A Common Sense 5-point Movie Rating System

Media products can be rated a thousand different ways. Every entertainment outlet has their own system, but most are some form of 5-point system, letter grades, or percentages out of 100.

Assigning a number to a media product is all well and good: everything can be numerated in some way. However, many rating systems are quite opaque as far as what these numbers mean. On some level, they reduce art to a single number that, if you think too hard about, is near meaningless.

A few years ago I created my own 5-point rating system for movies and television shows, and whenever I finish watching something, I can easily fit the product into a system that makes sense to me.

I thought I’d share it because maybe you, too, will find it helpful.

The 5-point system

The system goes from 0-5 in 0.5 increments, resulting in 11 steps. There’s also a 12th step, number 6, which is used in one special case. Let me list the ratings, plus a brief descriptor, before explaining what the steps mean.

0: Unrated

0.5: Dangerous Content

1.0: Offensive Content

1.5: Bad Plot, Bad Production

2: Bad Plot, Decent Production

2.5: Catch on TV

3: Watch Once

3.5: Watch a Second Time with a Friend

4: Own

4.5: Near Perfect

5: Live Your Life By

6: Watch for the Rest of Your Life

2.5, 3, and 3.5 Ratings

Let’s start at the middle of the scale, work our way up, then work our way down.

Movies and shows with a rating of 3 are only worth watching one time. These might be shows you watch because you want to see what the hype is all about, or you are somewhat interested in the premise. I would put a lot of superhero movies in this category: The Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight Rises.

Once I’ve seen these movies, I really have no desire to see them again. They provide a couple hours of entertainment but don’t stick with me.

Shows rated 3.5 are those that you’d watch a second time, primarily with another person. For example, I’ve seen most of the Twilight movies (I also read all the books). They aren’t great movies, by any means. They were worth watching once. However, if I had a friend who really wanted to see them, or was really passionate about them, I could stomach watching them a second time.

Watching them with somebody is the crucial distinction between 3 and 3.5. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see 3.5 movies again: they essentially function as 3 movies. But I would watch them again with somebody, not because I care about the movie or show all that much, but because I care about the friend and would want to participate in something that makes them happy.

2.5 movies and shows are those that you’d watch if you were flipping through the TV and happened to catch a rebroadcast of them. Maybe you’re home sick, or you’re in the hospital, or you have half an hour to kill at the hotel before meeting up with friends. These are movies or shows that you watch here and there, but don’t actively seek them out.

For example, I’ve watched a fair amount of Teen Titans Go on Cartoon Network over the years. The show has its funny moments, but I’m not drawn into the concept enough to actually seek out broadcasts of new episodes, and it’s certainly not a show I would buy.

A lot of action movies work best as 2.5 movies. Do you have any movies in your life that you’ve seen bits and pieces of on cable over the years, but you’ve never actually seen the beginning? A lot of 80s action movies fit this categorization for me.

4, 4.5, and 5 Ratings

Movies and shows with a rating of 4 are worth owning. You buy the DVDs or Blu-Rays, and you watch them over and over. They are shows that you’d like to see again whether by yourself or with another person.

Shows rated 5 are those that you live your life by. In other words, these are shows that inspire you, that change who you are on the inside. They are the shows that fill your head at night, the shows with universes you want to live in.

When it comes to anime, I own a lot of 5 rated shows: Cowboy Bebop, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, The Legend of Korra, ThunderCats (2011), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), and so on. For movies, the series that have changed me are Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and the Matrix. I’ve very picky with what shows and movies I watch because ideally I only want to watch shows that I’d rate 5.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. That’s what the 4.5 rating is for. 4.5 shows are nearly perfect, you own them and rewatch them, and there are parts that influence your life. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (yes, even the third one!) fit this category for me, as do the Bourne movies. I can’t say these series are perfect, as they have some flaws, but these movies still inspire me.

0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, and 2 Ratings

So far, we’ve covered ratings for great movies and shows (4-5) and ratings for shows that are okay and watchable (2.5-3.5). The bottom 4 ratings (forgoing 0) are reserved for Bad shows.

A movie or show with a rating of 2 is one that you finish (or not) and have nothing really good to say about it. Generally these movies fail because of plot and lack of impact or emotional stakes. However, these movies are not necessarily technically bad.

For example, I rate the G.I.Joe reboot movies, and the Michael Bay Transformers movies, 2. They just aren’t good movies. Dull, forgettable, uninspired, insipid. They were, however, made competently: and lots of money went into the special effects. But all of those special effects can’t change the fact that the cores of these movies are forgettable.

