When Good Report Fails

I’ve always been a big fan of the last line of the thirteenth Article of Faith — “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

So lists, reviews, and recommendations are very important to me when I’m looking for something to watch or read. I’ve been working my way through both the Criterion Collection list and the IMDB list of Top 250 Films under the theory that those lists qualify as good report and praise.

Which is not to say that I blindly accept such recommendations. We can (and should) quibble about what properly constitutes virtue, loveliness, and worthy praise, and I love to see different arguments from different people operating under different assumptions.

Still, as a baseline of good report, the large sample size for the IMDB list and artistic qualifications of the Criterion Collection jury seem like reasonable aggregators of initial praise. The films that appear on both lists are all but guaranteed to be worthy (not unlike sf stories that appear on the ballots for both the Hugo and Nebula awards).

So far it’s worked out pretty well. I’ve seen quite a few films I would never have sought otherwise, that use narrative approaches or settings or conflicts that normally wouldn’t engage my interest. Some appealed on an artistic level; others on a thematic level; others as just plain entertaining. And some didn’t appeal at all, but at least I could see the draw for others.

A good and useful filter. Right up until it completely failed me on three out of five films.

Even that wouldn’t have bothered me except that the last recommendation failed me so spectacularly. Not only did the film not engage or entertain, it actively annoyed me with its shallow treatment, weak characters, lack of thematic depth, and hackneyed, tired presentation. Production and acting were as good as could be hoped for from a star-studded cast, but could not rescue a (for me) disastrous script.

On a film that Roger Ebert gave three and a half (out of four) stars and that even earned a seventy-five percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In other words, plenty of good report and praise, but something I found neither virtuous nor lovely.

After the fact I found a fair number of critical reviews that saw the film the same way I did. After about three hours or research and reading, I found a significant rift right along the lines that bugged me so much. Unfortunately, the film itself was only about two hours long, so the cost of that research was simply too high.

I guess no system is perfect; the only truly effective test is trial and error. Still, it’s useful to get as many qualified opinions as possible to narrow the list up-front.

What are your favorite unheralded books, stories, or films—in any genre, not just Mormon? What are some works that have received bad report that you think are worthy of praise? What would you warn against despite good report, and why?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh, and the film that so disappointed me was The Road with Viggo Mortensen, based on a book by Cormac McCarthy. Interestingly, it no longer appears on the IMDB Top 250 list. If only I’d waited just a little longer…

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4 Responses to When Good Report Fails

  1. Wm says:

    That’s a tough one. I usually consume stuff that people I know or don’t know but trust their critical opinion have said good things about. Oh, there’s this:

    I quite liked the Napoleon Dynamite animated series.

  2. Th. says:


    I haven’t watched it in years, but one of my favorite unheralded films is the grand flop Radioland Murders. I’ve seen it easily a dozen times. But not in almost a dozen years. I’m nervous, now, about trying it again.

  3. Jonathan Langford says:

    A Book Dragon, by Donn Kushner, and The Throme of the Erril of Sherill, by Patricia McKillip. Both short books I went gaga over, but others have not found so engaging, alas…

    Flipside: Lord of the Flies, The Red Badge of Courage, and Catcher in the Rye, all books that left me not merely cold but nigh on passing out from hypothermia.

  4. Talkgirl says:

    If there is a movie I can watch with my teenage sons by my side, even if it’s not perfect- and we can discuss it and all walk away having been moved by it, I consider that a huge success. I would really have to break down my years to give you a list of a lot of these, but in the past year or two a few come to my mind-

    Life of Pi
    We Bought a Zoo (which surprised me by how much it moved me)
    The Impossible
    The Help
    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

    strangely- my boys are very drawn to the movie Charlie St. Cloud, although I can’t say it is really on my list of amazing experiences. They found it moving and talked about it a lot, and watched it a few times while we had it.

    I tend to enjoy movies with a little more meat- and yet I prefer edited versions myself. because of that, recent TV edits had us DVR-ing the following for me and my hubby to watch – my kids may or may not have viewed one or two of these as well :-) (don’t judge me people!)

    Gran Torino
    Green Mile

    Books are tougher. I like warm fuzzy books that make me cry but leave feeling like I need a higher power. I tend to be a romantic-and let’s face it…I’m a girl

    a few that stick out to me

    Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
    Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel pie Society
    The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye
    The Elegance of the Hedgehog
    School of Essential Ingredients
    again- I gotta throw in Life of Pi
    of course, C.S. Lewis is a must in the yearly books of reading wishes

    in YA I pretty much think everyone should read the book
    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    and I love the book Out of The Dust by Karen Hesse

    I could go on and on and on given more time- but I won’t. These are just a few picks from my little world of being entertained

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