Should I Let Websites Like Rotten Tomatoes Influence My Movie Choices?

ReviewSitesI was really looking forward to seeing Pacific Rim: Uprising today. The first Pacific Rim was dumb, but it was a lot of fun. When the Rotten Tomatoes score for Uprising dropped earlier this week (currently at 47% as I write this), I wasn’t too worried: Pacific Rim isn’t a movie you go to see for its artistic merit, you go to see it to enjoy watching giant robots fight giant monsters. Before finalizing my plans to see it this morning, I checked to see its CinemaScore: a “B.” That was enough to convince me to stay home. But what is CinemaScore? Why did it convince me when Rotten Tomatoes did not? Should I even care about what such sites say?

The short answer to the last question is: probably yes. But before I explain why, let me explain a bit about some of the major websites that people go to for aggregated film reviews and how they work.

Rotten Tomatoes assigns a Tomatometer score by compiling anywhere between dozens and hundreds of film reviews from professional film critics and boils each review down to a simple question: did the critic like the film, yes or no? The score then reflects the percentage of critics who liked the film. It is NOT a reflection of how much critics liked the film. For example, Black Panther’s 97% on Rotten Tomatoes does not mean that critics gave it a score of 9.7 out of 10. It simply means that 97% of critics liked the film. To get an idea of how much critics liked the film, you need to look at the number (in much smaller font) of the Average Rating located under the Tomatometer. In the case of Black Panther, you can see that the average score from critics was 8.2 out of 10. CapturefdfdsfsLikewise, Rotten Tomatoes also provides an Audience Score detailing what percentage of an audience liked the film, with an Average Rating located underneath. (Note that the Average Rating for both critics’ and audience scores isn’t even visible in the mobile version of Rotten Tomatoes’ site. You’ll have to view the desktop version to see them). However, while the Tomatometer score is determined based on reviews from verified professional film critics, the Audience Score is determined by anyone who decides to create a Rotten Tomatoes account and rate a movie. Most of the time, this isn’t problematic, but every now and then, a group of angry and overzealous “fans” will organize online and work to artificially alter the Audience Score by having individuals create multiple accounts and provide multiple ratings. This happened recently with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Black Panther (with the Audience Score being driven down) and Batman v Superman (with the Audience Score being driven up). To get a far more accurate (and less manipulable) audience rating, I prefer CinemaScore.

(Before I discuss CinemaScore, a brief note about MetaCritic. MetaCritic works similar to the Average Rating on Rotten Tomatoes: it averages all of the critics’ ratings to let you know how much critics liked the film, rather than what percentage of critics liked it. It’s also pickier about which film critics it includes in its score. While Rotten Tomatoes can use reviews from as many as a few hundred critics, MetaCritic tends to use reviews from around 50 or fewer critics. Thus, MetaCritic can be a good resource to turn to if you’re specifically interested in how some of the more prestigious critics actually rated a film.)

CinemaScore, on the other hand, is a market research company that’s been around since 1979. Every Friday night, CinemaScore visits movie theaters in 25 randomly chosen cities throughout North America and asks audience members of newly released films to grade the movie on a scale from A to F. CinemaScore then averages the results of these surveys to give the movie a grade (note that these grades include a plus or minus scale, e.g., A-, B+, etc.) Thus, there is significantly less of a chance of artificially manipulated scores. (It should be noted that one downside of CinemaScore is that its scores don’t come out until late Friday night/early Saturday morning since the surveys aren’t administered until Friday night).

Aside from the fact that Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic use critics’ reviews and CinemaScore uses feedback from a general audience, it is important to highlight one additional difference between RottenTomatoes/MetaCritic and CinemaScore: film critics go to see almost every movie that comes out (that’s their job, after all) whereas film audiences are composed of people that specifically chose to go see a specific movie. Thus, the critics are probably likelier to be harsher judges (not only because they tend to look for more of the artistic aspects of the film, but also because they probably didn’t choose to watch that movie), whereas the audiences on CinemaScore will tend to skew positive (because they were interested enough to go see the movie on a Friday night in the opening weekend).

