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At some point during the month of January I am moved to refute T.S. Eliot’s assertion that April is the cruelest month (“The Waste Land” 1922). He, of course, was pondering humankind’s place in the cosmos, new life ripping itself from from the corpses of what came before. The paradox is striking.
For we who toil in the corps that reviews movies, it is January that is the cruelest month. It is the month wherein the studios dump the films, usually horror or fantasy, in which they have little confidence, but are, for reasons that may be contractual or merely sadistic, release them to cinema screens around the country. Hence we find PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES, the poignantly hopeful sequelof a proud and groundbreaking film, THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, the blasphemous debasing of a classical hero, DEVIL’S DUE, a tragically unoriginal tale of the horrors of parenthood, and I, FRANKENSTEIN, which reduces a masterpiece of gothic horror to a pop-culture. We also find such a priori dissapointments as LABOR DAY, a film whose studio had positioned it for serious awards competition last fall, but whose critical reaction (were those snickers and sighs of exasperation we heard at the autumnal press screening?) caused a serious re-evaluation of its potential.
The oddest of this year’s crop is JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, a genuinely solid spy thriller adrift in the sea of effluvia. And this is probably why it’s there. By comparison, it looks much better than it actually is, and critics, bludgeoned into a particularly bitter kind of cynicism by the dreck through which they have been sitting, are all the more grateful for a flick that isn’t pure dross.
This is also the season that separates the wheat from the chaff. If you want to be a member of the reviewing press and you can’t stand to sit through the bad films, you don’t deserve to savor the good ones, If nothing else, seeing the inept, the unfortunate, the ill-conceived, and the poorly executed makes you appreciate real artistry rather than just taking it for granted. Plus, you never know what little gem a bad flick might hold, even if it’s of the Razzie variety, as in, it’s so bad that it’s good. And for that I refer you to the Razzie-made classic, SHOWGIRLS, one of the few cinematic disasters smart enough to embrace its awfulness by making it a marketing strategy. I also refer you to this year’s chat with John Wilson, Founder and Head Berry of the Golden Raspberry Awards Foundation, purveyor of the Razzie. Clicking here takes you to a consideration of what went wrong with THE LONE RANGER and AFTER EARTH, among other Razzie-worthy flicks.
Here on the eve of the Oscars, it’s good to remember that while there are many great films, there are also the bad ones, and they deserve recognition, too. And they get it with arguably the only award in Hollywood given solely on merit.