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I find this system lets me use the whole 10-point scale evenly. The way I see it, you might as well just use a 4 or 5 star system if you almost always ignore the lower half of a 10-point scale.
My individual ratings in more detail:
1 - Absolute worst of the worst. Usually something that leaves me feeling soiled for having experienced it. F
2 - Really bad, hardly anything to redeem it. D-
3 - This seems to be my threshold for what I'd unequivocally call a bad, unwatchable movie. At this level and lower, I'll often find myself thinking or even exclaiming to myself "Man, this sucks." or "What a crappy movie!". D
4 - Below average. Tends to either be flat-out mediocre or too run-of-the-mill (a "ho-hum" movie), or something that has really good elements balanced out with major flaws (an "it's a mess, but an interesting mess" movie). I might or might not recommend it, and if I do, it would be with caveats/qualifiers. C-
5 - Slightly below average. Definitely worth watching, but perhaps not rewatchable. C or C+
6 - Slightly above average. Worth watching, and I would be glad to rewatch it. B- or B
7 - Somewhat above average, quite good. My differences from 7 to 9 are probably the most nebulous of anywhere on the scale: I might rate something 1 lower or higher if I had seen it in a different mood. That being said, my 7s are usually a step below my other favourites. B+
8 - Cream of the crop. Pretty interchangeable with a 9. A-
9 - Extremely good, with only a few drawbacks. A
10 - My 10s tend to have that little extra something that appeals to me personally, whether it be a thematic or stylistic element. A+
I'm more generous when it comes to ratings for TV shows/episodes, due to it being more difficult to sustain quality when telling multiple stories over a whole season, with higher constraints on time and budget and often with less creative freedom. So while a 5 for a movie is something I'd usually call 'pretty good', a 5 for a TV show is something I might say is not that great; I might watch it if it's on, but I wouldn't actively seek it out. I also try to make my TV episode ratings more consistent with each other within each series rather than between series.
Defending Your Life (1991)
I must have missed it when they passed the Kool-Aid around for this one
Defending Your Life has a somewhat promising concept: when you die, you have to defend your life in order to see if you "move onward" or have to return to Earth for a do-over. Unfortunately, it misses too many notes in the execution of this concept, and suffers from major problems of tone and balance between the comedy and the serious.
The workings of Judgement City, the trial process, and the afterlife as presented here don't make much sense from a logical standpoint (there are so many issues I had with it that I won't even go into them). Maybe we're meant to forgive the problems for comedy's sake, but the humour feels too sparse to do that. Some of it is effective, but many of the sight gags fall flat or just feel cheap. Or maybe the viewer is supposed to dwell on the inconsistencies and what profound meaning they might conceal from us "little-brains" (yet another perpetuation of that silly '10% of our brain' myth). Perhaps that works for others, but I find contemplating the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything to be dissonant with watching a guy in a white muumuu shuffle around in generic hotels and office complexes while making mildly clever quips and undergoing a sham of a 'trial'.
Brooks and Streep have pretty good chemistry, but their romance does feel superficial and a little rushed, and the ending where he overcomes his fears to come chasing after her is too pat.
Final summary: Uneven life-after-death film that fails both as a comedy and as an inspirational thought-provoker. 3/10 | D
Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
"The Coon Repertory Theatre of America"
Non-white actors and actresses have faced an uphill battle since the earliest days of cinema. Even today, other than a privileged few superstars, many minority actors struggle to find roles. When they do get cast, it's often in a very limited breadth of stereotypical roles - whether it be the Asian nerd, the Middle Eastern terrorist, or the black gangster/thug. Actors often have to weigh their ethical qualms at playing a role they find tactless (or even out-and-out racist) against the practical demands of paying the bills.
In Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend shows the African-American side of these difficulties in the story of aspiring actor Bobby Taylor in late-80s LA. Bobby's story is interspersed with fantasy sequences that address and parody various popular films and genres.
For an indie film, the visual look of Hollywood Shuffle is quite good. Apart from some actors playing multiple roles, you wouldn't think this had a budget barely over five figures. I certainly respect anyone who would self-fund a movie the way Townsend did, especially to draw attention to an important social issue such as this. However, the movie suffers from several problems. The balance of comedy and seriousness seems skewed, and the writing often seems very ham-handed and uneven. Many of the fantasy sequences are too long and drawn-out, and Bobby's story seems to suffer for it, feeling too simple and rushed. It feels like Townsend couldn't decide between two types of movie - one a silly comedic satire lampooning Hollywood from a black perspective, and the other a more serious story with a more wry sense of humour derived from his real experiences as a struggling actor - and so he just tried to make both (but succeeded at neither).
Much of the movie seems like it would have been dated even at the time it was released. It feels like it would have been more at place if released five to ten years earlier, with references to Superman, Rambo, Dirty Harry, Roots and the jive-talking' blaxploitation genre that was so popular in the 70s (but, as far as I know, was long-dead by 1987). Perhaps this dated feeling is because of the big shift that was about to took place in the late 80s and early. Hip hop was growing and maturing into a real mainstream force, TV shows like In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were soon to become huge hits, and more nuanced portrayals of urban black life like Do the Right Thing and Boyz n the Hood were in the pipeline. Now that's not to say that these new portrayals and perceptions of black characters and life weren't without their own particular problems - just that much of what Hollywood Shuffle presented feels like it would have been irrelevant by then.
Overall, I agree with some of the other reviewers in the use of the word "uneven". I'd like to give it more credit for its ambition and guts, but it seems like it didn't really have much effect on things.
Final summary: 4/10 | C-
Life in a Day (2011)
Just another extraordinary day
By its very nature, Life in a Day is an ambitious film. It seeks to encapsulate the human experience and all that it entails: life and death; love and hate; poverty and wealth; our dreams and our fears; and so on. I would argue that it does so successfully - or at least as successfully as possible for an undertaking of such scope (80,000 submissions totalling 4,500 hours of footage cut down to just an hour and a half!). It manages to strike a balance between the beauty of professional shooting and the raw visceral power of amateur footage. Very little seems contrived or awkward, and the editing and music do not usually distract from the simple energy of the vignettes being shown. In fact, the score is quite good and the editing only comes to the forefront when it's doing something meaningful - revealing links, emphasizing contrasts, or completing a thought.
A few stories are highlighted and revisited as the film progresses, but in general it never lingers too long on one scene. You would think this might hinder the presentation of some of the slower, more peaceful aspects of life, but it really doesn't. In fact, the lasting impression from this film is not one of chaos but one of unity and connection. That being said, at times the emotional roller-coaster you are being put through can be slightly bewildering. Some viewers might dislike how quickly they are brought from one emotion to another, but most will probably be too engaged to feel more than a twinge of regret that a particular scene couldn't last longer.
Some might argue that the more brutal realities of life are underrepresented (war, death, crime, prejudice, etc.), but I think that perception is probably due to how much we are bombarded with them by our daily news and entertainment. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of misery on display here (whether it be as simple as the sting of rejection or as profound as the fear of dying), but it's often more subtle than explicit and it's tempered by a positivity that sometimes seems to be lacking in our view of the world.
As a cinema enthusiast, this film excites me with the prospect of increasing interactivity and grassroots power. As a human, it gives me hope that we can live in harmony and understanding. And I'm usually quite the cynic.
Final summary: 9/10 | A