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A Reviewer Who Avoids Reviews

Several weeks ago I was in New York City and saw a movie that I knew wouldn’t open in Buffalo for weeks.

It was a documentary called “Searching for Sugar Man.” My companion (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase) and I didn’t really know anything about it other than it was playing at our favorite movie house on West 62nd Street and it was raining outside.

The first few minutes of the movie about a Detroit singer named Rodriguez — who was supposed to be the next Dylan decades ago — were a little slow.

However, the movie became mesmerizing as the tale continued of a guy whose records were a flop on the States but became a big deal in South Africa in the 1970s. Music executives and fans who didn’t know if Rodriguez was dead or alive spun the incredible story.

If I had known his fate, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the film as much.

I bring this up before revealing a dirty little secret: I don’t read reviews before I see anything.

The primary reason is I want to go into TV shows or movies without knowing what is going to happen to experience everything as a reviewer would — purely without knowing if the Dark Knight, Timothy Green, The Master or Liam Neeson survive or how they do.  


This may seem odd to read from a guy who has reviewing TV shows for 30 years. But in my reviews, I try to avoid giving out so-called spoilers and doing play-by-play.

I tell my students in my media criticism class to ask themselves if they would want to know the plot twists or who lives or dies in a movie or TV show before they see it.

Too often, reviewers serve as play-by-play men or women who tell readers how they felt as they reveal details that were best avoided.

That’s partly because reviewers aren’t given binders full of material or a course on how to do their job. I don’t think I had one conversation with a fellow reviewer at the Buffalo News about the best way to review TV shows or films before the public gets to see them.

That was a mistake.

I did read the Buffalo News review of “Searching” that ran last week and want to compliment reviewer Melinda Miller’s refusal to reveal details about the movie that viewers would rather learn themselves. It was an excellent review that described what the movie was about and why it was so compelling without giving out too many details.

Of course, it is just about impossible to keep anything secret these days. As Miller noted, “Searching” was the subject of a recent “60 Minutes” story by Bob Simon. It was an excellent piece that explained what the film has done to Rodriguez’s legacy and was certain to draw more people to the film. But I was glad I saw the film before I saw “60 Minutes.”

Of course, reviews aren’t the only way that details are revealed. They also are revealed in promos for the films.

Last weekend, I saw the new Ben Affleck flick “Argo” about the CIA invention of a fake movie to be filmed in Iran as cover for the rescue of six Americans who had been hidden in a Canadian Embassy during the hostage crisis more than three decades ago. I attended it without reading the local review.

The movie has been promoted for weeks. The promotions included some of the best lines in the film. Check that. They included all of the best lines in the film that didn’t include the F word.

I wish I hadn’t heard the lines from actors John Goodman and Alan Arkin before I saw the film because they probably would have been funnier to me if I had experienced them for the first time in the theater.

Of course, I knew how the rescue film was going to end because it was based on real events. The least I could have hoped for is the best lines had been saved from the promos.

I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie and highly recommend you see it this weekend if you haven’t already. But the failure to save the best lines was enough to make me almost use the F word leaving the theater.

I hope you don’t have to use that word too often when you read my reviews if I accidentally tell some things that you probably don’t want to know.

Speaking of the movies,  the Buffalo Bills may have lost another one. According to the website Deadline, Paramount has put the proposed Kevin Costner flick “Draft Day,” which is getting a lot of local media attention, in “turnaround,” which means it doesn’t plan to make it any time soon and another studio can grab it. Costner was to play the Bills general manager in the film that was to be directed by Ivan Reitman of “Ghostbusters” fame. According to Deadline, Paramount put it into turnaround because of the busy schedules of Costner and Reitman and it doesn’t necessarily mean it has given up on it.  One of my former students tipped me off to the website story.



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