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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: How come so many people don’t understand the purpose of film criticism?

Here’s something else we can blame Michael Bay for: making film critics the most hated people in America, at least for the moment. This is not at all ironic, because Bay’s movie panders (as all his movies do) to the most unthinking, uncritical, unself-aware reflexes of lowest-common-denominator audiences. I am not saying that everyone who likes Bay’s movies is stupid, or even that Bay is stupid — in fact, whether it’s conscious or not, there’s a kind of genius to Bay, in how he can tap into the zeitgeist with such laser precision that audiences seem irresistibly drawn to his movies.

Fact: His Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is raking in dough like Lehman Brothers on a subprime mortgage binge. Fact: Most critics have excoriated the movie — it’s currently at 20 percent Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. The sheer number of people who appear to think that these two facts have anything to do with each other is astonishing. And it’s perfectly encapsulated by a truly bizarre post by Robin Lawlor, the “Virginia Beach Movie Examiner,” which begins like this:

Transformers 2 money making performance is surprising critics

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen began showing in movie theaters on June 24, 2009. Fans were excited about the sequel, but critics were not pleased with what they saw. The movie didn’t quite meet their standards. They made their own predictions, which pretty much called it a flop.

Transformers 2 has currently grossed over $200 million…not a complete flop!

Are movie critics always right about films?

I don’t think any film critic anywhere is surprised in the least by the box-office performance of Transformers: ROTF. I would be astonished to discover that any critic predicted the movie would be a flop. It’s far more likely that most critics threw up their hands and acknowledged — either privately or in their reviews — that the film was certain to make a bazillion dollars.

Are movie critics always right? About what? The badness of Transformers: ROTF? The prediction that the movie would be a huge hit despite its badness?

Surely even the most casual, most uncritical moviegoer can appreciate that quality and popularity do not always go hand in hand. Or am I expecting too much?

Dan Zak at the Washington Post notes — in an article with a subhead of “As Blockbuster, ‘Transformers’ Spotlights Chasm Between Rabid Audience and Savage Reviewers” — something that Michael Bay told the Los Angeles Times:

I think they reviewed the wrong movie. [Critics] just don’t understand the movie and its audience. It’s silly fun. I am convinced that they are born with the anti-fun gene.

I’m convinced Michael Bay knows precisely what kind of bullshit he’s talking here. I’m convinced Michael Bay knows that the “problem” isn’t that critics don’t understand the movie and its audience — the “problem” is that we do, and that we dare to find it appalling that, say, Bay and his most devoted fans find fetishizing military hardware to be “silly fun,” or objectifying women to be “silly fun.” Hell, as a fan of good action movies, I’ve offended that Bay and his fans find incoherent action to be “silly fun.”

Is it “anti-fun” to put a movie into a larger context? Is it “anti-fun” to point out the puppet strings holding up a movie, or the puppet strings of its audience that movie is trying to pull? I think that’s pretty fun. That’s been the entire point of my work as a critic! It doesn’t come into play in every review I write, but my overall thesis has always been: What do the movies we make popular say about us as a culture? There’s no better movie to ask that question of than this one.

Other critics may have other overarching theses, or none at all. But the job of a critic is not to give an approving pat on the back to any movie that is bound to be popular, or to justify that popularity. (Though no one was complaining last year that critics were embracing The Dark Knight!)

It seems like a no-brainer that if you want to read film criticism, then you need to find a critic who thinks like you do. And that if a critic doesn’t think like you do, then you shouldn’t read him or her, but that that doesn’t mean film critics are useless.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, especially in this case, because Bay’s movies always seem designed to engage smallmindedness rather than openmindedness. But still…

How come so many people don’t understand the purpose of film criticism?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)



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  • Waiting to see Transformers: ROTF

    I think the problem is that critics watch movies for a living. No one else watches that much film, so they see things the rest of us don’t care about.

