Beyond that, I rely on a few helpful guidelines. Among them:
The Terror Axiom. If, during the course of a horror movie, I scream, jump, grab my husband’s arm or chew on my knuckle, it gets a half-star bonus. If I do so consistently: Automatic two stars. If I feel no shiver of fear whatsoever but am in fact bored out of my head: One star, tops.
The Homage Bonus/Rip-Off Penalty. If a film gracefully refers to a classic movie, it earns a half-star bonus. If it strikes me as a brazen and moronic rip-off, it loses half a star.
The Greatest Game Everzzzzzzz. If a film almost lulls me to sleep: Two and a half stars, tops.
The Generation Gap. If I dislike a movie intended for kids but my own children like it, I add a half a star. If they dislike it, I clip it another half-star.
The Romance Axiom. If, during the course of a love story, I smile when two characters snog: Half-star bonus. If I groan: Half-star penalty. If I wince or close my eyes: Whole-star penalty.
The Tylenol Demerit. Any film that gives me a headache is penalized one star.
Clichéd Bromides and Hackneyed Stereotypes. If a film includes a) exploding slo-mo fireballs, b) slime-covered aliens shaped like insects, c) a hooker with a heart of gold, d) a venal man of the cloth, e) a fussy gay sidekick, f) Carmina Burana choral rip-offs, or g) any other annoying platitude, it’s docked half a star. Per.
The Humor Axiom. If, during the course of a comedy, I belly laugh, it gets a half-star bonus. If I do so consistently: Automatic two stars. If I don’t laugh once: one star, tops.
Human Telescope. If I can see a plot twist from a mile off, the film loses a half star. If I’m startled by every one: One-star bonus.
The Weepie Axiom. If, during the course of a four-hankie tearjerker, I actually cry, the film gets no bonus whatsoever, because I happen to cry at everything. I even cry at prescription-drug ads. So if a four-hankie tearjerker doesn’t make me cry at all, then it’s a pathetic excuse for a four-hankie tearjerker, and it gets penalized two stars.
Unhappy Endings. If a film collapses into a pat and predictable Hollywood climax, it loses a star.
The Oscar Quotient. If a film features one spectacular performance, it gets at least two stars. If it features two, it gets at least three.
May She Rest In Peace, Part I. If I would recommend a movie to my late mother, it gets an automatic three stars.
May She Rest in Peace, Part II. If I wouldn’t recommend it to her dead cat: Half a star, tops.