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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61 Days of Halloween- The Haunting in Connecticut

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

It happens rarely but every once in a while a film will come along that not only has a great trailer, but lives up to the potential that its trailer promises. Such is the case of The Haunting in Connecticut, which is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in quite a long time. It may seem strange to begin the analysis of a film with its trailer; however, films more so than any other art form are inexorably linked to their marketing. Before the work itself can be discussed, a few more pieces of marketing must be quickly touched upon. First, the film’s MPAA rating, PG-13, which is generally the kiss of death in the horror genre. Just knowing a horror movie is rated PG-13 has deterred me from viewing the film. Fear not – blood and gore wouldn’t make this film better, it flat out works brilliantly without need for the violence, vulgarity, gore and gratuitous sexual content we come to expect from lesser works in the genre. Second, the film is “based on a true story.” If you know anything of that true story, as I do, please don’t expect a documentary, or even a faithful re-telling based on fact. I always take the assertion “based on a true story” with a grain of salt. The truths in this film are the circumstances surrounding the family’s life, their rental of a house that formerly served as a funeral home, and some of their supernatural experiences. However, the true story doesn’t allow for a tidy ending or a very linear plot, so liberties have been taken. Many things have been embellished or created, and all brilliantly executed.

Haunting is a film that excels on many levels. Most importantly it never forgets that drama is the foundation of all other genres and thus you must build characters and make the audience care about their problems. Not that these are the most complex or dynamic characters ever created, but they are developed enough such that we can engage and have an interest in their plight.

Another manner in which Haunting excels is its utilization of all the techniques at its disposal to create a chilling tale. Many weaker efforts in the genre only achieve scares with overly-loud effects. The entire soundtrack of Haunting is subtle and beautifully mixed allowing you to hear voices, footsteps, and rustling in parts of the house unseen. The sound levels are great. Sometimes you could barely hear what was going on, making your anxiety greater. The score is solid and highlights the fright. The editing not only allows for great jolts but also tells the story in a fascinating way cutting from the present to the past, seen and unseen, using L-Cuts (dialogue continuing from scene which is no longer being shown) to move the story along and quick cuts to black. There was a wonderful sense of symmetry, as several situations repeat themselves with different results, like the game of hide and seek for example.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is its relentlessness. It hardly if ever seeks to cut the tension but seeks to keep the baseline pretty high, leaving the audience anticipating the next jolt. And the jolts are fantastic. One was done with the clever use of misdirection. There appears to be a bird under the bed that we can’t see and as it is to be revealed the jolt comes from elsewhere, and it is purely visual. The film is very visual and uses its dialogue wisely.

The performances are spot on. Elias Koteas has never been better. It’s also Virginia Madsen’s best turn in the genre. I can’t say that Madsen’s performance in Candyman excels over Haunting because I understood this character better. Kyle Gallner is cast properly and plays his character perfectly.

I personally judge each movie on its own merit and take it for what it is, for example I will never say “Well, this was no Casablanca or Citizen Kane so I can’t give it such and such a grade” – that’s bunk. The Haunting in Connecticut makes no pretensions about what it is, and does its job incredibly well. It was the most transfixing horror movie experience from the beginning to end that I’ve had since The Exorcist re-release in 2000 so having said that I give The Haunting in Connecticut a score of 10/10.

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