    Critics forget they have to suspend belief sometimes to enjoy the story. I know pilots who make comments like “no way that aircraft X could do maneuver A, and the sounds for aircraft Y and Z are off.” As a techie I see all kinds of “yeah, rights” where computers are used. But we ignore the holes and enjoy the flicks.

    Most people I know agree with me that generally our tastes and the critics’ tastes are on opposite ends. If the critics hate it, we usually love it. If they love it, we often find ourselves wondering what was so good about the movie.

    Case in point, Dark Knight was good, but not that good. Not to disparage the fine work of Heath Ledger, but if he hadn’t died, there is no way The Dark Knight and Heath himself (posthumously) would have received so many awards.

  • Mathias

    ^^^ Sighs. You couldn’t be more wrong, bud.

    Bay doesn’t make movies, he makes celluloid assaults on the senses. To say that just because critics don’t like his film means that they don’t like ANY action film is a strawman arguement that’s not gonna be believed by most.

    Bravo MaryAnn, keep up the good work. There are more people who agree with you than you know.

  • y

    A lot of people don’t understand any form of criticism. Be it art, film, literature, you name it. And, most people can’t separate what they think criticism is versus what they think it is. I used to hate reading reviews of movies when I was younger for this reason, now that I’m grown up more I “get it”. Hearing people complain about film critic’s reviews is like sitting in a Drawing 101 first class critique and seeing little miss I’m so great being told that, “well, you really aren’t so great, and here’s why”. I can se the pouty, on-the-verge-of-a-tantrum face now. People don’t have the training to think critically of themselves or the things they like (or think they will like) and see how something bad said can be true; they just don’t want to hear it or think about why saying it is important. Criticism is important or else things never change.

    Not to say that all reviews are good, some critics I think are just as blind. And that’s not to say I always agree with every review by everyone… but I try to see beyond myself.

  • y

    Meant to type ” most people can’t separate what they think criticism is versus what it actually is”. I am an idiot when it comes to typing.

  • Dan

    My wife and I make a distinction between movies and films. Movies are expected to be fun romps with action or comedy that may be flawed in plot, dialogue, or construction. It’s spectacle and escapism. Films on the other hand should be cut of a finer cloth and offer more depth of themes and content. Films make you think and require deeper criticism.

    Making the distinction is helpful. When you decide to spend money on a movie, you aren’t disappointed much if it’s got gaping plot holes or terrible dialogue for some or all of the movie. You signed up for the kung-fu, explosions, or bad jokes. In fact, you are pleasantly surprised when you go to a movie and get a film as a bonus.

    dba

  • Pollas

    I read critics’ reviews of films for entertainment. I love movies and I enjoy reading other people’s views on the films I watch. I probably don’t use film critics’ critiques in the way they’re intended. If I really want to see a movie, no number of negative reviews is going to get me to decide not to see it. And if I don’t want to see a specific movie I don’t care how many positive reviews it gets, I won’t go see it. The only times reviews might determine whether I see a movie or not is in when I’m on the fence on whether I want to see it or not.

    I’ve yet to find a critic that thinks a lot like I do. But I have found some that sometimes do and I tend to read mostly their positive reviews.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    There was a good editorial by Nick James in Sight & Sound recently where he compared a review-cum-manifesto written by Francois Truffaut in his Cahiers du Cinema days excoriating certain types of films with the reviews coming back from Cannes this year. James observed that even the most savage and negative reviews of, say, Antichrist didn’t question the film’s right to exist, or ask why so many films in Cannes seemed to belong to an as-yet-uncategorised genre of semi-pornographic arthouse ordeal films with very long takes.

    He wondered whether film criticism had now adopted a bit of a fanboy tendency over the last half-century; the purpose is to cheer on your favourites and if you don’t like something, well, you can slag it off a bit, but you can’t suggest that it shouldn’t be made, or that it says something bad about us that it’s a success, or it’s a blight on a national film industry…

    Film critics did do that once, and I think the decline in such fierce and polemical criticism coincided with this new attitude that opposing “the critics” (as if they’re all one person) is somehow a bold and anti-establishment stance to take, and that the ideal job of a critic is to completely reflect your tastes.

