Aaron Neuwirth is the creator of The Code is Zeek, the winner of this year’s Rorschach Award for Theater Junkie and another one of my new favorite reviewers. I’ve been meaning to post this interview for some time, but with classes starting up and the challenge of my new goal of reviewing every major release of 2013 I forgot that I had not actually posted it yet. In any case, check out some of Aaron’s most recent reviews for Texas Chainsaw 3D, The Impossible and Les Miserables.
Rorschach Reviews: Who or what was the biggest influence in your decision to start your own movie review blog?
Aaron Neuwirth: Well, I was on the movie site Flixster, since it had first started up, but as I continued to read work from other journalists and movie bloggers and realized my own writing was expanding beyond what I was comfortable with, when it came to filling in a specific text box, I decided it was time to do something more personal that I was in control of. So I guess it was influenced by my appreciation for what other people with similar tastes and writing styles I admired were doing with their own work, which prompted me to do something similar as well. Starting my own blog also happened around the same time that I started to do review work for the site WhySoBlu.com, which I would say was a fair influence as well, because I wanted to have a way to keep track of my work and manage it on my own, while submitting it to another website. Since then, the purpose of my blog has somewhat changed, but these factors were the early influence.
RR: How did your name originate?
AN: The Code is Zeek has a hazy origin that kind of makes sense to people that are close to me. I use Zeek as an alias in most usernames, gamer tags, etc. and while trying to think of a name for my blog, I just randomly thought of the phrase ‘The Code Is Zeek’, as if it were a neat way to access a cool club or something.
RR: Nice, I did the same thing for a while with my XBOX Live gamertag, R361N4, but ended up not using it for the blog because most people don’t automatically understand hackzorz. What would you say have been the most challenging parts of creating and maintaining your blog, and what would you say has been the most rewarding?
AN: The most challenging part has been trying to find a style and layout that I am comfortable with and feel is the best and most accessible way for people to access my blog. I keep tinkering with the layout and trying to think of new ways to give it a little something extra, without it seeming too cluttered or too difficult to navigate. This is especially apparent when I want to create entire new sections, but have to pull in so many old links to get it to work right. It is much easier to update as I go, but getting something initially started can be taxing.
Having said that, the most rewarding part is that I am generally pleased with the look each time I tinker with it, as it looks more and more like the site I can be happiest with. The fact that I seem to pull in traffic for the site is my best indication that must be doing something right, I just wish I’d get more comments for my posts.
RR: The tinkering is more than visible in your site’s layout, it looks great. I completely understand the desire for more comments, part of that could be attributed to the in-congruence of WordPress blogs and Blogspot blogs. Between web traffic, comments per post, “likes” per post and more, do you have any goals that you are working towards on the statistical side of your site?
AN: Well, I mean the ultimate goal would be to continue generating more traffic and gain new followers. Getting the support to keep doing what I doing is certainly very encouraging, even though I already do love what it is that I do. That said, I would also hope that I could eventually achieve getting people, readers, etc. to be more involved on a conversational level in the comments. I would love to have a more interactive experience with the people that read what I have to say all the time, so hopefully I can get more to that point in all of this. From what I can tell now, the traffic has certainly increased lately, which I am grateful for and hope I can get closer to that.
RR: I hope so as well, and I am glad that you are well on your way to making that happen. Switching gears a bit, I’m always interested in instances of a reviewer’s opinion deviates from the general consensus. Could you give some examples of some films from 2012 that you have strongly disagreed with the critical consensus on?
AN: The question – I was not a fan of the film Flight. Denzel was certainly good and the opening plane crash was incredibly tense, but the movie, overall, really did not standout as anything more than a heavy-handed melodrama to me.
I also did not care that much for The Intouchables, the biggest film ever from France, which caught on with audiences in the limited release that it received here. It more or less felt like watching the story of the magical negro character bringing happiness into the world of white people (that’s the most blunt way to phrase it).
