Eric’s Sack of Mail: random questions, M. Night, Jamie Foxx, theory & law, crying & eating

It’s time for another edition of Eric’s Sack of Mail, where I respond to e-mails I’ve gotten that were neither angry, stupid or ill-conceived.

First up is Mike, who often send me e-mails just to hear himself talk, I think. He asks:

With all the movies you watch, do you ever get completely sick of movies? Are you still able to watch movies for fun, or does that feel too much like work? Are there ever major-release movies that you skip because you just know they’re going to be awful and you’ve seen too much crap recently?

I answer, in order:

With all the movies you watch, do you ever get completely sick of movies?

Not really. I suppose there’s a day every now and then when I don’t really feel like watching anything, but I reckon that’s true of most jobs and hobbies. Even a die-hard golfer probably has the occasional day where he’s just not in the mood.

Are you still able to watch movies for fun, or does that feel too much like work?

Well, even when I’m “working” (i.e., I have to write a review), it’s still fun to watch the movie, or at least it’s as fun as the movie itself allows it to be. That is, I don’t have the attitude of “I’m going to work” when I go to a screening; I’m going to the movies! And movies are fun! (Except when they aren’t.)

But I get what you’re asking: Do I watch movies in my spare time, with no obligation to write a review? And the answer is yes. I wish I had time to do it more often, in fact, but the new releases keep me pretty busy. I regularly scan Turner Classic Movies and the Independent Film Channel to see what’s coming up that I haven’t seen before, and my TiVo is full of movies to watch. If one of the local theaters is showing something of interest, I’ll go catch that, too, as when I saw the Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple” a few months back, or the newly restored print of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that’s been making the rounds. And I confess to watching most of “Tommy Boy” a few weeks ago when I only meant to check out the DVD extras.

Are there ever major-release movies that you skip because you just know they’re going to be awful and you’ve seen too much crap recently?

No sir. I look at it this way: How can I accurately compile my Best and Worst Movies lists at the end of the year if I haven’t seen all the contenders?

When something looks awful, I actually kind of look forward to it. The negative reviews are fun to write, and sitting through a bad movie with colleagues can be enjoyable, too. It’s like we’re survivors who endured a horrible tragedy together. It bonds us together and makes us stronger.

That said, I almost always think the bad movie is going to be more fun than it really is. It’s like being given a chocolate cake and thinking, “I’m going to eat this ENTIRE cake! It will be sinfully delicious and so bad for me, and I’ll probably feel sick afterward, but it will be FUN!” And then afterward you’re like, “Holy crap, what was I THINKING? Why did I DO that? Why do I do this to myself?”

I’d be more likely to skip a movie that I knew was going to be C-grade — not good enough to be recommendable but not bad enough to be hateworthy. A movie like that, that inspires no strong feelings one way or the other, is 1) very hard to write about and 2) probably going to be forgotten by everyone in a couple months anyway.

But I try not to skip anything at all, because I’m a completist and I figure it’s my job. It’s what I do.

Speaking of movie reviews (which we just were), someone allegedly named J-dawg wrote in with this question several weeks back:

Do you notice critic’s responses to movies you haven’t yet seen? If yes, can you discern whether or not they affect you?

The agenda behind my questions is that I wonder whether M. Night [Shyamalan]’s recent movies have been “meta-criticized” (for lack of a better term) — in other words, critics seem to be influenced by other critics’ comments (in his case, to his detriment) more than is the case w/ a regular movie. I just worry that he is not getting the same level of objectivity — whatever that actually means. (Perhaps there are other external factors, like his reputation as preachy, self-righteous, egocentrical etc.)

I love all of M. Night’s major productions, and I might not be credible because I can tell that I really want to like them. I give him a huge benefit of the doubt, and I hate to see him lambasted by the critics. At least he is doing something interesting that will be seen by the mainstream of Americans, whereas all the other interesting directors seem relegated to smaller venues.

Anyway, any thoughts?

A most intriguing question. In general, no, I don’t notice other critics’ responses to movies. The reason is simple: We’re usually all seeing the movie within a couple days of each other and not publishing our reviews until opening day. So we don’t know what our fellow critics think until we read their reviews, usually the same day our own are published.

This is a common misconception, I think. People think critics will all jump on the bandwagon, but the fact is, we’re usually seeing everything at the same time. In the case of some art films, which open in NYC and LA and then spread out, yes, there can be some bandwagon-jumping at times. But for an ordinary wide release, opening everywhere at once? Nope.

(For the record, in cases where I am reviewing a movie for which reviews are already available, I don’t read any of them until I’ve written mine.)