    People – lots of people – seem to get actively angry when a film critic attacks something they like. I’ve got no idea why they do, but that’s a popular opinion. Could a Francois Truffaut or a Pauline Kael survive in an environment where critics are routinely attacked for being elitist and out-of-touch whenever they, well, criticise something?

  • markyd

    I love reading movie reviews and really do take them into consideration when deciding to see a movie. Heck, I hardly had any interest in Dark Knight(Batman begins was just OK to me) until all the glowing reviews started coming in. I didn’t see the first Transformers in the theater due to generally unenthusiastic reviews. I tend to follow the rule that if a majority of critics think a movie is bad, its probably bad. I can see dismissing one or two if you just don’t click with their style or viewpoint, but to throw out all of them is idiotic.
    I will never understand the view point of “The critics hate it, so I’ll love it!” These people must see a lot of bad movies.
    The best thing is discovering movies that you never heard of or had little interest in. When I see all sorts of critics giving great reviews to some unknown arthouse flik, I DO notice, and will make an effort to see said film.

  • Anne-Kari

    MAJ – I’m pondering this very phenomenon on my Facebook page as of this morning (I even tagged you in the note!), primarily b/c of your recent rottentomatoes.com post.

    It’s astonishing to me that so many people take film criticsim as personal criticism. And I think that people use the “popular=quality” argument – but only when it suits them. It’s bizarre.

  • Drave

    What I can’t stand is how people assume critics are not capable of enjoying movies that are dumb and fun. Granted, I am not a critic, but whenever I express my utter loathing of the new Transformers movie, I either get told that I am a snob, my expectations are too high, or that I just don’t understand how to turn my brain off and enjoy a brainless popcorn movie. The worst is the people who say “What, were you expecting Shakespeare?” (Ironically, Shakespeare probably was his era’s equivalent of a popcorn flick auteur.) I don’t expect a Transformers movie to have real depth, but I don’t think I’m out of line in wishing for a summer blockbuster that aims a little higher than, say, something like Epic Movie. (The first movie that popped into my mind as this movie’s equal in terms of plot incoherence, racial stereotyping, and scatological humor.)

    Anyway, going back to the issue at hand, the reason so many people don’t understand the purpose of film criticism is because there are a whole lot of really stupid people in the world. Anybody who gets mad at a critic for not liking a movie they enjoyed is an idiot. Period. These people lack the brainpower to separate what they like from who they are, and so they perceive an attack on something they like as a personal attack on them, and they react defensively. It’s sad, but there it is.

  • Calling the movies “silly fun” misses the point of (at least some critics’ and fans’ criticism). Of course it’s silly fun! There’s nothing wrong with that. Fine. No problem! But imagine the movie as a banana split. A banana split is fun! It’s dessert, it’s sweet, it’s frigging ice cream covered in chocolate sauce (and maybe other flavored sauces), whipped cream, and nuts! There’s a cherry on top for crying out loud! A good banana split can be glorious!

    Now imagine, Mr. Bay, that you order a banana split, and when it gets to you the banana is mushy and brown. The ice cream is half-melted because someone forgot to put it back in the freezer half an hour ago. The chocolate sauce is thin, cheap, and haphazardly spilled down the sides of the dish. The nuts are cashews. There’s not enough whipped cream. (The cherry’s still there though, so at least something is working.) So instead of a great banana split, you’ve got a mediocre one that just doesn’t taste right, and the tragedy is it could have been a GREAT one if only a little more care had been taken.

    To apply the metaphor to just one particular aspect of the Transformer movies, you know the action shots during the fight scenes (or even some of the transformations) when the camera is either shaky, too close for you to make out just what’s happening, or both, especially because the design of the robots themselves is just so busy with millions of needle-like parts everywhere? I can’t help but thinking that what if Bay had thought to pull the camera back, thought to make the designs just a liiiiiittle less busy and a little more distinctive.