So, coming back to the original question, should you use these sites to guide your moviegoing choices, and if so, how? I think the important first question to consider for any movie is: are you interested in seeing it? When it comes to knowing your personal movie preferences, no one is a better expert than you. If there is a movie that you think you might like, then you should consider seeing it. And, while it’s important to expand your moviegoing horizons and try new things, if there is a particular movie that you don’t think you’ll like, you’re probably right, even if critics and/or audiences are raving about it. So, for the films that you are considering seeing, this is when I think it is helpful to look at critics’ and audiences’ reactions. If both audiences and critics like the film, I consider that a green light: go ahead and see it. If both audiences and critics dislike the film, I consider that a red light: unless you think that there is a specific reason that you’re likely to disagree with both critics AND the fans who were interested enough to go see it in the opening weekend, you should probably avoid it. When the critics and audiences disagree (a yellow light) that’s when things get more interesting: here you have to pick who you think you’ll side with in that particular situation. I’ll provide a few recent examples.

A couple years ago, X-Men: Apocalypse got 48% on Rotten Tomatoes and 52 out of 100 on MetaCritic. Thus, critics thought it was pretty mediocre. However, I love superhero movies, and unless they’re really terrible, I tend to enjoy them (I even have a bit of a soft spot for Spider-Man 3). So because I tend to approach superhero films as more of a fan than a critic, the fact that Apocalypse got an A- on CinemaScore meant that I was likely to enjoy it (and I did; while I recognized some of its flaws, I still loved it). Conversely, I tend to enjoy intellectual sci-fi films. When Annihilation came out last month, it got a C from CinemaScore. This may seem discouraging, but it also got a 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 79 out of 100 on MetaCritic. In this case, because I was more interested in the intellectual and artistic filmmaking aspects, and less interested in the spectacle and popcorn-flick-iness of it, I decided to trust the critics (and it paid off; while it won’t go down as one of my all-time favorite films, I did enjoy it, and thought it was intellectually stimulating). Flash forward to this morning: even though Pacific Rim: Uprising wasn’t particularly well-received by critics, I still planned on seeing it, because I expected it to be a bit of mindless fun – until I saw its CinemaScore. A “B” grade may not sound that bad, but since CinemaScore tends to skew positive, a B usually indicates that audiences found the movie to be somewhat mediocre. (If I’m expecting to agree with the audiences, I tend to use a B+ as my cutoff score). So rather than invest the time and money to go and see a movie that audiences didn’t find to be particularly fun, I decided to stay home (and write this post, actually). I’ll probably still rent it.

As for how this can help you, if you’re planning to see a movie that critics and audiences disagree on, ask yourself: are you planning to approach that particular movie with more a critical eye, or are you just looking for some fun entertainment? Depending on your response in that situation, it can be helpful to give more weight to the advice from whichever of the two groups you’re likely to side with.

Anyway, there is my advice (that ended up being way more long-winded that I intended) on how to use movie review sites to your advantage. What do you think? Did you find this particularly helpful? Also, what did you think about this in-depth discussion of moviegoing habits? Should I write similar posts in the future? (I’m already considering writing one about whether box office numbers actually matter – spoiler warning: they do – and how to interpret them.) Be sure to let me know!

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Oscar Predictions 2018!

The Oscars are just a few hours away, so I figured I should probably post my official predictions before it’s too late. Note that these are NOT the nominees that I *want* to win (I haven’t seen many of these movies, so I don’t think I’m qualified to choose personal favorites), rather, these are the nominees that I predict will win based on current buzz, previous trends, and/or just plain guessing. When all is said and done, I predict that the winners will be:

Best Picture: Get Out*
Best Director: Guillermo del Toro
Best Actor: Gary Oldman
Best Actress: Frances McDormand
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe
Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf
Best Original Screenplay: Big Sick
Best Adapted Screenplay: Logan**
Best Animated Feature Film: Coco
Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman
Best Documentary Feature: Strong Island
Best Documentary – Short Subject: Heroin(e)
Best Live Action Short Film: DeKalb Elementary
Best Animated Short Film: Lou
Best Original Score: The Shape of Water
Best Original Song: Remember Me
Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Best Sound Mixing: Baby Driver
Best Production Design: Blade Runner 2049
Best Cinematography: Dunkirk
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour
Best Costume Design: The Phantom Thread
Best Film Editing: Baby Driver
Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049

