My long time good friend, James Rollins (who talked with me about Sicario a while back), messaged me one day and asked if he could interview me about my movie reviews. I figured, why not? Below are the questions he asked me, and my best attempt to answer them in a way that was interesting.
James Keeler Rollins is a blogger who writes about movies, his Christian faith, and pretty much anything else that he wants to write about. Be sure to check out his blog if it sounds like something you’d be interested in.
What inspired you to review movies?
There was an extreme need that I had to start writing again; everyone told me that I need to keep practicing writing because I was good at it. But I never practiced it.
I’ve been watching Youtube reviewers for over half a decade now, so I decided to combine both of those things because I like writing about movies and writing in general. I decided that was something I could focus on.
Where does your love and enjoyment of movies come from?
Part of it does come from actually watching movie reviews and enjoying analyzing the movies. I’m very fond of the idea of seeing movies as an art form and a form of storytelling.
I think movies are more interesting than reading a book. I know that’s not the popular opinion.
It’s also less time consuming than reading or playing videogames… and watching TV shows for that matter even though I do review some TV shows.
For your reviews, you grade movies on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst, 5 being average, and 10 being the best. Why do you use that scale instead of a letter grading system or smaller number scale like 1-5?
In regards to how I think about movies being rated, I think certain rating systems are too generalized because they don’t have enough ratings. Then there’s ones that are so diluted by so many ratings that it almost loses meaning. There’s some reviewers I respect that use 4 or 5 star ratings.
Everybody that I know of that uses the letter grading system suffers from dilution. What comes to mind is especially Chris Stuckmann [a Youtube movie reviewer]. He reviewed three separate movies and it seemed like he had equally negative things to say about all of them and he gave one a D+, one a C-, and one a B-, and I was like “I don’t know what your rating system means, man”.
I think the 1-10 system is a perfect mixture of generalization and specificness. There’s some people, my brother included, that uses the 1-10 system but adds 0.5s like 6.5 and I think that causes dilution…I wonder if dilution is the right word…If you have too many ratings, things start getting confusing.
On top of that, my favorite reviewer also uses 1-10.
Do you know what your favorite movie of 2016 so far?
So far, it’s Swiss Army Man. I think the movie is so well performed that it successfully made me feel almost every single emotion. The emotional connection for me came from just relating to the characters as well. I mean, I didn’t just rate it a 10/10 cause I could relate to the characters but because the performances were great. The soundtrack was done in a very unique way. There was a lot of stuff that was thought provoking about [the movie]. I wouldn’t even say I agree with all the messages that Swiss Army Man even had, but I just enjoyed it so much and I thought the movie was satisfying enough to merit that rating, and there hasn’t been a rating that’s come closer to that yet. It’s funny…I’ve talked to a few people who have tried Swiss Army Man and they either really really love it or they turn it off after 20 minutes because they totally didn’t get it so I wouldn’t call it a perfect movie for everybody.
How does your Christian faith influence the way you watch and review movies?
I think the way that my faith affects it the most is that my faith affects my worldview, and my worldview affects how I view truth, and so a lot of times…really the biggest way it affects how I view movies is based on what message is being sent because of the movie. Aside from that though, I try not to make my beliefs color the way I see a movie. There’s an article I wrote and part of it I talk about how there’s some moral beliefs in every movie that I’ve disagreed with that fall on almost every single rating. I’ve given a 1/10 to a movie I morally disagree with, and I think Swiss Army Man is a movie that, in some ways, I morally disagree with. So judging a movie for me means being as objective as I can and as fair to a movie as I can. So if I don’t like what a movie is saying I don’t immediately discredit it [unless there’s other things I have problems with].
A lot of the Christian movies I review, I try to review on the quality of the film-making and not just on the message. Otherwise, I’d probably give it a higher rating. A vast majority of Christian movies I’ve seen aren’t good.
Are there any Christian movies made in the past 10-20 years that you like or recommend?
Typically if it’s a [recommendable] Christian movie, it has Christian undertones. I would argue that Lord of the Rings is one of those kinds of movies that has those distinct influences. It’s not 10-20 years ago, but I did enjoy Ben-Hur. Not the 2016 Ben-Hur, I thought that one sucked, but the Charlton Heston one. I mean, it was a bit overly long and some of the parts could’ve been cut out and it would’ve made a much more tighter movie but the overall performances of the movie were good… I don’t know if it’s because I’m used to seeing movies in the 2000s but it was a very unique experience.
The Book of Eli would be on that list since it’s technically sort of about the Bible. Is there anything that’s come out that was actually a Christian movie? I can’t think of anything.