    In short, if he’d just thought to put the ice cream back in the freezer after making the banana split before mine, or taken a little more care with the chocolate sauce. It would be so easy. Such little things, but he just doesn’t seem to get it. Or care.

    Though I suspect you’re right on the money, MaryAnn, when you say he knows precisely what kind of bullshit he’s talking. It’s just a shame he can’t turn a tiny bit of that marketing energy of his into a desire to do just a little bit more polishing on his actual work.

    …This might have gotten a bit off topic. More generally speaking, I do think that there is also probably some residual jealousy in at least some of the public when they perceive critics as people who just “get paid to watch movies all day.” That, or perhaps when someone’s got their hopes up for a movie and they read a bad review, they essentially shoot the messenger?

  • MBI

    “I will never understand the view point of ‘The critics hate it, so I’ll love it!’ These people must see a lot of bad movies.”

    I know these people, and they do.

    I don’t see why the question is always framed that critics are out of touch with the common folk. Why isn’t it that the common folk are out of touch with the critics?

    Furthermore, why is it that so much of the time critics are told that they should just “shut off their brain” and enjoy a summer action movie? I don’t know how you can “shut off your brain” and still be able to think enough about a movie to write something insightful about it, but more importantly: Why can’t people accept that I hate Transformers 2 not because it’s not Citizen Kane, but because it’s not even a good action movie? Why can’t I be expected to hate it on its own terms and its own merits?

  • Trayla

    It’s astonishing to me that so many people take film criticsim as personal criticism.

    Well, in this case, IT IS. Most critics who are bashing ROTF aren’t just complaining about the film itself–they are launching personal attacks against the viewers and Michael Bay.

    I’m a big fan of this movie, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been called stupid or ignorant or immature by critics over the last week or so. And every review, almost without exception, includes at least a paragraph or two doing the same thing to Michael Bay.

    The lack of professionalism in some of these reviews is astounding (and you don’t have to take my word for it–check out just about any “rotten” review on rottentomatoes).

    If critics don’t like the movie, then I welcome them to bash it to their heart’s content. You guys have every right to your opinion, and every right to make that opinion public. But flinging nasty personal attacks only makes you look more immature than the audience you’re sneering at.

  • To the gist of this article, I whole-heartedly say:
    Sometimes the obvious has to be said. Thank you for doing so. Yes, you’d think people writing articles would have the sense to see the obvious, the logical, differences between a critique on the merits of a film and how many flock to see a film for whatever reason. Critics are not always “right”, but heaven knows the “masses” hardly ever are, except when it comes to putting money in the pockets of a few.

  • Michael

    But flinging nasty personal attacks only makes you look more immature than the audience you’re sneering at.

    Does saying that a moviemaker has some consistent flaws in the way he or she makes movies really consist of a “personal attack” in the context of a movie review?

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, that’s the thing, MBI. Critics aren’t hating on *Transformers* because it’s not *Citizen Kane,* they’re hating on *Transformers* because it sucks as an action movie.

    My wife and I make a distinction between movies and films. Movies are expected to be fun romps with action or comedy that may be flawed in plot, dialogue, or construction. It’s spectacle and escapism. Films on the other hand should be cut of a finer cloth and offer more depth of themes and content. Films make you think and require deeper criticism.

    But “movies” can be flawed and still enjoyable, and “films” can be cut of a fine cloth and still be dull as hell. “Movies” can be “mere” popcorn entertainment and still reveal something about us as a culture, and “films” can be glorious works of cinema and still not have anything to say beyond the confines of their own story.

    I don’t really understand making a distinction. I always want the same thing when I sit down in the dark in a theater (or in my living room with a DVD): I want to be swept away. There are many different kinds of ways a movie can do that (it can engage my intellect, or my emotions, or my inner adrenaline junkie, etc), and any of those ways are fine as long as they do that job.

