Critics' Corner: Watch This, Not That

Critics' Corner: Watch This, Not That

Jan 27, 2012

Grae Drake and Dave White are here to conduct a movie intervention. But the only person who can really help you is you.

Bad-Bad Movies (as opposed to Good-Bad Movies, you know the difference) are a batch of cookies baked by a chain-smoker and subjected to six months of freezer burn before getting thawed out with a dusty blow dryer and served to you on a plate the dishwasher didn’t get fully clean. They harm you. You deserve better. You deserve awesome movies. At the very least you deserve Good-Bad if not fully Good-Good. If you’re thinking about wasting your time on the following films (all currently in theaters or new to DVD), then think again and go with our swap-out instead. You can thank us later. Cookie bouquets welcome.

DON’T WATCH THIS: Joyful Noise
WATCH THIS: Camp
GRAE EXPLAINS: Both movies were written and directed by Todd Graff, but Camp proves what he’s really capable of. It’s set at a musical theater summer camp populated by precocious, nerdy kids. It’s colorful, funny, touching and sassy. The performances are great and it’s got a scene-stealing Anna Kendrick before she was an Oscar nominee. Joyful Noise, on the other hand, is a catastrophe, a deal with the devil where the devil wins and uses your own weapon to murder you in the face.

DON’T WATCH THIS: The Iron Lady
WATCH THIS: The September Issue
DAVE EXPLAINS: It is not a bold move to depict a powerful former Prime Minister as a dotty old woman who hallucinates that her dead husband is standing in the closet helping her pick out clothes. It’s also not cool to wash over history to make your protagonist seem lovable when she was, at best, a wildly divisive public figure. Show the good and bad and let the audience figure it out. That’s why the documentary The September Issue, about a real iron lady, Anna Wintour, is so great. You might walk away from it loving Vogue mainstay Grace Coddington or cracking up over Andre Leon Talley’s excesses, but you won’t feel torn about Wintour. Unlike in The Devil Wears Prada, where Meryl Streep’s funny Wintour-like impersonation descended into empty pity, the real-life Wintour makes no apologies. If you’re in her way you’ll have to suffer the consequences.

DON’T WATCH THIS: The Adventures of Tin Tin
WATCH THIS: Spirited Away
GRAE EXPLAINS WHY: Tin Tin just made me sad, such a wasted opportunity. Plenty of action but the characters were lost, even Andy Serkis, whom you can tell is giving it his all. Without some spark of insanity or engaging hero to feel for, the movie feels extra hollow. Spirited Away, though, is an awe-inspiring journey full of craziness and heart. You find yourself saying, “What?!” out loud at the twists and turns: humans changed into animals, a creepy worm-mime thing called “No Face,” and, most shockingly, actual emotion.

DON’T WATCH THIS: Underworld Awakening
WATCH THIS: The Hunger or Love at First Bite or Vampire’s Kiss or Near Dark or An American Werewolf in London or Teen Wolf Too or the last hour of the most recent Twilight movie where it turns all womb-frenzied.
DAVE EXPLAINS WHY: Any of the above titles will deliver kinky vampire eroticism or witty takes on werewolfism or gross blood-sucking or Cronenberg-like body-horror or Nicolas Cage or comedy or disco dancing. The Underworld movies deliver none of those essential elements. They suck your money out of your wallet and run.

Black StallionDON’T WATCH THIS: War Horse
WATCH THIS: The Black Stallion
GRAE EXPLAINS WHY: War Horse isn’t bad but it’s a tough sit. People who love horses are actually staying away from it because, once the war starts, the horse is in constant violent peril and agony. The Black Stallion, on the other hand, is a gentle fable of friendship and love with all of the excitement of War Horse and none of the brutality. And now Dave is mad at me for telling you not to see it.

DON’T WATCH THIS: Real Steel
WATCH THIS: The Iron Giant or any Transformers movie
DAVE EXPLAINS WHY: This is new on DVD and so the temptation to check it out will be buoyed by the inexplicable good reviews it got. Ignore them. Michael Bay does fighting robots better and bigger and badder and dumber, while The Iron Giant gives you every emotional robot-plus-child friendship hook you want without cheesy dance routines. And now Grae is mad at me for telling you not to see it.

DON’T WATCH THIS: Abduction
WATCH THIS: The Bourne Identity or North By Northwest
GRAE EXPLAINS WHY: Also new on DVD, Taylor Lautner’s continued foray into hairless cinema contains exactly two lines of unintentionally hilarious dialogue, one of which is “I’m going to kill all your Facebook friends.” And that’s not nearly enough unintentional hilarity to maintain a bad movie. Meanwhile, he’s not as good a runner-away from bad guys as Matt Damon or Cary Grant, so those are really the ones you want to see.

DON’T WATCH THIS: Courageous
WATCH THIS: The Apostle
DAVE EXPLAINS WHY: Even devout Christians need decent movies. And Courageous, another new DVD, is not one. It’s not insane like some of the other ones aimed at this demographic, but it is the kind of “only game in town” that causes people who’re hungry for any movie that doesn’t mock religious faith to over-praise it just for existing. The truth is that it’s badly directed, written and acted and shot like a cheap TV movie. Meanwhile, Robert Duvall’s The Apostle is about a Southern preacher tormented by his struggle for faith. It doesn’t pander, it doesn’t proselytize and it doesn’t leave you feeling punked.

DON’T WATCH THIS: One for the Money
WATCH THIS: Knocked Up
GRAE AND DAVE BOTH EXPLAIN WHY: One for the Money just opened in theaters and it stars Katherine Heigl. Has she been in anything good since the one movie that she openly complains about? No. And maybe it’s wrong to pre-judge a film and still call ourselves objective film critics. But this one has to prove us wrong, pay for dinner, bring flowers, make us laugh and call the next day. Or else.

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