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Be careful of getting reeled in

Catfish: Rates a C-.
Courtesy photo

Movie critics can be such idiots; and audiences can be, too.

I’ve read so many critics over the years use the phrase, “I don’t want to ruin the surprise twist,” not realizing that just by writing that, you’re giving away the twist to some extent.

I don’t have much sympathy for the reader that stumbles across this because you know what you should be doing? Not reading reviews before you see a film. They will be giving away lots of moments that you should experience for the first time.

You should merely glance at the grade the movie is given, or check Web sites that have a general consensus on a picture you might be interested in. If it’s getting positive reviews, check it out. Then enjoy the fun of reading the reviews, and discovering something you may not have considered. Or disagreeing completely, or calling the friend you saw the movie with and saying “Did you realize that Kaiser Soze was Kevin Spacey?”

Now, all that being explained – Catfish would’ve been the coolest documentary ever released; had it come out in 1997.

The problem is, it’s out now. We just got through this big debacle about whether or not the Joaquin Phoenix documentary I’m Still Here was real (it was fake).

Months before that, it was Exit Through the Gift Shop – a great documentary that starts out being about graffiti artist Banksy, but veers into a story about an artist that copies him (in what I think is completely fabricated to trick the audience and have you questioning “what is art?”).

Now, if you’ve come this far, you aren’t concerned whether or not I may ruin something in this documentary; or you already saw it. So let’s continue.

(that was my way of saying SPOILER).

The movie is about a photographer in his mid-20s in New York, who is sent a painting by 9-year-old Abby. She painted a picture he took of a ballet dancer that appeared in the paper. It’s an amazing painting, and they start to correspond.

He quickly becomes friends with her mom, and they have a few phone conversations. Abby’s brother is in a rock band, and sends a T-shirt with their logo.

They all become friends on Facebook (perfect timing, with Social Network coming out, too). He is enjoying this “cyber family” and even more so when the 19-year-old sister “friend requests” him. They soon develop a romance.

The photographers brother starts filming the proceeds (which don’t include much – the opening of packages with the latest painting, close-ups of a computer screen, listening to songs the new love interest has written him, etc.).

Things quickly start to go wrong, when a Google check reveals some inaccuracies in the story of this family.

My first question at this point was – why didn’t they Google earlier? Any topic or person I’m remotely interested in I Google.

And, as a teenager when I heard about 976 phone sex numbers, I immediately wondered how anyone would know if the person on the other line wasn’t some hideously disgusting person that just had a nice voice? (don’t get me wrong…I didn’t wonder that before making the call. The $1.95 a minute was enough of a deterrent).

When computers started to get popular and dating services cropped up, I immediately asked people how you would know that “Russian bride” really looked like that before having the crate shipped over?

I then realized another thing. If this was all real, the filmmakers obviously went back to film some of these things. They didn’t just decide to make a documentary about this guy and his cyber family, until after the lies started piling up.

If it’s real all the way through (the filmmakers claim it is and the only recreations were of the close-up shots of the computer conversations), then I have a problem with the exploitation of children that are in this movie (I won’t tell you more about them, as that would spoil some interesting aspects of the film).

I usually complain that movie trailers give away too much of the movie. With this film, I was bothered that they billed it as a horror picture. You hear creepy music, and see a character looking into a window and being shocked by what he sees. Immediately, a quote comes on the screen about “Hitchcock.” There’s nothing about this that reminds me of Hitchcock. It’s more like Will Smith’s Hitch.

If this whole thing is real (and again, I doubt it is), these three guys might be the stupidest young men on the planet.

They didn’t anticipate some things they should’ve, and seem clueless about other types of etiquette.

They reminded me of the types of guys that throw money at dancers in a strip club and shout to one another “I think she likes me!” (not that I frequent strip clubs – I’m against anything that exploits naked women :-)

Now, someone may ask – if you know a documentary is fake, can you still enjoy it? Well, that depends. Had I know the Joaquin Phoenix movie was fake, I wouldn’t have even bothered seeing it. As I was watching it, parts of it I enjoyed.

Michael Moore does documentaries that have many fictional elements. He cuts things out of sequence to make people in it appear to have reactions they didn’t to questions they were asked. He changes dates, and fabricates a lot. People find his movies enjoyable. Hell, he’s won Oscars in the category.

I’m not sure what the Oscars are even going to do this year with all these documentaries being fake. It’s this weird era of “reality TV” that has seemingly creeped into film making. It’s a trend that I really hope ends soon.

Filmmakers should perhaps spend time in film school. Watch the classics, go to classes, and don’t just think because you have a handheld camera you can do this guerilla style filmmaking. It worked with The Blair Witch Project but remember – they actually had a script. And they were the first to do this faux documentary.

The Last Exorcism, which I can’t recommend enough – also had a story. And it didn’t pretend to be real. It was just filmed as if it was a documentary on a preacher that’s lost his faith and may have stumbled across a real girl in need of an exorcism.

Having all those angry thoughts towards this movie while I watched it, I still found it to be a compelling drama at times.

There’s a man that is a bit slow at the end, who spouts off some sage advice (and gives us the explanation for why the movie is called Catfish); but if I had caught this without knowing anything about it – I would debate whether or not to throw it back. It’s a fish that is leaving a bad after-taste in my mouth.

I’m giving it a C-.