    But part of my brain wants, too, to be able to place any movie in a larger context, because nothing happens in a vacuum. *Transformers* is very much a movie of this precise moment in time — we wouldn’t have seen this movie 20 years ago, or 50 years ago, and not just because of technological limitations. If someone *had* made a movie like this 50 years ago, it’s hard to imagine that it would be the huge blockbuster that it is today. Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t there something to be explored in that?

  • MaryAnn

    I’m a big fan of this movie, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been called stupid or ignorant or immature by critics over the last week or so.

    Okay, Trayla, I’ll bite: Please explain what you enjoy about this movie that engages you as a smart, knowledgable, mature person. I really would like to hear a defense of this movie that makes me appreciate it from that perspective.

  • Anne-Kari

    @Trayla: Moreover, please point me toward the reviews that actually say something directly bashing moviegoers who like this movie. I imagine there are some who would be so rude as to actually say “anyone who likes this movie is an idiot” – I just doubt that the majority of professional (or even amatuer) movie reviewers would directly insult the AUDIENCE.

    As for Michael Bay? Sorry, he’s fair game. He MADE THE MOVIE and has made many others of similar ilk.

  • Bree

    Anyone who read the leaked email Bay sent to execs bemoaning the lack of marketing for ROTF now knows he is not exactly bright. His English composition and grammar were terrible, with errors grade school children commonly make (‘would of’ instead of ‘would have’, etc.). Perhaps it’s not exactly surprising the man makes dumb movies.

    And Micheal Bay is a world-class misogynist, most glaringly obvious in ROTF. I was cringing in my seat, particularly in the first act.

  • doa766

    I posted this before on another article but film critics think too much of themselves

    casablanca, citizen kane, dr strangelove, alien, the shinning, blade runner, hard boiled, fight club were all given poor reviews in general

    most critics have been watching movies for decades and they hold the movies that saw when they were young as canon, critics represent the status qou

    if there had been a tomatomenter when 2001 was released it probably would’ve gottten around 20%

    the movies that drive the industry foward are the ones that break canon, that do things that were unthinkable before and most critics can’t cope with that “offense” to their holy standards

    this is clearly evidenced on any review of David Fincher’s latest movies, since Seven and Fight Club he has become a highly respected director, now what critics most value about his new movies it’s his technical presicion but that hasn’t change, so on the reviews of his new movies they’re are compelled to explain why they originally gave negative reviews to his early movies by saying that the gore of the nihilism blinded them of the same flawless technique that benjamin button of zodiac have

    so the teenagers who saw seven and thought it was excellent had a much more of a valid opinion than even the most famous critics who disregarded

    I’m ot saying that’s the case with Mr Bay’s movies but judging from their history of dismissing brilliant movies that they didn’t get, critics should be a lot more modest about their opinions

    starting by acknowledging that their reviews are opinions from their point of view and nothing else

    maybe the future of movies it’s non sensical plot and overtly edited action scenes, maybe someone would come along in a few years and make something great out of it (Paul Greengrass already did that), and then maybe Mr Bay would be considered a visionary or at least a pioneer

    but for now he remains the devil for any real movie lover

  • MBI

    “Se7en” and “Fight Club” got great reviews. That’s how Fincher gained a solid reputation. I’m willing to bet that for every great movie that got slagged at its release, there are a billion others that got slapped down and deserved it. And yeah, your list of great movies… you’re overstating the case, if not outright incorrect, that they got “generally poor” reviews.

    Besides, quality isn’t objective. A critic’s responsibility is to say exactly what he or she feels. People think a critic risks nothing. A critic risks everything, just as a filmmaker risks everything. Should I hold back on dismissing a movie I hate just in case it turns out everyone else likes it? Everyone else already apparently likes this movie. It’s obscenely popular. That doesn’t mean I hate it any less, and it would be dishonest of me to claim otherwise.

  • mortadella

    I love film reviews, I love film citicism…then again, I’m biased since I’m a journalist by trade and had the A&E beat for about seven out of the 12 years I’ve been working.

    I’m not sure what’s going on with some of the comments above….