1.5 movies and shows feature both bad plots and bad production. These are the kinds of movies that are painful to watch because there really is no redeeming quality to them. These are the type of shows that some people call “so bad they’re good,” or they are the kind of shows that people “hate-watch.” Frankly, I can’t stomach movies that are “so bad they’re good.” I understand the entertainment value only in a theoretical sense: actually trying to watch these movies is a mental chore that I cannot complete.

Movies and shows with a 1 rating are those that are worse than bad: they are offensive. Now, I’m not talking about movies with the occasional off-color joke, or a sitcom that uses racial humor a bit too much. An infrequent lapse of editorial judgment and discretion might knock a 3.5 movie down to a 3 or even 2.5 rating, but isn’t enough to doom a movie.

Rather, I’m talking about those movies and shows that are offensive throughout. The premise is offensive, and the movie or show makes you angry when you watch it. You could be offended for a variety of reasons: take your pick.

I have seen very few 1 rating shows over the years: these are the kind of shows I actively avoid. But sometimes I see one. I’m thinking of a movie like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US version). While many people believed that movie had something to say about violence against women, to me, the movie reveled in torture porn. All it did was point out that women experience sexual violence: no big headline there. The camera lingered on the violence for entertainment reasons, not for story reasons. And the turn in Lisbeth Salander to ruthless revenge wasn’t redeeming or cathartic; it was sad and misguided.

0.5 movies and shows, then, are those that go a bit beyond on the offensiveness scale. These are shows that are actually dangerous for people to watch because their messages are so toxic and vile that it makes you wonder why these shows got made in the first place. Not that everybody who sees such entertainment is going to turn into a deranged person. Rather, these are the kinds of shows that don’t do anything to better the lives of people who see them.

I’ve saved the 0 rating till now because it’s not really a rating: for me, 0 is equivalent to a non-rating. Shows that get 0 ratings are things like documentaries and the nightly news. It doesn’t make sense to rate them because you watch them for reasons other than entertainment.

The 6 Rating

I have one last rating, the 6. Originally when I created the 5 rating, I realized that I rate many shows and movies as 5: there’s just too much good stuff that’s inspired my life! However, if I had to select the cream of the crop, the absolute most influential show or movie, then I rate it a 6. There’s no 5.5: there’s a whole point difference between 5 and 6 to emphasize that a show rated a 6 is substantially better than anything rated 5.

I rate Avatar: The Last Airbender a 6. I fell in love with this show when I first saw it in 2009 and I’ve loved it ever since. If I could only watch one show or movie for the rest of my life, this would be it. This show is beyond perfect: it’s transcendent.

If you have a 6-rated show or movie, please share it with me! The 6 spot shouldn’t change frequently. 6-rated shows are those that are influential not only because of the plot, message, and so on, but it’s influential because of where you were at in your life when you first encountered the work. Many people have shows that they encountered at just the right time in their lives, shows that changed their destiny.

Avatar is that show for me.

That’s my rating system! It makes sense to me, and if it makes sense to you, all the better.

Best,
~Dennis

8 neat things that happened playing Pokemon Go

Pokémon Go has been out for a month, and so far it’s taken the globe by storm. When I first saw the trailer, I was intrigued by the premise, but ultimately not that excited.

Then when the game came out and everybody was talking about it, I had to give it a try.

I’m glad I did. Despite so many server issues and glitches in the game, Pokémon Go is easily the best mobile game I’ve ever played.

Here are 8 neat things that happened to me while playing the game.

1. Finding Marjorie Bailey’s ghost

Okay, so this first story didn’t happen directly to me, but it’s the story that convinced me to download the game.

In college, me and five of my friends rented a house together. It was the first time this house had been rented, as the previous owner was a recently deceased old lady.

While looking through one of the drawers, we discovered an old campaign poster for a woman named Marjorie Bailey. We concocted a fantasy that Marjorie Bailey was the woman who died, and now haunted the house.

Fast forward seven years. My college friends and I had a reunion at my parents’ place. Before he came over, one of my former roommates drove past our old house.

And what did he find? A Ghastly in the front yard! He caught it, and promptly named it “MargeBailey.”

Her ghost exists after all!

Ghastly in Pokemon Go

2. Finding a Krabby in the seafood section

A couple days later, I downloaded the game on the way to the grocery store. I was with Mom, so my job was to push the cart. While in the store, I opened up the game. The first Pokémon I caught was a Krabby, conveniently sitting in the frozen seafood section!

Then I caught a Pidgey next to the chicken.

Krabby in Pokemon Go

3. Opening up my imagination

After that first experience catching Pokémon, I walked around my neighborhood, smartphone in hand. Pokémon kept popping up: Rattatas, Pidgeys, Caterpies, and Spearows. While the game has its flaws, still the most exciting aspect is imagining that Pokémon actually exist, and that they inhabit our world!

