Thursday, July 17, 2014

Faint praise

I can't believe I've had a movie blog for five-and-a-half years, and according to a search I just did, have yet to invoke the movie Money Train.

I never saw the Wesley Snipes-Woody Harrelson-Jennifer Lopez vehicle from 1995, but that doesn't prevent it from holding a place in movie lore amongst my friends. The reason a movie we didn't see has endured in our memories for 20 years is because of a hilarious quote from a critic, highlighted in one of the ads. This critic dubbed the movie "the funniest thrill ride of the holiday season." The reason that's funny, of course, is because it was probably the only thrill ride of that holiday season that was intended to be funny -- or possibly the only thrill ride, period.

I was reminded of Money Train at the video store on Tuesday night, when I saw a movie on the new release shelf called The Machine. Its cover piqued my interest.

Genuine interest was replaced by derisive guffawing when I saw the quote emblazoned across the top:

"One Of The Top 12 Must See Sci Fi Films Of 2014"

Let's set aside the fact that words like "the" and "of" should not be capitalized -- that's funny, but not funny enough to write a post about. It's the specificity of the praise that I find so humorous.

It's not quite as specific as the Money Train critigasm, since there will undoubtedly be more than 12 sci-fi films in 2014. But there won't be a lot more than 12. If you are one of the best 12 sci-fi films out of 14 total, that's not really saying much. (Sci-fi is a genre with fuzzy boundaries, so you can debate how many films are really sci-fi and how many are just classified as such.)

What clearly seems to be the case is that London Film Review listed this film as a sci-fi film to look out for in 2014, on some kind of special segment devoted to upcoming sci-fi films. In fact, it seems most likely that they listed exactly 12 films, and that The Machine was either #11 or #12. Otherwise, it would be one of the top 10, right?

Well, this doesn't have to be theoretical ... I do have something called the internet that can help me out on this.

Indeed, The Machine is #11 on this list, though to be fair, I can't tell if the movies are ranked in order. While Interstellar seems like a logical #1, it's harder to fathom Transcendence as #2. Except for the fact that it's easy to say a movie is bad after it has already opened, not nearly so easy before the reviews are out ... and that a British publication might award the #2 spot to countryman Christopher Nolan's regular DP Wally Pfister, making his directorial debut with Transcendence.

The Machine gets some points for being by far the most obscure title on the list ... but then loses some by virtue of the fact that it is, in fact, a British film, and therefore the beneficiary of more homerism by the Brits.

Consider the source, I guess.

Once I know more about what this piece is, though, it makes the choice to include it on the cover of the video all the more puzzling. The piece was published on January 3rd of this year, meaning that the film had not yet been released, and so all the author was really doing was guessing it might be good -- giving his readers something to keep on their radars. Sure, the movie won an award at a film festival in 2013 -- Raindance, which is obviously some play on Sundance, and is also a British institution -- but clearly the author himself had not seen the movie, so anything he offered in the way of publicity was pure speculation.

The funniest aspect of this, though, is that The Machine is 77% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so there's actually legitimate video box praise out there to be had. Legitimate praise would seem to be a lot more useful than highlighting that some hack (hack being another word for "journalist," but its other meaning may also apply) had chosen to include this in a list of notable science fiction films for 2014.

If you glance a little further down, Fangoria did call it "Massively cool" ... so I guess there's that.

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