Edited by: Leonard Martin
Published by: Plume a member of the Penguin Group
What exactly is Leonard Maltin’s 2013 Movie Guide The Modern Era? It’s meth to an attention span deficient movie junkie. Sixteen thousand movie reviews rarely over a hundred words long in alphabetical order by movie title. If you get distracted looking up words in the dictionary, and who doesn’t (wait a second, are you saying that’s just me), then there is no hope for you after you open this compendium. In you go to look up Hawk The Slayer and as you’re flipping through the G’s on your way to the H’s you see Glen or Glenda, so you have to stop and see what Maltin thinks of Ed Woods plea for tolerance towards crossdressers; “Even more inept and hilarous than Ed Wood’s Infamous Plan Nine From Outer Space.” That read you continue on to the H’s but you don’t get far before glancing at the page you see three stars beside Ghostbuster’s II. “What!” you think, that movie sucks. Eventually you figure out that the H’s come after the G’s and finally find the entry for Hawk The Slayer, one and a half stars, “Labored with gimmicky direction”.
Okay so maybe not everyone is as easily distracted as I am, and maybe not everyone has as much trouble with the order of letters in the alphabet. In that case everyone else may get a little more practical use out of this book than me. All practicality aside though I find it extremely enjoyable just bouncing around and reading entries at random. The entries are more synopsis than reviews but there are exceptions. Maltin doesn’t hesitate to praise the worthy and call out the garbage. I flipped open the Guide and found the first movie rated BOMB, all the movies are rated from BOMB to four stars. Here is what Maltin has to say about 1980’s Maniac “… coscriptwriter-producer-star Spinell bears most of the blame for this claustrophobic, sickening film”. Not exactly eviscerating but he’s not pulling his punches. The rather anodyne synopsis fit the guide. This isn’t a collection of essays about film or movies it’s a reference.
So, how good reference is it? Well when I first opened it up it had every movie that popped into my head, Two Lane Blacktop, White Lighting, Thunder Road, but the first movie another Cinegeek.com contributor tossed out Fight For Your Life wasn’t to be found. Even with sixteen thousand entries Maltin can’t include everything. Indeed the guide is actually split essentially into two volumes. This is the Modern Era volume and there is a companion Classic Movie Guide which concentrates on films released prior to 1965. The Modern Era volume still has most of the classics listed just don’t expect to find every Hop Along Cassidy feature. To test the usefulness of the guide I staged an extremely unscientific and horribly biased experiment, technically I don’t think you can even call it an experiment. I opened Netflix and started looking up movies. God Bless American is in the Guide. Goon is in the Guide. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is in there. Then we hit a bad patch, Mary and Max and The Darwin Awards were not to be found, but Arsenic and Old Lace and OSS17 were. Then I hit another bad patch. Romantics Anonymous, Castaway On The Moon, Sound of Noise are not in the Guide. These last three were all foreign films however so I’m not sure if they should count against the Guide or not, even though the Guide does contain quite a few foreign films. Continuing Wet Hot American Summer, A Fish Called Wanda, Extract, Everything Must Go, Four Rooms, and Tiny Furniture are all in the book. So that’s eleven out of sixteen including the foreign films. Which is not real good. I think the problem is that the Guide is concentrating on movies that were actually released to theaters. This may have been a decent way to winnow out the less desirable stuff but with so many non traditional paths for distribution now lack of a theatrical release doesn’t brand a movie as not worth watching any more that a theatrical release means a movie is worth watching. The problem of course is space. You can only fit so many pages into a book that’s meant to be somewhat portable. As it stands the book is over sixteen hundred thin pages full of tiny type. Obviously if you can’t fit it all in you have to throw some of it out and I think Maltin and his co-editors have done a fantastic job of managing the contents to satisfy ninety percent of movie buffs out there and that other ten percent are not likely to pick up a book with Maltin’s name on it anyway. For myself, anytime I see this book I can’t help but pick it up and flip through it. I actually have to move it out of reach to get anything done.