My Rating Scale

Since my post on lists not being complete, which is an essence an amendment to my initial manifesto, I have not written many reviews, but I will have cause to with 61 Days of Halloween coming up. Keeping that in mind, it has come to my attention, both through my own ruminating and from some comments, that there is a slight incongruity to my rating scale. I have changed it very slightly at the bottom end.

I have not yet, but may still, sample my scores and average them. I know I tend to grade generously and don’t really make apologies for that. However, I’ve realized that the top end definition doesn’t mesh with the bottom end. In short, it’s easier, by definition for a 10 to be assigned than a 1. More to the point, it’s been easier to assign a 2 than a 1. Therefore, both the definition for a 10 and a 1 now include references to best in the year and downplays all-time, since that’s hard to gauge instantaneously.

Here is the altered rating scale:

Below is my rating scale. I try to be as precise as possible in describing what each number signifies. If you need further clarification please feel free to leave a comment.

1. = Terrible, no redeeming qualities, one of the worst films of the year, occasionally ever.
2. =Awful but of some minute value- among the worst of the year.
3. =A film with one maybe two strong elements but overall unforgivably poor.
4. =A film with a few mistakes too big to overlook.
5. =Marginally bad, a film with it’s good points but ultimately suffering from a fatal flaw that prevents it from achieving decency.
6. =A mediocre film; not bad but nothing special.
7. =Better than average, definitely worth viewing.
8. =A standout film with promise that is not quite fulfilled.
9. =A film which is just an iota, a minor fix or two short of greatness.
10. =A great film. Best genre can achieve, contender for best of year & rarely all-time. There are gradations in all ratings.

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Review- Battle: Los Angeles

Aaron Eckhart in Battle: Los Angeles (Columbia Pictures)

As is sometimes the case I will lead with the few negatives I have to say about a film to accentuate the positives afterward. This is what I will do for Battle: Los Angeles because I did walk away very pleased and rather impressed in the end, my tweet reaction being: “An enjoyable theatrical double feature today. Say what? Battle: LA revives invasion films with moments of symphonic brilliance.”

I have found that tweeting a knee-jerk reaction to a film can be quite helpful to the review process it allows you to encapsulate your overall view of the film and then explore why you feel as such later on. It also illuminates that this film ends rather strongly after a rather plain start.

First, this one of the rare films wherein a frame doesn’t really serve the story well. The film starts with footage which is in medias res of the alien invasion and then backtracks to a day before. This does a disservice to the film by dulling some good foreshadowing that is done prior to the attack. The foreshadowing is left without impact due to the fact that the table has been set likely for the impatient audience member.

The other thing that needs saying is that there are a fair amount of cliché used to construct it. There is the character who is handing in his resignation and we view his “I’m getting too old for this crap” scene, there are young soldiers, a teased virgin, one who lost his brother, the tough broad aptly played by Michelle Rodriguez as always. As with anything, however, it all boils down to execution. Cliché without execution in insufferable, cliché that gets stripped down, that eventually leads to individualized characters that you can identify with in a vehicle that works is a whole other story.

What I’m talking about in my tweet is the synergy that exists when the battle really gets underway, a synergy of the cinematic elements such as the edit, the cinematography and score to make the stakes of the tale hit home. One of the traps of the invasion and/or apocalyptic film is that the stakes couldn’t be higher but at times we could care less. This story is one of a more hand-to-hand combat, a more guerrilla style, which lends an immediacy to the tale. Also lending to the atmosphere is that, as much as it can be, this film is a microcosmic tale. You get a sense of the larger destruction around the world and how many major metropolitan areas are in the same boat but the film only shows you glimpses of it. You are watching this small battlefield and invested in these characters and it does affect you viscerally first and foremost.

It being a war movie in essence makes it one of the few cases when wildly flailing handheld camerawork is preferable but in trying to lend this film a modicum of reality it never forgets its intended audience and makes everything visually intelligible, which is no small feat or backhanded compliment, it truly is something to communicate chaos with clarity.

What is also good to see is that the battle is ultimately decided by perseverance and human intuition and there’s no fortuitous break that salvages mankind as there in the granddaddy of invasion stories War of the Worlds. The film also ends on a realistic and level plane. There is the exaltation of victory but no happily ever after moment. Merely we see the characters who survive moving on and we have the knowledge that other cities now have a blueprint to get through this but we don’t see that.