*Note: The two generally accepted front-runners to win Best Picture tonight are either The Shape of Water, or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. However, I’m going to place my bets on an upset that Get Out will win. (It’s considered by most to be the third most likely to win, so it’s not that crazy of a guess on my part, but we’ll see whether or not my somewhat risky choice pays off.)

**Also note: Logan for Best Adapted Screenplay is the only one where I chose my personal pick, rather than what I think is likely to win. This award will probably go to Call Me By Your Name, but I had to put at least one personal preference choice in here.

The McKoovies – “And the Winners Are….”

Nominees

Earlier this month, I announced the categories and nominees for The McKoovies, and now the time has come to announce the winners! Be sure to check out the nominees post (if you haven’t already) to learn what the categories are, who the nominees are, and how they were selected. And now, with no further ado, here are the winners:

unnamedBest Score – War for the Planet of the Apes – To be totally honest, I could probably copy much of what I said last week about the score of Black Panther and just paste it here. So I will: “Unlike many movies where the score is unnoticeable and forgettable, throughout pretty much the entire film I found myself amazed by how much the music enhanced what we were seeing on the screen.” To continue my streak of honesty, pretty much any time I see a movie where the score stands out to me, my thoughts tend to be along these lines. Apes just so happens to be the movie from last year that did this the best. This effect definitely holds up on rewatch – I watched it again a couple months ago and was again blown away by just much the score “enhanced” the on-screen events. It also doesn’t hurt that the composer is Michael Giacchino, a musical genius, who I consider to be one of the three best currently-working film composers, along with John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

thor-ragnarok-poster-mainBest Visuals – Thor: Ragnarok – I’ll admit, my choice here might be a little biased, but let me explain why I chose this film above the other contenders: pretty much the entire movie is an homage to the artwork of Jack Kirby (arguably the greatest, or at least most prolific and influential, American comic book artist who has ever lived). Most of the other nominees for this category had several visually stunning scenes (think of the hyperspeed destruction scene or the finale on the planet Crait in Star Wars, or the many of scenes on Ego’s planet in Guardians), but Ragnarok brings to life the zany and fantastical style of Jack Kirby with virtually every. single. frame. And it’s not simply that the movie pays tribute to a great artist, rather, it takes top-notch art from one medium and is able to nearly perfectly convert it to another medium. You’ll excuse me for comparing Kirby to these other legends, but imagine if a movie was able to successfully capture the look of art as distinctive as van Gogh’s or Picasso’s while still being believable within the world of the movie, and you may get a sense of what they were able to pull off here. Admittedly, the art of van Gogh and Picasso were much less realistic than Kirby’s, but Kirby still had a very bombastic style that would be difficult to faithfully adapt under many circumstances, and the fact that they pulled it off so well here is remarkable.

loganBest Acting in a Supporting Role – Dafne Keen as Laura in Logan – Dafne Keen’s acting in this film cannot be praised enough. More than any other Oscar category, I feel that Logan most deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Dafne’s work, and I was disappointed to see that she didn’t get one. (Best Adapted Screenplay isn’t bad, though). Not only does she display some of the best child acting this side of The Sixth Sense’s Haley Joel Osment, her work in this role was also some of the best acting this year, period. For one, she spends much of the movie silent (aside from rage-filled screams), and is still able to convey so much of her character and personality without needing to speak a single word. And when it’s finally revealed that her character can, in fact, speak, she peels back another layer of her character’s personality that we didn’t even know was there. Hugh Jackman may have been the star of Logan, but the film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did without Dafne Keen.

