Harsh Times For Movie Fans

30 May

Here’s why you should never trust movie critics against your own gut feeling. I just watched Thor, a comic book-based movie, which was great, and Harsh Times, a gritty street movie with Christian Bale and a social message, which sucked.

Some things just work. Kick butt special effects, great fighting, old guys with British accents in armor. You’ll probably enjoy a movie with these things in them. On the other hand, a movie trying to shock you with it’s ‘realness’ has to be original and done very well for you to get anything out of it.

Harsh Times just wasn’t. 20 minutes into the movie, I was already waiting for the troubled white hero to be killed and make his socially conscious point. That pretty much kills any shock value that’s supposed to come across. (Listen up, 127 hours. You can learn something here too.)

I blame Crash for this. Ever since Crash executed this script well, every idiot with a message is trying to follow it and enlighten us. So we got Harry Brown, Training Day, Street Kings, Brooklyn’s Finest, and the newest one, Biutiful. All these fail to a greater or lesser extent, for the same reason. In the attempt to show us how ‘real’ they are, they go over the line and actually become unrealistic. The trailer for Biutiful just leaves you thinking, That is so fucked up. What kind of hell-hole planet do these people live on? Do they have souls there?

The main problem with these uber-gritty message movies is that the director has a psychological message he’s trying to enlighten us with, but is afraid to place it in a middle-class scenario he’s comfortable with because that would make him seem whiny and weak. So instead of the other kids calling him a homo for having feelings, he takes the most brutal setting he can imagine, and fits his message in there.

Of course, he does his research on these neighborhoods and puts in the most gritty stories he can pick up from the locals so the critics are forced to rave about it. They don’t want to be seen as being too lowbrow to not ‘get’ the artistic value of the film. But, like Quentin Tarantino movies, the more something is divorced from reality, the less emotional impact it has. The best it can hope for is to deliver a voyeuristic thrill with the few scenes that replay the most realistic stories the director has gathered. (These are actually very good in Harsh Times. Much more poignant and realistic than in Training Day and other clones, in my opinion.) As a full, continuous movie, though, it fails to keep the audience’s interest.

This last point, contrary to those who drone on and on about artistic value, is what a full length movie brings to the table. If I want to see cool clips, I’ll go to youtube. The only time I pay $9 and sit down to watch something for two hours is when I want to be drawn in by a great story acted out on screen. And of course when I have nothing else to do.

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