Michelle Rodriguez in another great action performance already got her due in this review, and she seems to get more great turns in the genre than most these days, however, what really carries this film is Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart who if he was an athlete would likely be referred to as sneaky good. He’s the kind who tends to get overlooked but then you see him in something you weren’t expecting him to do and are blown away all over again. This is different than him in The Dark Knight, Thank You for Smoking or Erin Brockovich. This film also has something a little different than Stunt Casting, for lack of anything better to call it let’s refer to it as Diamond Casting, which means when you spot someone you recognize some one from a long ago film (there’s that glimmer) but you can’t put your finger on a name. Here it happened in a few cases and that would be with Noel Fisher, Will Rothaar, Taylor Handley and Lucas Till. There are also two fantastic performances by young supporting actors namely Bryce Cass and Joey King.

At times it can seem like any alien invasion film coming out can seem most tired but every once and a while one of these films will surprise you. In my estimation Battle: Los Angeles is such a film. It is most definitely worthy of your viewership.

9/10

Review- I Am Number Four

Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron in I am Number Four (Disney)

Most films that can be said to be bifurcated are strong in the first half and tail off towards the end. Few films fly in the face of the screenwriting axiom that first acts are easy and it’s keeping interest through the second act that is truly a challenge. I am Number Four does do that to an extent but it still fails to salvage itself.

It’s not as if the film doesn’t try, it most certainly does that. A lot of the fault is in trying too hard. It does a lot of legwork in the beginning to establish the players in this tale from John (Alex Pettyfer) to his protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), to Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) in small and mysterious, at the time, introductory scene, to Sam, the sidekick with a secret attachment to this world (Callan McAuliffe), Sarah, the love interest that tears at John’s world (Dianna Agron) to Mark (Jake Abel) Sarah’s ex and John’s earthly antagonist.

Not to mention the actual antagonists the Mongadorians, who come from a planet of extra-nostriled Voldemorts. While it’s a good thing that all these pieces do end up fitting the puzzle it takes too long to develop them and then display their purpose. Instead of locking these people into the drama in a meaningful way off the bat they all connect close together in a sort of domino effect that suddenly plunges the film into a hyper-drive from the second half through the end.

This film also leaves a lot details out and questions unanswered. It is ultimately hoping for and promising to answer them in a sequel but that’s really putting the cart before the horse. You can’t be so defensive of your story options in a sequel that you do the film at hand a disservice.

How this happens is that only one extra person of the chosen nine is found, Number 6, Numbers 5 and 7 thru 9 are a mystery. Sam who ends up being integral as his life has been directly affected by Mongadorians gets no closure and moves on with the tale into a supposed sequel. Sam’s character also illustrates another issue with this film in as much as he ends up being the most real, identifiable and well played character. This is great for Callan McAuliffe who gets a chance to prove himself in a bigger profile film than he did in last year’s Flipped, for the film, however, it’s kind of an issue when your male and female lead just look the part, say their lines, hit their marks and not much else is added to the equation through them.

Then, of course, this film also suffers from a mild case of Random Animal Syndrome. As the name suggests its where random animals make too big an impact on a film. First, there’s a gecko trailing John and Henri. We are left to surmise it becomes a dog. A dog who is not a dog rather because it’s rather easy to see early on that it’s a bit too smart and good at navigation to be a regular dog. Then we see what the dog becomes late for an awesome beast showdown, which I’ll admit is kind of cool and the CG is well done but it is slightly SyFy movie like.

There’s also a lot of information withheld not only from our protagonist but also from the audience. We already know this is a Chosen One(s) plot but what we need are the rules and a reason to root for this chosen entity. For any of these plots to work like they do in Star Wars or Harry Potter there needs to be some grounding. Some very strong attachment we can build with the protagonist so we can be truly invested in his/her plight. That doesn’t really exist here at least not in this incarnation of the tale.

I absolutely despise when reviewers get cutesy, so in closing, I just want to state for the record that I am not giving I am Number Four a four for that reason. As my rating scale indicates a score of 4/10 is “A film with a few mistakes too big to overlook.” There are definitely things to like about the film but there are too many things that stop it from getting going and leave you scratching your head. If you walked in halfway through the film you might love it until you saw the excruciatingly slow and un-illuminating first half.

4/10