wonder-woman1Best Acting in a Lead Role – Gal Godot as Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman – There were a lot of skeptics when Gal Godot was originally cast in this role. As a former model whose biggest role was a supporting character in some of the Fast and the Furious movies, many people didn’t think that she could carry an entire film. They were certainly wrong. Wonder Woman is a delightful film for many reasons, but one of the biggest is Godot’s performance. For example, she’s completely believable as both someone who is a bad-@$$ warrior who can take on just about anything, as well as someone who runs across a street just to adore a cute baby. In my opinion, Gal Godot embodies Diana Prince in this film just as well as Robert Downey Jr. did as Tony Stark in the first Iron Man.

logan-poster-sunset-2Best Picture – Logan – This film is phenomenal. In my opinion, it’s the only other superhero film besides The Dark Knight to truly transcended the genre. Logan wasn’t just my overall favorite film of 2017, it has quickly become one of my favorite films of all time. Logan is more than just your typical superhero story of good vs. evil. It isn’t a story about Logan saving the world. It’s a story of Logan regaining his humanity, struggling with mortality, and learning what it truly means to have a family. Central to his experiences are the characters of Xavier, the father figure who refuses to give up on his wayward “son,” and Laura, who forces Logan take on an unwanted parental role, but also allows him to (finally) see the fulfillment that parenthood can bring. If the final bit of dialogue between Logan and Laura doesn’t bring tears to your eyes at the end of the film, I don’t know what will.

Nominations for this Year’s McKoovies Announced!

I love the Oscars. They are a great opportunity to celebrate the art of filmmaking and the magic of movies. I also love them because they make me aware of good films that I may have otherwise missed. However, one common complaint that many people have is that they rarely nominate “mainstream movies.” (Or, as some say, “why can’t they nominate movies that I’ve actually seen?”) While I’m happy with the Oscars staying the way that they are, I thought I’d take the chance this year to recognize some films that had a more widespread audience. Thus, I present: The McKoovies™.

The criteria for selection are pretty simple: in order to be nominated, a movie had to be one of the top 25 highest grossing films (domestically) in 2017. (For the curious, the complete list can be found here.) Of course, a disclaimer should be given that I have not seen all 25 of the highest grossing films last year, so it’s possible that I’ve left off a movie that deserved a nomination, but what’s a nominee list without some snubs? (Be sure to let me know your thoughts on which films deserved nominations, but didn’t get any.)

The five categories (and their explanations) are as follows:

  • Best Picture – Pretty self explanatory, this will be my favorite film of the year (from among the eligible nominees).
  • Best Acting in a Lead Role – Also pretty self-explanatory, this will be for whoever gave what I see as the best acting performance for a lead character.
  • Best Acting in a Supporting Role – Ditto but for a supporting character.
  • Best Visuals – This category encompasses almost every visual aspect of a film: cinematography, visual effects, costumes/makeup, production design, etc. In other words, if you were to mute the movie and ignore the acting and story, which film simply looks the most impressive?
  • Best Score – A film can get nominated for this in one of two ways: one, it can employ the score in such a way that significantly adds to the storytelling and overall feel of the film, and/or two, it can simply be a score that is amazing to listen to even when isolated from the film that it comes from. For example, had this year’s Power Rangers been eligible for nomination, its score would have likely gotten a score nomination (and possibly even a win) because even though the movie itself was pretty mediocre, its score is a blast to listen to (and might actually be the 2017 score I’ve listened to more than all others).

And the nominees are….

Best Score:

  • Coco
  • Dunkirk
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Wonder Woman

Best Visuals:

  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • The Lego Batman Movie
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Thor: Ragnarok

Best Acting in a Supporting Role:

  • Cate Blanchett as Hela in Thor: Ragnarok
  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Dafne Keen as Laura in Logan
  • James McAvoy as the various personalities of Kevin Wendell Crumb in Split
  • Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier in Logan

Best Acting in a Lead Role:

  • Gal Godot as Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman
  • Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Hugh Jackman as Logan in Logan
  • Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington in Get Out
  • Andy Serkis as Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Picture:

  • Coco
  • Logan
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Wonder Woman