While I rarely play with Augmented Reality turned on, the camera feature is a nice touch. For a few moments, I get close to realizing a fantasy that’s been living in my head for 20 years.

Spearow in Pokemon Go

Rattata in Pokemon Go

Weedle in Pokemon Go

4. Finding my first lures

A friend and I had a couple hours to kill before dinner, so we took out our smartphones and started exploring downtown.

A couple minutes later we found a pack of teenagers roaming the city. They told us there was an Abra around the corner, and they were really excited that they caught it.

Abra in Pokemon Go

My friend and I went from Poké Stop to Poké Stop. I looked on the map and saw that one Poké Stop a few blocks away had drifting purple hearts over it. I knew this had to be a lure.

We went to the Stop, and sure enough, the kids we saw earlier had placed a lure. There was a second Poké Stop feet away, so they put a lure on that as well.

For the next 30 minutes, we caught Pokémon after Pokémon. And those lures attracted many others, players more experienced than us, who shared tips on how to get ahead.

We met a dozen people during that half hour. Almost everybody was the stereotypical nerd: a bit goofy looking, a bit socially awkward, but also entirely nice. I was in the company of my people, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with the game.

5. Meeting the boys at the mall

I learned early on that high population areas have more Poké Stops, and thus more Pokémon. My neighborhood was pretty barren, plus it was the height of summer, 90+ degrees outside. I headed to the local mall where activity was buzzing.

Upon entering the mall, I found two Poké Stops, each with lures on them. I sat down in the food court and started playing.

Within seconds, two boys and their father were standing behind me, looking over my shoulder. The game had been out less than a week, so most people still didn’t understand how it worked.

I showed the boys my Pokémon, and they watched as I caught a Pidgey and Spearow. They were so excited to see Pokémon pop up right in the food court! They hadn’t played the game yet, and likely didn’t have smartphones themselves.

But I suspect they asked their dad to download it on his smartphones as soon as they left the mall.

Pokemon Go

6. Playing Pokémon Go at church

A couple weeks after the game dropped, my church (Methodist) decided to get in on the action. The church was a Poké Stop, so one forward-looking congregant suggested hosting lure events on the front steps.

Every Sunday and Wednesday nights at 7 the church drops a lure. They have music playing and provide snacks and ice tea to anybody interested. Kids, along with their parents, come out to play. Even the pastor plays!

The lure events have been very successful. Sometimes people simply pass by, but for others it’s a friendly, nonthreatening way to talk to people at the church.

Spiritual conversations don’t happen often, but that’s okay. The church should touch peoples’ lives where they are at. What a great way to show the world that Christians can indeed play video games in a safe, healthy way.

Jigglypuff in Pokemon Go

7. Evolving my first Eevee

One of my all-time favorite Pokémon is Eevee. She’s so cute, and her ability to evolve into many different forms is so much fun.

Eevee in Pokemon Go

When I played Pokémon X and Y, I stuck my toe into the competitive waters. I’d always liked Jolteon, but this game cemented my love for Eevee. I trained a Jolteon and Vaporeon and picked all the right moves. They were the foundation of my fighting team.

Lots of Pokémon Go trainers have Jolteons, Vaporeons, and Flareons. But I have such difficulty finding Eevees!

Finally, after catching hundreds of Pokémon, I had enough Eevee candies to evolve. I spent the 25 candies, and got 950 CP Vaporeon! After training, my Vaporeon is at nearly 1100 CP, and still has room to grow.

Now I just need a Jolteon.

Vaporeon in Pokemon Go

8. Finding a board gaming group

Last night while hanging out at a Poké Stop I met a professor from the university. I met him last year, so I knew him well. He had just started playing the game, and Pokémon was a new concept to him.

We got talking, and he told me that he and his husband host a board gaming group with other professors from the university! I moved to Bloomsburg, PA a year ago and thus far haven’t had any success finding fellow board gamers.

When I lived in Florida (while getting my PhD) and in North Dakota (as an adjunct professor) I had great board gaming groups. That was one of the things I really missed when I came to PA.

Beedrill in Pokemon Go

But now it’s okay; I’ve found a group again! It’s amazing how Pokémon Go, at its best, is a conversation starter. It gives you something to talk about, whether it introduces you to new people, or introduces you to existing friends in new ways.

If you have had any fun experiences playing Pokémon Go, please share in the comments!

Game on,
~Dennis

After 16 years, I finally folded the King Cobra origami!

