Why I Review Movies

By Michael J. Legeros


Why?  The question is rarely asked of why I review movies-- and
have been reviewing movies since 1992, albeit with varying fre-
quency, writing style, and word count.  Instead, most folks, be
they friends, family members, or faithful readers, go right on a-
head and presume an answer.  Some believe I'm grooming myself for
a paying gig.  Others see a habit, compulsion, or outright obses-
sion.  I've been evaluated as using movies as escapism, social a-
voidance, time-killing, or just a place to go in the summer that
has better air-conditioning than mine.  Of course, the last four
don't require review-writing.  (I could catch two or three more
movies a week were I not writing about them!)  There must be a-
nother agenda.  Perhaps to stay entitled to those precious sneak-
preview passes that the studios send?  (Or, more accurately, that
only a *couple* of studios send *me*.)  Nope, tix can be scored
by scanning "The Spectator" and "The Independent" each week.  (Not
that packed sneak screenings are exactly the next best thing to
sliced bread.  More on that later.  Nor does free admission dimin-
ish the after-agony if the flick sucks.  When is often.)

Maybe it's a label thing-- an easy way to think better of myself,
because I'm doing something that most people aren't.  (It certain-
ly comes in handy as small talk when meeting chicks!)  Hell, maybe
it's nothing more complicated than having a different-but-not-too-
different topic to write about each week.  I guess I *am* a writ-
er...  There's also the associated unpredictability that's kinda
exciting: never knowing your weekend plans until Wednesday, when
the Friday releases are announced; as well as never knowing what
words'll come when I typewrite (actually computer-write) on Sat-
urday night or Sunday morning.  (In lieu of dates, with girls, I
often compose myself early Saturday evening, before taking myself
out to the Longbranch.)  Sometimes I have a lot to say; sometimes
very little.  And sometimes I skip the review-writing altogether.
(Those are the weekends when the long-suffering members of my pri-
vate mailing list are invariably subjected to some out-there, non-
film-related essay...)

Being a "critic" isn't all fun, games, and indulgent writing, ei-
ther.  Yeah, you get to see movies both for free and a few days
before everyone else does.  (And occasionally a few *weeks* before
everyone else!  Like HAPPY, TEXAS, which was screened more than a
month before the general release.)  For those of us with day jobs,
however, we're limited to weekday *evening* screenings.  *Packed*
evening screenings, where arriving a half-hour early-- for primo
seats-- results in a thirty-minute aural assault of increasingly
deafening crowd noise.  (It's also a convenient time to get grumpy
as parents with young children take nearby seats.)  I dunno, maybe
most folks prefer to see movies with others; I'd rather have the
theater to myself, with no one talking or whispering or crunching
candy or sucking their teeth or, worst of all, reeking of cigaret-
te smoke and/or cologne.  (Did get my wish, once, while dating a
theater manager.  She closed the auditorium to the general public
and we screening Sam Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS.  Just the two of
us, plus lunch.)

Nope, not exactly a doggy doo-free walk in the park.  And, mind
you, this is *with* credit given to the theater!  This is *with*
the presumption that the feature is started on time, has a mini-
mal number of previews (preferably those you haven't seen ten
times before), and is shown in focus, "in sound," and at the cor-
rect volume level.  (In Raleigh/Durham, projection quality at the
'plexes was a tall order until the first stadium seater opened a
couple years ago.  The Grande ushered in-- ha!-- quite a few com-
petitive changes.)  (Second sidebar: I've taken to arriving *late*
of late.  Maybe five or ten minutes after the scheduled start
time.  Works *wonders* at avoiding annoying trailers.  Of course,
so does plugging your ears and humming loudly...)  Okay, so maybe
being a non-paid, non-professional critic is a royal pain.  If not
most of the time, at least almost most of the time.  So why do it?
Why bother?  Why not just wait and rent the damn video?  The an-
swer is the same answer a child gives when asked why they like go-
ing to the movies.  Because it's a *movie*.

Why do I like going to the movies?  Because the screen is so big
that it fills my field of vision.  Because my senses are overpow-
ered with sight and sound and emotion.  Because I get lost in the
lives of the characters.  When they're in peril, I feel in peril;
when something funny happens to them, I react in a split-second.
And when the credits roll and the lights come up, only *then* do I
start remembering the details of my own life.  (The more engros-
sing the movie, the longer it takes to shake any newly acquired
identities.)  For those of us who love movies, and whose lives
collect as many *movie* moments as real ones, there ain't no sub-
stitute.  Not a teeny-tiny television screen.  Not a stage play.
Not even a good book-- and we *know* there's nothing as good as a
good book!  For those of us who love movies, it's an irresistible
form of hyper-engagement.  Both emotionally and logically.  While
we're busy being scared, suspicious, excited, or enthralled, a
different part of our brain is assessing the technical qualities
of the film.  We cannot not notice the plot, script, special ef-
fects, sound recording, or a hundred other things.

For some movie lovers, this is a less-conscious process.  Nagging
notions *during* the feature that are made clear later, after the
emotional impact of the characters has calmed.  (If tears are pre-
sent-- from laughing *or* crying-- this can take a little while.)
(Second sidebar:  I cried during THE LITTLE MERMAID.  One after-
noon, while off-duty from the firehouse.  Just sat there and che-
erfully bawled.)  For others, like myself and maybe most critics,
emo-logical assessment is an active process.  We're thinking while
we're feeling and, usually, while making mental or written note of
both.  (I typically tote a notebook.  The number of jots, however,
is a factor of the film's engaging-ness.  The more I'm enthralled,
the less I scribble...)  So why *does* Yours Truly review movies?
Because that's what happens when I watch them.  Because a review
is really just a transcription of what I was thinking while I was
watching.  And which are the same things I'd say in person.  For
those of us who loves movies-- who open ourselves to boundless joy
when they're good and betrayed pain when they're bad-- we *always*
tell each other what we thought.  I just do it in print.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

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