Well, there you have ‘em. Be sure to let me know what you think of this list, and who you think should win! The winners will be announced some time in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Nominees

The McKoo Review Strikes Back

First off, thank you to everyone who continues to support and encourage my writing of movie reviews. I initially created this blog a couple years back with some pretty ambitious goals of posting updates on a frequent and fixed schedule. However, it didn’t take too long before the structure that I created for myself started to seem less like a fun way to talk about movies, and more like a burden that I had needlessly committed myself to. So I stopped maintaining this blog. I still wrote reviews from time to time on my personal Facebook page, but they pretty much just took the form of long Facebook posts. Many of you continued to support and interact with those, but from time to time, I’d get a comment that would say something like: “I finally saw [insert movie], and I wanted to go back a read your review, but I had to scroll through a month’s worth of posts just to find it. I wish there was a place where it would be easier for me to find specific reviews of yours.” Well, I have finally taken such feedback to heart, and I’m happy to say that I’m relaunching The McKoo Review.

This time around, rather than forcing myself to stick to a schedule with regular columns about specific topics, I’m going to use this simply as a platform to talk about movies when I have something to say. There may be times when I post multiple updates in a week, and there may be times when I don’t post any updates for several weeks. To make it easier to know when I post something (because who religiously checks up on blogs nowadays?), I’ve created a Facebook page specifically for my McKoo Review posts (found here), similar to the page that I run (now somewhat halfheartedly) for memes (shameless plug). I’ll still post some of my reviews on my regular/personal Facebook page (especially for the mainstream, blockbuster movies), but if you’re also interested in my commentary on the world of filmmaking in general, or my discussions of the more “artsy” or “prestige” type films (read: Oscar bait), be sure to follow the specific McKoo Review page on Facebook, as I won’t be posting everything to my personal page.

In the meantime, here’s something coming to the McKoo Review in the near future that you can watch out for – an announcement for my own personal categories and nominees for my own “best of” awards for the films of 2017! Look for the announcement of the categories, nominees, and winners as we get closer to Oscar time. I’m still trying to think of a name for my awards (I’m leaning toward “The McKoovies”), but I’m open to suggestions. Also, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll write a review for Black Panther in a couple weeks, so be sure to look out for that.

Until next time.

Jungle Book Review – SPOILER FREE (except where noted)

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tl;dr – Not only does this live-action remake far transcend the original, it’s also Disney’s best live-action remake of one of its animated films to date. Even if you didn’t like or have never seen the original cartoon, you can (and probably will) enjoy this movie. If you are a fan of the original, prepare to have your socks blown off, as this is arguably one of the greatest remakes ever made.

I should probably start by saying that while I grew up watching the original cartoon, it was never among my favorite Disney movies. It’s certainly enjoyable, but I wouldn’t consider it one of “The Greats.” However, in my opinion, this live-action version is Disney’s best “remake an animated movie into live-action” movie thus far.

Perhaps the most important discussion point: this movie is a technological marvel. If you didn’t know: this was filmed entirely in downtown LA on a studio set. With the exception of Mowgli, almost everything you see on the screen is CG. AND IT ALWAYS LOOKS COMPLETELY REAL. Unlike 2009’s Avatar (which I absolutely love, y’all haters can go ahead and start hating) which took us to an alien world that almost always looked “real” with completely fictional flora and fauna, this film transports up to the jungles of India, with realistic animals (albeit talking ones), and it ALL. LOOKS. AMAZING. This is one of the most visually stunning movies that I have ever seen. Last year the director said that this is the most technologically advanced film ever made, and after seeing it, I believe him. If you want to get the full experience of this movie, I *HIGHLY* recommend seeing it in 3D. Another brief comment about the visuals: I don’t know how they did it, but they actually somehow managed to make King Louie look like Christopher Walken and Baloo look like Bill Murray. I mean, they still looked like a real Orangutan and Bear and not some freakish hybrid, but I could see facial expressions from both of the two actors that I’ve seen them express in other movies when they are human. I feel this added an extra layer to their performance, and made the characters more expressive.