Lastly, Pitch Perfect was another film that I seemed to be one of the few that did not fall under the spell of. It has some funny stuff in it, but it didn’t have much to offer that made it a legit good movie.
RR: I didn’t see The Intouchables unfortunately, but I’m very curious to see which camp I fall into now. As for Flight and Pitch Perfect, I liked the former mainly for Washington’s Performance and I liked the latter for the writing and the fact that the love interest was a movie nerd. That being said, I completely understand reasons someone such as yourself would dislike either of those films. On the contrary, what are some films that you’ve seen this year for which you could not understand how a critic could dislike them?
AN: To add another to the previous question, I also saw Holy Motors, which is an art house picture winning over many critics, but it falls in with films that just aren’t for me, even though I appreciate things about them.
As far as films I see as underrated or overlooked, not a whole lot that I can’t understand why a critic would dislike it, even the films that bombed that I really liked, still did quite well critically.
Ones ill stick up for: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which is a movie I really adored and Men in Black 3, which I found to be not only surprisingly not a disaster, but the best of the series. I think those who had some kind of intense dislike really just wanted to hate the movie, which ended up being much better than its production woes suggested.
Oh, and I guess Lockout (Space Jail), because it’s just ridiculous fun.
RR: I didn’t end up catching Seeking A Friend for the End of the World, but I just might make some time for it now. I definitely agree that Lockout was underrated; sure it wasn’t exactly Oscar material but it did exactly what it set out to do, which was entertain it’s audience. When it comes to movies like Lockout or Men In Black, do you give your score based more off of entertainment value or off of cinematic quality?
AN: It really is a combination of both, although I think entertainment value would probably edge out cinematic quality. I don’t think I can properly recommend a movie based on the fact that it can be perceived as well made if I didn’t find the film to be entertaining in some way (regardless of its a dark drama or a hilarious comedy). Lockout, for example, is a film that no doubt has problems from a “quality” standpoint, but I did enjoy watching it for many reasons, which would include the acting by Guy Pierce. It may be a film that is silly and full of ridiculous action, but it takes more than just “winging” it to create a character that is so much fun for a number of different reasons. Addressing Men In Black, what I can best say there is that if I were to strip away nostalgic love for the original film and that fact that the first Men in Black was bringing in a new property, measuring it against the third film, I think the third film is legitimately better in terms of the kind of film it is trying to be. Now, I say that because I do believe it is very entertaining, but I also think the cinematic quality in regards to the actors, make-up, special effects, etc. are things that make it excel. These are of course individual films to be speaking of, but it speaks to how I began in saying that both factors are important, but my enjoyment counts most. Battleship, as another example, is a film that has what many could consider to be great quality special effects, among other things, but I didn’t really enjoy myself while watching it. Flight may be praised for its cinematic quality in regards to the actors and the assured of Zemeckis’ direction, but I did not find the entertainment factor to be as effective.
RR: I couldn’t agree with you more, I always hate it when people give me crap for scoring a “classic” or other award-winning movie low because “I don’t understand the comlexity of it”. I have a huge amount of respect for film makers like Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon and David Yates who are able to combine entertainment value with quality film making to produce films with the branching appeal and profitability of movies like The Dark Knight, The Avengers and The Harry Potter Movies.
Before you go, what is the “best” movie that you have enjoyed the least? I.e. what is the most highly regarded movie that you would never see again because of the lack of entertainment value?
AN: There’s a tricky one. This year, for example, it would probably be Amour. I don’t exactly have a reason to ever really revisit it. The same could be said for many Haneke films, as well as Holy Motors. Sometimes I am surprised though. For example: I love Melancholia from 2011 and would not necessarily think I would want to revisit it, but I have and will continue to (Take Shelter as well).
In general, I would imagine films like Schindler’s List, American History X, and Requiem For A Dream are one’s that I don’t have a need to revisit. I certainly find them to be great in their own right, but not ones that I necessarily want to watch again…maybe Schindler’s List.