    I dunno, I guess some people need approval from strangers to like something…which is silly. None of my friends like The Pixies or The Kills, but I could give a rat’s ass. Just be proud of your choices and forget the external validation.

    Someone above wrote…”critics should be more modest of their opinions.”

    Uh, why? Holding back isn’t the critics job.

  • Chris

    Why do critics need to be modest? Here’s the thing: a review is this: “This movie sucked/kicked ass. Here’s why.” And that’s in a context of someone who has seen many, many films. That doesn’t make their opinion “more valid,” but it gives them a broader background to work from. They understand the movie industry, understand that technical aspects of the art, and can draw on that. It’s just like any opinion paper a college student writes. It’s not the argument that’s important, it’s how well you can support it.

    Critics write for the people who read them; they aren’t trying to predict anything, or forsee what will be in style, they’re giving their opinion. And I choose my critics by how much I agree with them. 90% of the time I agree with MAJ. Don’t like it? Switch critics…

  • Bree

    ‘Everyone else already apparently likes this movie. It’s obscenely popular.’

    Re: MBI’s comment, I just wanted to add that I think it’s way too early to judge the actual popularly of ROTF. It had a massive opening weekend, but that was to be expected; opening week-ends have nothing to do with a movie being genuinely ‘popular’ or ‘well-liked’ and everything to do with it being a hugely marketed blockbuster sequel to a popular original that people were going to see REGARDLESS of what critics had to say.

    The second and third week-ends will be telling in respect to actual popularity and whether or not the movie is truly adored, because that is when word of mouth takes over and genuine cultural impact can begin to be gauged. Nothing can be extrapolated from the first week-end; just because a huge number of people go to see a movie on opening week doesn’t mean the movie is well-liked, only that it is highly anticipated.

  • Anne-Kari: Moreover, please point me toward the reviews that actually say something directly bashing moviegoers who like this movie.

    Here’s a passage from Walter Chaw’s review at filmfreakcentral.net: “The problem with Bay is that he hates you. He thinks you’re a moron and then you go about proving him right by making his movies obscenely popular.”

  • MBI

    Walter Chaw is one of the most abrasive critics on the Net. He’s also one of the best.

    I don’t like it when he insults me personally, which he does frequently. But quite honestly, every negative review is an implied insult against its fans. You can deal with it or you can move on. I’d much rather have critics like Chaw or MaryAnn here tearing after movies they hate with a chainsaw than ballsless morons like Richard Roeper or Owen Glieberman.

  • doa766

    seven and fight club got terrible reviews when they were released, most of the positive reviews were written years later

  • Dr Rocketscience

    seven and fight club got terrible reviews when they were released, most of the positive reviews were written years later

    [citation needed]

    Dude, you can’t just repeat your assertion and make it true.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_(film)#Reaction

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight_Club_(film)#Critical_reception

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    With regards to great movies getting bad reviews first time round, I’m reminded of Carl Sagan’s quote, which went something like, “It is true that they all laughed at Galileo, but then they all laughed at Bozo the Clown too. It’s not enough to be laughed at – you have to be right, too.”

  • Anne-Kari

    @Sean: As I said – I imagine there are some who would be so rude as to actually say “anyone who likes this movie is an idiot” – I just doubt that the majority of professional (or even amateur) movie reviewers would directly insult the AUDIENCE.

    I’m unfamiliar with filmfreakcentral.net, so I can’t speak to their professionalism, credentials, or popularity. And yes, that’s a pretty insulting line there from Mr. Chaw, at least toward the end. I don’t think it’s acceptable (or professionally smart) for a critic to call audiences stupid.

    But I still find it hard to believe that this kind of direct insult to the audience is as prevalent as Trayla indicated.

    Still, in terms of Michael Bay – he’s totally fair game.

  • ashok

    Re: the Walter Chaw quote – I think it is absolutely, entirely accurate. His review of Transformers 2 is pretty much on the money.