Origami King Cobra

I’ve been folding origami since high school. About 16 years ago, right at the start of my hobby, I found these instructions for the King Cobra by Ronald Koh (all credit to him). And I was amazed! I fell in love with the beauty of the model, but I had one problem: I didn’t have paper long enough to fold it!

Most origami is folded from a square, 1 x 1. Koh suggested a strip of paper 1 x 28! Where would I find such a paper? In the instructions, he says that the original model was constructed from a 100m long paper! Here’s a link to a blog that shows the result of that original Cobra model.

This summer I went to Japan, and found several paper shops! I didn’t find the length of paper I needed, but I found a decent-sized handmade sheet of beautiful gold and red paper.

Red and gold paper

For 5,200 yen (about $5) I now had the paper I needed.

I cut the paper into four strips, then carefully taped them together with masking tape. I used masking tape since it folds easily, unlike plastic tape. You can’t even see the seams in the final model!

Origami paper

Cutting origami paperTaping strips of paper with masking tape

I don’t think I quite got to the dimensions of 1 x 28, closer to 1 x 24, but that’s okay.

Now it was time to fold the sucker! I printed off the 25 page instructions (!) and went to town! Because the paper was handmade, it was a little thicker than standard origami paper. It has a cloth-like texture, not unlike paper money. Because of this, the paper didn’t hold creases as well as I would’ve liked. However, it held enough to keep the form.

One challenge of working with such a long strip of paper is keeping it under control! I rolled up the paper and held it together with paper clips to make it easier to handle.

Rolled up paper

Beginning folding the cobra

Beginning folding the cobra

Unfortunately, I made a mistake. It was difficult to tell from Koh’s instructions whether the colored side should start facing up or down. I began with it facing down: and after two hours of folding the head, realized I’d made a mistake! So I unfolded it completely, unrolled the paper, then started from the other end, which wasn’t tainted with mistaken folds.

Luckily, I was able to fold the head faster the second time. After about an hour and a half, the head was complete.

Origami Cobra head

The head was the most difficult part. The fan on the side of the cobra’s head required a lot of pleating, and then folding at angles to get it to flare out.

The next step was folding the scales. This was by far the most tedious part of the entire model. It took several hours just to get all the precreases in place. Then I had to pleat a diamond pattern across the entire length of the model! The body was more than 10′ long, and required hundreds of creases.

Origami Cobra scales

As you can see, the scales weren’t folded precisely. The thickness of the paper caused a lot of problems, and the creases didn’t want to stay in place. But then again, animals aren’t perfect, right?

After several more hours, I completed the pleating. With all the pleats in place, I could no longer roll up the snake’s body. I had to fold the snake on the floor it was so long! The final model was 9’4″.

Pleated origami cobra scales

Origami Cobra 9 feet 4 inches

Now the model needed the final shaping. It looked like a shed snake skin!

The paper isn’t strong enough to support its own weight: Koh recognized this and recommending supporting the neck and head with wire. Technically this violates the spirit of pure origami, but who cares?

I cut three lengths of 22 gauge wire and twisted them together. I did this twice. Then I bent the wire and hid it along the cobra’s back as best I could. I bent the wire into an S-shape to get that classic cobra stance.

Underwire for Origami Cobra

Underwire for Origami Cobra

The head was too heavy to stay on the underwire, so I used tape to pin down as many flaps as I could. The underwire is still visible: however, the model will be displayed so that the head is looking outward, the back toward the wall, so most people won’t see the underwire unless they really look for it.

Underwire for Origami Cobra

Next came the shaping of the body. I curled the paper in my hand, but again, because the paper was so thick, it didn’t want to retain its shape.

Shaping Origami Cobra

I packed the inside with cotton balls: I used an entire bag to do this! Then I held together the two sides with masking tape. The tape appears on the bottom of the snake, so nobody will see it. I decided on masking tape so that if I didn’t like the snake’s final shape I could remove it easily without damaging the paper.

However, I wonder about the long-term strength of the tape, so someday I might have to switch to something stronger, like packaging tape.

Origami Cobra packed with cotton balls

Filling origami Cobra with cotton

Finally, the model was complete! I curled the snake around itself, just as Koh did in his diagram. I think it turned out well!

Front view of Origami Cobra

Top view of Origami Cobra

Back view of Origami Cobra

The body still needs a little more shaping to smooth out the rough angles. Once I move the cobra to my office (somehow) I’ll put the final touches on it.

Overall, I’m really proud of this snake! It took approximately 12 hours of work to get this far! This is the most difficult and time consuming origami I’ve ever done. I had to take frequent breaks in the folding process because my back and legs got really sore from hunching over so much.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy folding,
~Dennis

Origami Cobra