Having reviewed film for over 25 years with the Herald Sun, The Australian, TV Week, Truth, on air at 3UZ and online with Urban Cinefile, I never liked being referred to as a "critic" because of its negative connotations.
What right did I have to criticize film-makers when I had never made one?
I simply loved cinema, viewing up to 500 films per year, which helped hone informed opinions about direction, writing and acting.
Then six years in film publicity easily sorted the clever from the clichéd.
On the eve of the 2017 Oscars, Richard Wilkins was all agush over La La Land, and even trumpeted that the 14-times nominated film was the first he had ever honoured with a five star rating.
What? After 30 years at Channel 9, this was the very first film to inspire the TV veteran's ultimate accolade; a musical he thought superior to such five-star contemporaries as Chicago and Moulin Rouge?
"Dear Richard," I tweeted, "you really can't like films all that much if you find fault in every other you've reviewed. Star ratings are not diamonds you have to horde; in print they are just blobs of ink."
La La Land so divided opinions at the New York Times ("Some of us love it; some of us really hate it") that they published 14 reviews from staff.
"It doesn't understand musicals", said one.
"It gets so much wrong," said another ... which just about gets it right.
Seated behind me at the Ararat Astor as the credits rolled, an elderly woman's critique was more succinct: "Well, what a bloody waste of time that was!"
My critical advantage when reviewing film was mature age and life experience, good, bad and ugly.
After a press screening of Meryl's Streep's cancer movie, One True Thing (1998), a too-young reviewer (for the Salvation Army) was clearly not impressed and groaned: "Have you ever seen anything so schmaltzy?"
And I replied quietly, quite sure of his answer, "Have you ever seen anyone die of cancer?"
A year later, another "apprentice" challenged the five star status I bestowed upon the factual family drama October Sky.
When he asked "why so generous" I simply replied that I couldn't fault it, and to me that deserves five blobs of ink.
October Sky begins a series of Five Star Movie reviews aimed at helping to chase the COVID-19 miseries away.
All have reached the age of maturity, but have withstood the test of time and are free of faded or passing fads; no zombies, no blood-suckers, or superheroes will be seen
They may be forgotten in this Netflix age, but to my mind they are all unforgettable.
OCTOBER SKY is about a boy who had a dream.
He was a coal-town kid who yearned to be a rocket scientist, despite his dad's fierce desire to send him down to the mines, where all the boys from Coalwood end up.
It might sound like a figment of fiction, but the story of Homer Hickam is factual.
He was inspired by a sighting of the Soviet satellite Sputnik soaring across a starry sky in October, 1957.
The Cold War was on; America was behind in the space race and its citizens had spun into a turmoil of paranoia and injured pride.
Homer (Jake Gyllenhaal) did the unthinkable and befriended Quentin, the school nerd, to pick his brain about maths and science; Homer's pals Roy Lee and O'Dell stuck with him and a teacher (Laura Dern) urged Homer to "listen inside" and to act on his instincts.
And so four boys began to build their rockets; watched them fizzle and burn; sizzle and soar.
Homer's stern dad (Chris Cooper) fumed that the boy was "wasting his time" and it's refreshing how the sub-plot hones in on Homer's relationship with his father and trouble at the mine and not on the boy's fledgling sex life.
Deeply felt and finely acted, Sky is blessed with a soundtrack fizzing with '50 hits...and I swear, not a swear word to be heard!
So what if it gets a bit sentimental in the end, for this is a rare film, a wholesome film that seizes the emotions, gladdens the heart, and fires a rocket to the brain, charging it with inspiration and hope.
* * * * *
Trivia: The real life people portrayed in the movie are shown in the end credits.
Rent on YouTube or Amazon; Rotten Tomatoes rating 88%.
***** Across the Bridge (1957, B&W, Rod Steiger). A gritty, heartfelt drama. Free on You Tube.
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