baked are not great works of art. Yet there are certain instances when you want nothing more than a Twinkie, and there are certain instances when you want nothing more than to watch these fairly low-brow, intermittently funny stoner-flicks.  In fact, those instances tend to occur at similar times …         The Sandlot  (1993, 57 percent): Quick qualifier. The film’s rotten rating listed above is only from the website’s “Top Critics.” The entire community of critics gives this nostalgic tale of baseball, suburbia and hi-top PF Flyers a rating of 61 percent, just high enough to be counted as fresh.  I’ve included The Sandlot on the list however, because 61 percent favorability is about 38.9 percentage points too low.  If any single movie had to be chosen to define the upbringing of most males on this campus, I would wager The Sandlot would be picked.  High jinx and tomfoolery are rampant as young Scotty Smalls must retrieve his stepfather’s prized baseball (signed by some old women named Babe Ruth) away from the neighborhood’s notorious dog.  The acting and plot are corny enough to warrant federally subsidies, but any critic (especially you “top critics” out there) who cannot appreciate the unadulterated innocence of this film, needs to take himself less seriously. While a fourth grade sleepover was the optimal time to see the movie, it is still not too late to make up for what you missed.  Go see it or you’ll regret it, for-ev-er.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001, 31 percent): The film is the perfect satirical embodiment of life in a Jewish summer sleep-away camp, and while the demographic of viewers who fully appreciate the daily happenings at Jewish sleep-away camp may be limited (though maybe not at Cornell), the absurd script by Michael Showalter and David Wain should hit the funny bones of all persons, regardless of their religions or childhood summer-time activities. Featuring a surprisingly star-studded cast (Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, the guy from Law and Order: SVU), Wet Hot addresses unserious topics in an unserious way.  And the entire story occurs within a single day, adding hilarity to every plotline.  The critics who gave this film such a negative rating should find a sense of humor, and probably go fondle some sweaters.

Stepbrothers (2008, 55 percent): The Sun is a family newspaper, so I cannot use words to express all the anger this humble rating stirs up (46 percent for those damn top critics).  I guess some movie critics just don’t appreciate the importance of the Catalina wine mixer.

From Justin to Kelly (2003, eight percent):  Actually, this one might just be for me.

The Notebook (2004, 52 percent): Girls gush, guys roll their eyes, but all-in-all, this movie is quality.  Yes, most of the characters are stereotypes, the plot is predicable and the ending is calculated.  Yet what separates The Notebook from a fellow sappy Nicholas Sparks adaptation, A Walk to Remember (2002, 27 percent) is The Notebook’s two main actors.  Rachel McAdams is an A-lister who can hold her own with the best of them, while Ryan Gosling is hot enough right now to take the GOP nomination (and he’s Canadian). A Walk to Remember features a waning star in Mandy Moore and some guy named Shane West. That’s the difference between the two films and that’s why one deserves its rotten rating while the other does not.

Original Author: Brian Gordon