THE BALCONY IS OPEN: Film critic Dennis Willis presents ‘Flick Nation: 2011 Movie Guide’

By Jean Bartlett

The ambient sound in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” made film critic (and Pacifican) Dennis Willis feel like he should be dodging bullets.

In the sci-fi suspense film “Moon,” directed by Duncan Jones, a man meets his clone on Earth’s only natural satellite and Willis writes in his cliff-hanging review — “the clone thinks he’s the real deal. Is he insane?” The thing about Willis’s recently penned 2011 movie guide “Flick Nation” — a practical guide to what’s on tonight — is the reader is led down a road where Willis maps out his reasons for why a movie should be seen or not seen, but he leaves the car keys in the viewer’s hands. Like a good parent, Willis’s advice is thoughtful, loaded with practical warnings and softened by wit — plus Willis has a nice way with a sentence.

Willis is the movie reviewer for KGO AM 810 Newstalk Radio — every Friday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. He is also known for his guest appearances on the (KGO) John Rothmann Show. Additionally he is the SF Film Industry Examiner at, he is an award-winning producer, TV host, director, editor and screenwriter and he writes film news for the Pacifica Tribune. His music entertainment show “Soundwaves,” ran on PCT 26 for 25 years. He authored the “2010 Movie Yearbook” and on his website, he offers essential film review podcasts.

On Saturday at 2 p.m., Willis will have his book launch at Florey’s Book Co.

Is there a movie out right now that Willis recommends?

“I strongly recommend people seek out the original ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ trilogy before the American remake comes out in December,” Willis said. “They are streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.” À la film critic Roger Ebert, can Willis tell if a movie is going to be good or bad in the first 8 minutes?

“Yes! But most movies actually do start out pretty strong. The easiest thing to pull off is the first act, but once we move into the story, that’s when the problems rear their heads. If a movie stumbles in the first 8 minutes, there’s probably no saving it!” In “Flick Nation: 2011,” with its 825 current reviews, Willis has about 300 more titles than his previous film compendium. He also features a one-of-a-kind rating system.

“It’s the first book designed for the Netflix generation,” Willis said. “The way we watch movies has totally changed, so I asked myself what that book would be like. The new rating system doesn’t just break a movie down with stars or a guy jumping out of a chair, it tells you what your entertainment dollar is worth — Own It, Rent It, Stream It or Skip It.” “I could hate a movie but give it a ‘Stream It’ because it made a lot of money and is culturally noteworthy,” Willis continued.

“I would give the same rating to an off-the-wall movie I loved, but know few others would.” Among those films reviewed in Willis’s book, are 100 works that are not included in recent books by film critics Roger Ebert or Leonard Maltin. And some of these films feature actors such as Bruce Willis, Meryl Streep, Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.

“That’s because these movies went straight to video,” Willis said. “But when you browse Netflix, they get the same amount of space the blockbusters get. So they are worthy!” Willis explained the criteria for the movies chosen for his book.

“A movie had to be worthy of inclusion, by whatever method it took to get made,” Willis said. “If it was a direct-to-video sequel to a brand-name movie, that’s worth talking about. If it was dumped onto video but was made by a noteworthy filmmaker, or starred well-known actors, that counts too. In fact, I think that makes a movie more interesting.” “You can put almost any movie onto 8,000 screens with heavy promotion and trick people into theaters that first weekend,” Willis continued. “But part of the fun of this book is getting to share good movies that people have never heard of.” Along with movies he already had in mind for his book, in January,

Willis made an additional list of 200 movies he had never seen that also needed to go in. Catching one to two movies a week in the theater, while also feeding a weekly list of DVDs into his computer and streaming films from Netflix, by deadline closing, Willis watched nine movies in two days.

Already working on the 2012 edition of “Flick Nation,” Willis said he does manage to see favorite movies more than once which on the more recent list include “True Grit,” “Paul,” “The Fighter” and “The Social Network.” As to favorite theaters he said, “It’s hard to beat The Castro or The Embarcadero.” What’s the greatest new technology aspect in movies not there five years ago?

“Thirty percent of nightly online traffic is streaming movies via Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu Plus. I stream movies through my Blu-ray player and the Roku box to the TV. Even my 5-year-old son knows he’s going to find something to watch on Netflix. It’s incredible. And I don’t see us ever turning back.”

This Saturday, June 25, 2 to 4 p.m., film critic Dennis Willis will be at Florey’s Book Co., 2120 Palmetto Ave., Pacifica ( to discuss the movies and sign copies of his book “Flick Nation: 2011 Movie Guide.”

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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