[Note: I forgot Risen. That movie was pretty good]
There are many movies that you have reviewed and given a 2 or a 3, something low. Do you ever feel like you’re torturing yourself watching some of these disasters? Like a bad comedy is the schoolyard bully and it makes you punch yourself in the head while it taunts ‘Stop hitting yourself’?
[Laughs] The most torturous movies are the 1 out of 10s. I can truly say that almost every 1/10 was a torturous experience. 2 out of 10s…I think Turbo Kid was extremely painful. I don’t know if I’d say Batman v Superman was a torturous experience, I was extraordinarily wowed by just how bad it was. Like my mouth was ajar and I wondered “How in the world are they doing so bad at this?”. I guess I wouldn’t say 3 out of 10s are normally torturous, but I’d call them more obnoxious. They’re not the schoolyard bully, they’re more like the kid that just won’t leave you alone.
Do you think there’s any appeal in movies that are “so bad they’re good”?
Absolutely. At the end of my review for Sleeping Beauty (2014), I said I simultaneously loved and hated that movie because it was so bad but I was laughing so hard because it was really funny. Another movie was Gods of Egypt…the amount of boring parts in Gods of Egypt far surpass the unintentional humor but I still thought it was fun to watch.
[What makes moves that are “so bad they’re good” fun to watch] is because of the unintentional comedy. Usually when they say it’s so bad it’s good, they’re talking about how the movie’s hilarious but it wasn’t their intention to be funny. Aside from that, the only other movies I can think of, I wouldn’t call them “so bad they’re good”, they were terrible despite being entertaining are The Purge: Election Year, which was an awful, unsubtle movie but it was a lot of fun, and Independence Day: Resurgence had probably one of the cheesiest scripts I’ve seen in awhile, but explosions are fun.
What is your favorite thing about going to the movie theater?
This is hard because I wouldn’t say “Oh, there’s a community” because I usually go to movie theaters alone by myself. Honestly the best thing about going to the movie theater is that it provides me material for something to write about. The primary reason why I see so many movies is so I can write about it because I think I’m good at it.
And the inevitable follow-up question: What is your least favorite thing about going to the movie theater?
Dealing with the employees. You can tell they’re being paid minimum wage because none of them care. I think I did a tweet about how ticket rippers have the easiest job in the world but they always manage to screw it up. I collect movie ticket stubs and there’s probably a bunch in there that aren’t perfectly ripped. I mean it’s not so bad I wouldn’t go to Wehrenberg Chesterfield ever again but I mean I’ve reviewed 90 movies in the theater so far. I don’t remember any of the people there and none of them remember me, they always seem so disinterested. Honestly if there was a movie theater that charged a little bit more but had a more pleasant experience I would probably go, and I’m one who loves cheap movie tickets. I dislike terrible employees more than I dislike terrible movies because at least with terrible movies, I have something to write about.
Do you have any movie favorites at the moment? Favorite director, favorite actor, favorite genre, etc?
I haven’t really seen anybody that’s been consistently awesome. One person that I did want to search into more, because everyone says I should search into him more, is Wes Anderson. I think Moonrise Kingdom is one of the best movies that you could watch on Netflix right now. I’ve heard great things about Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’ve heard great things about The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I want to see all of them but I haven’t given myself time to find them out. Besides that…I mean, there’s some actors that give me a reason to think that the movie will be better. Bryan Cranston is one of them, even though he’s going to be in a comedy with James Franco and it doesn’t look good at all. To be quite honest, man, there hasn’t been an actor or a director or genre that has consistently been good with me. I think every single one, except for those few classic directors, have the propensity to suck at one point or another or at least not be very exceptional.
If you had the power to stop Hollywood movies from using one terrible cliché, which would it be?
Only one?! Oh my goodness….Let me think…
One of them I’m getting a little tired of is every single movie demanding some of sort of strong-independent-female-character. It’s almost becoming a meme because I think the vast majority of movies I’ve seen you have at least one female character whose sole defining trait is that she doesn’t need any man’s help and she’ll prove it at one point in the movie. It’s not that I hate that cliché [character]. In fact I think it’s good, but they’re using it so much that it’s almost becoming meaningless. I can think of so many movies that have done this and some of them have become worse because they did it. Now You See Me 2, Warcraft has a little bit of that in it, I mean obviously Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond had it, The Purge: Election Year, The Legend of Tarzan, Independence Day: Resurgence had a little bit of it, Alice Through the Looking Glass…do you want more?…It has become super forced.
I don’t know how political I want to get, but you can tell there’s a very strong influence that modern third wave feminism is having on culture because that’s the only reason I can think of why it almost seems like it has to appear in every movie.
I feel bad that I have this criticism because I don’t want it to seem like this character type is a bad thing to have in your movie. It’s just becoming overused to the point where it’s not special anymore.