I usually have my review schedule booked out a few weeks. A number of factors come into play with what I write about. If possible, I don’t want to review too many blockbusters, too many horror movies, too many of the same thing. That sucks for you and it sucks for me. The vast majority of the time, I can find a way into my review. This week, I hit a wall. 

To explain, August 27 was National Cinema Day, an amusingly desperate attempt for theater owners to juice their meager profits by offering four dollar tickets to all shows. It worked pretty well since about 8.5 million people took them up on their offer. My kid and I were two of them. He opted to see Oppenheimer. Having seen that already, I decided to give Blue Beetle a try.

You know what? It was pretty good. And…that’s really all I got. I could write about the evolution of the superhero movie. I could write about the importance of representation. I could write about superhero fatigue. Hell, I could even write about the appearance of a beloved star slumming in order to pick up a presumably fat check. But I’ve done all of that already. All I can really tell you about Blue Beetle is that I liked it well enough, and it’s made with professionalism, humor, and no small degree of heart. But the wall prevents me from elaborating.

Is this wall created by depression? Burnout? A response to our seeming inability to deal with multiple climate crises, mass shootings, and political polarization? Maybe just low blood sugar? Probably all of the above. So how was I supposed to get over/under/around the wall? As so often happens, a child showed me the way, or in this case, a mouthy teenager.

At the beginning of 2023, I endeavored to learn Spanish.* My son Liam had a far smarter goal. He decided to try and watch 365 movies by the end of the year. As I write this on August 30, he’s watched 230. With each film, he’s given it a numerical score out of ten and at least a few sentences explaining himself. A few general thoughts regarding his list:

  • A few of his 10/10 films are The Guilty, Leaving Las Vegas, In the Heat of the Night, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The World’s End, Creed, Saving Mr. Banks,  Grave of the Fireflies, and The Nice Guys
  • A few of his…um…less beloved films are That’s My Boy, Suicide Squad, Legion of Super Heroes, The Lorax, and Dear Evan Hansen
  • Liam is a huge fan of Nicolas Cage in a non-ironic sense.
  • Liam is a huge fan of director Tony Scott. We were genuinely impressed by his final film Unstoppable.
  • Liam firmly believes Ryan Gosling can and should win Best Supporting Actor for his role as Ken in Barbie. I think he’s probably right.

What really matters about Liam’s yearlong project are three things. The first is that, unlike a distressingly large number of American adults, he’s learning critical thinking. When presented with a film, he judges it on its merits. He does so in a relatively evenhanded way, and he never goes out of his way to be mean for the sake of being mean. 

A large reason for that perspective is the video production classes he’s taken in high school. That educational experience has given him a taste of what the professionals do. He understands more than most that filmmaking is really goddamn hard. Making a movie is fundamentally more difficult than many of the things you’ll do in your life. Making a good movie, one that’s profound, intelligent, or only entertaining, is even harder. Nobody sets out to make a lousy movie. When a good one, a magical one, an iconic one is made, that’s a kind of miracle that only comes from inspiration, teamwork, and brute persistence.

Next, Liam was willing to take risks. One of the many banes of modern society is the idea that a movie has to be worth both our time and our money. When we operate in that context, we become enormously risk-averse. We shy away from watching something that’s outside of our comfort zone, something that might be sad, something “weird.” What did my kid do? Sure, there was a generous sprinkling of action, horror, and Batman-related films. He also watched a wrenching Japanese film about children dying by inches in the last days of World War II, a fiery drama about the leader of the Black Panthers and the man who betrayed him, and a classic Charlie Chaplin comedy from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Liam gets that it’s okay to dwell in your comfort zone, but when you stay there, you atrophy.

That brings me to the third and final point. These days, we’re trained to think of movies, books, music, and virtually all media as “content.” Content has no value beyond the ephemeral moment it lingers in the brain. Content doesn’t matter, and since it doesn’t matter, the efforts of the people who made the content don’t matter either. The prolonged strike involving the WGA and SAG-AFTRA illustrates that point, since the AMPTP** and the heads of studios are composed in large part of people who view film as content. That viewpoint means The Godfather is indistinguishable from Shrek. But Liam has learned differently. Ambulance has value. Sorry to Bother You has value. Hell, Scooby-Doo! and the Gourmet Ghost has value. He learned everything from MCU blockbusters to micro budget independent features is worth thoughtful consideration and carries emotional weight and value. 

There’s no reason you can’t do the same. I’m not saying that you should mainline cinema like a junkie Roger Ebert. I’m also not saying that every time you watch a movie, you need to bang out nine hundred words justifying your opinion. But when you appreciate the skill it took to bring your filmed entertainment to celluloid life, occasionally watch something outside the norm, and recognize that all movies matter, you’ll grow. Your intelligence will grow. Far more importantly, your empathy will grow. The sheer act of placing yourself into another person’s perspective can’t help but widen and deepen your worldview. It’s so easy to do. Liam did that. Go and do likewise.


*How’s that going? De mierda.

**Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.