Speaking of actors, Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, deserves some kind of award. Not only did he make Mowgli an enjoyable and relatable character, he did it without virtually ANY of the visuals that you’ll see in the movie. Sure, he had some props and knew where to look and where to move, but none of the animals he interacts with are real. All of them were either puppets that got completely replaced with CGI, or were never there in any form to begin with. Unlike the original cartoon, where I felt like Mowgli was just the character that had things happen to him, Sethi’s portrayal of Mowgli is the irreplaceable center of this film and the instigator of most of the story, as opposed to the person that the story happens to. I especially liked how he was portrayed as a skilled problem solver, which emphasized one of his unique human characteristics.

Unlike Zootopia, which I felt repeatedly bashed the audience over the head with its (admittedly timely and relevant) message that accepting others for their differences is important, I felt that the message of this film was much more subtle, but just as present, which resulted in a significantly less preachy film. This movie recognizes that diversity is important and teaches that rather than trying to be something that you are not, you should just be you. This is shown especially when Mowgli realizes that he needs to stop trying to be a wolf, and accept that he is a man, and should embrace that part of himself (and quite literally is able to save the day when he does so). This movie is very much a coming-of-age tale, as Mowgli comes to learn exactly what it means to be human. However, the film also shows that though everyone may be different (in this case, numerous diverse species), it is only by overcoming our differences and working together that we can overcome the obstacles that threaten us. While this could have easily been expressed in a cheesy or preachy way, I felt that it was a completely natural part of the story, and at no time did I feel like the movie was delivering a sermon (which is something that Zootopia seemed to do multiple times).

The following section may contain some minor spoilers, but I’m just discussing two scenes from the cartoon that made it into this remake. If you don’t want to know anything about what was or wasn’t included from the cartoon, then you can skip to the next paragraph, but if you don’t care about knowing that some of the scenes from the cartoon are in this film, then read on: I feel I need to talk about the two musical numbers in this film. “Bare Necessities” felt like a completely natural part of the movie. It didn’t feel forced because it felt less like a scene from a musical, and more like two buddies just singing for fun (it felt kind of like the Misty Mountains song from the first Hobbit). I totally believed that those two characters would have sung that song at that time. Now, as much as I really really wanted to hear Christopher Walken sing “I Wanna Be Like You” when I went into this film, when the song finally happened, I felt like it didn’t really fit into the narrative. In isolation, I enjoyed the song, but within the context of this movie, it really felt shoehorned in. When someone who has zero familiarity with the animated film sees this scene, they’re probably going to be wondering why the heck King Louie is singing, and they’re right to wonder.

All-in-all, I feel like this is one of Disney’s best movies from recent years. I’d say it’s on the level with Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph (both of which I love), and it’s significantly better than some of Disney’s previous hits like Zootopia, Frozen, and Maleficent. If you are a fan of the family movie genre, then this movie is definitely worth watching. And if you are a fan of visually compelling cinematic experiences, I would say that you have to see this film and see it in 3D. I definitely plan on seeing this movie again, and I will probably buy it on Blu-ray when it comes out.

New SPIDER-MAN photos from CIVIL WAR are here, and they’re AMAZING

spider-man-captain-america-civil-war
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Marvel dropped a new set of photos of Spider-Man from the upcoming Captain America: Civil War today, and they are simply perfect. The full set of photos can be found here. My personal favorite is the somewhat stationary image of Spidey on the side of the building, simply because the pose that he takes looks as though is was ripped directly from a comic illustrated by Steve Ditko. Also, the Spider logo on the back in the fifth picture is much more similar to the comics than than I’ve ever seen (utilizing the very round red spider with stocky legs, rather than the more lifelike looking spider of the previous two iterations). This might be the most visually faithful adaptation of Spider-Man yet. (Is that a hint of web-pits I see in the third picture?) Lastly, while that last picture is mostly shrouded is shadow (pretty much only the eyes are prominent), the eyes almost seem more gold than white. Could this be a tease of the Iron Spider costume that fans have been hoping will pop up? Let me know what you think of these images in the comments below!