As for Shyamalan, it really wasn’t until “The Village” that critics in general stopped liking him. You always had a few who hated him, who found him self-indulgent. But overall, “Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs” were well-received.

A lot of people (critics and viewers alike) HATED “The Village,” though, and it’s possible some critics started to rethink their favorable views toward his earlier films. Are critics eager to hate “Lady in the Water”? I dunno, some, maybe. But there are lots of filmmakers who are not generally well-regarded among critics, where critics salivate at the chance to pick them apart. It’s true of any filmmaker who is different or unusual in any way: Some people love him and some people hate him.

Next: A fellow named Adam wrote in with a Foxx-related question:

I’ve read several of your reviews where mention being surprised that Jamie Foxx was as good as he was (Any Given Sunday, Collateral, Ray).

I haven’t come accross any yet where you actually found him annoying. Could you point me to a few of his movies which initially caused you to “dislike him with a strong, violent passion?” [See the “Collateral” review for the genesis of that quotation.] I guess I’ve only seen the “good” version of him.

“Held Up” and “Bait” would be good examples of the annoying Jamie Foxx. My initial impressions of him were mostly formed from seeing him on television, though, particularly “In Living Color.” I cringe just remembering it.

Moving on, we come to Matt, who writes very thoughtfully on the semantics involved in the global warming and evolution debates.

I’ve read your stuff for years and though I’ve often been tempted to send an email, I’ve never been able to muster enough gumption. I do have a comment about this global warming debate that has rankled me just enough to open this window and write something in it.

I just have two points to make, and you can do whatever you like with them.

Point 1: In one of the letters you received concerning the controversy, a writer said that global warming is “just a theory,” and hasn’t “passed the scientific test to become a law.” This statement, used over and over again in letters to the editor to talk about things like global warming and evolution, is just plain ignorant. In science, [if something is] a “theory,” [that means it] has passed the scientific test, most times over and over again. Folks outside of the science community often confuse the term “theory” with “hypothesis” (remember learning about the scientific method in high school?) and think that it’s just something that was dreamt up by a liberal scientist in an office.

More on the semantics of the word “theory”: a theory is something to explain something that has been decided by the scientific community to be irrefutable fact. Theories regarding, say, dinosaurs don’t hypothesize the existence of dinosaurs, but seek to explain different aspects of their lives. Evolution is the same thing. When someone talks about the “theory of evolution,” they are assuming that evolution is a comfirmed fact, so they use a theory like natural selection to explain it.

When scientists talk about theories in conjunction with global warming, they are observing the phenomenon and seeking to explain it. The controversy, therefore, isn’t that the earth is warming up (that’s considered a fact) but what is causing it, if it’s caused by humans, and if there’s anything we can do about it. There’s plenty of room here for debate, and scientists, contrary to what a lot of right-wing folks like to think, LOVE to disagree with one another. That’s how they make a name for themselves.

Point 2: (hopefully shorter) The word law, as in “the law of gravity,” is treated by these same folks as some kind of ironclad thing. Gravity must exist because that word “law” is in there somewhere. Newton’s law of gravity, though, while elegant and easy to understand and effective enough to send rockets to the moon and back, isn’t the best explanation of gravity. Einstein came up with a better one that holds up on super small levels where Newton’s falls apart. Yet Einstein’s explanation is called a theory and Newton’s a law.

All I’m really trying to say is that dismissing Global Warming as “just a theory” is one of the dumbest arguments you can make. It disregards decades of grueling data collection, analysis and interpretation and drives scientists crazy.

Hope you loved it.

I loved it immensely. You make some points I had not considered before, being a non-scientific layperson type myself.

And finally, speaking of loving things, a reader named Joshua wrote in to say this:

In response to your [“Snide Remarks”] comment — “The serving sizes on junk food are always ridiculous. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s is allegedly four servings, but I’ve often eaten the entire thing in one sitting, usually while watching TV and sometimes while crying.” I thought you might be interested in this website if you haven’t already seen it: Crying While Eating.

I had not seen Crying While Eating before, and I am forever grateful that you have shown it to me. I urge everyone to visit this site at once and behold its absurdist glory. You will find many 30-second viewer-submitted video clips in which people cry while eating (or eat while crying). Each clip is labeled with what the participants are eating and an explanation of why they are crying. The deconstructionist in me wants to tell you why, exactly, some of these clips are so pants-wettingly funny to me, but I won’t spoil the magic by analyzing it.

Thus another edition of Eric’s Sack of Mail comes to a close. Your questions and comments are always welcome, and every single one is read by me personally, except for the boring ones, which I have the Laotian kids in the sweatshop decipher for me.