  • marshall

    I didn’t hate Transformers: RotF, but I didn’t like it either. There were parts I liked, parts I didn’t mind so much, and other parts I didn’t like. I think the person who gave the Sunday analogy hit it spot on. There were some great idea’s in the movie that as a transformers fan I really liked – none of theme were developed though.

    Critics in general see alot more movies than non-critics, and so they start to see trends and themes repeated over and over again that a casual movie-goer might not see. Thus – when you see movies like RotF that seem to almost celebrate certain negative aspects of our culture that are repeated time and again in other movies, critics tap into that and make note of it. However, critics are also going to be biased in nature. After all, they are looking at the movie through their life experiences and idea’s. It’s tough to be completely objective about something, so some critics will ‘get’ a film, while others won’t. A good example of this was “Watchman”. I think alot of ‘mainstream’ critics who weren’t familiar with the source material or familiar with the themes the story tries to present just didn’t get the movie. I think they had an innitial viewpoint that it was going to be like x-men – an action oriented superhero movie – it was certainly marketed as such unfortunately, and thus went in with a pre-concieved notion of what the movie was going to be about. Because it didn’t meet this pre-concieved idea that had, they gave it unfavorable reviews. Other reviewers who knew the source material gave it more positive reviews. There are exceptions though – there are rare critics who are able to go into a movie with either no pre-conceptions or can otherwise put them aside and try to judge the movie on itself.

    I have seen various articles that point out that most people who watch movies and tv do so passivly. It’s not that these people are stupid, it’s just that our society has a problem with critical thinking skills. Especially today where everything is tested and tested. Memorization is key, not thinking about something. However, critical thinking can be learned, you just have to at first force yourself to do it until it becomes more natural.

    This is why I enjoy critics like Mary-Ann – her reviews make me think about the movie, not just passivly watch it. I don’t always agree with her, but I always think about it afterwords.

  • Accounting Ninja

    if there had been a tomatomenter when 2001 was released it probably would’ve gottten around 20%

    lol, there’s no possible way we could know that. I would be interested is WHY critics of the time panned these movies. Part of me thinks it’s because back then, sci-fi was not respected as a genre nearly as much as it is today. Sci-fi was a silly teenage boy thing. I can’t really speak for Casablanca and older movies like it.

    Anyways, I love movie reviews, especially of bad ones. It’s sort of a hobby of mine, even with movies I personally like, to get in someone’s brain and find out why they didn’t like it. I used to frequent Rottentomatoes, but now I only really come here, because though I disagree with her sometimes, MAJ thinks most like me when it comes to movies. I love it when MAJ reviews a movie she hates; it’s hilarious! Sorry to enjoy your pain like that.;P

    Being told to “turn off my brain” really bugs me. Um, no? Don’t want to. Now, if a movie does the brainless thing RIGHT, I can thoroughly enjoy it. Case in point: Independence Day. What schlock that was, but I like that movie. It wasn’t lazy. The action scenes weren’t incoherent in an attempt to mask poor storytelling. Characters weren’t introduced only to be completely dropped later. It had (cheesy cliched) character interaction too, which I prefer to stiff, unnatural dialogue or forgoing it altogether.
    I haven’t seen ROTF, but I have seen the first one, and I hated it. It could have been great like ID, but it was just …lazy. It’s like when I watch bad anime with this bullshit pseudo-psychological or confusing plot pretending to be “deep”, but they just wrote themselves into a corner and you can tell. The robot designs were awful, plus they had very little screen time. Personalities were forgotten. Lazy. Action was muddled and loud. Lazy. What was the deal with that blonde hacker and her very sterotypical friend. We never really find out. Lazy. Horrible banal high-school “wants the popular girl who’s actually perfect for him” plot. Ugh. Like I don’t see that ALL THE TIME EVERYWHERE. I actually thought it would have been cooler if they dropped the high school thing altogether and had Sam end up with the blonde hacker, because at least she was interesting beyond being molested by Bay’s camera like Fox.

  • Brian

    Surely, critics have been reviled by some folks since the first Greek ventured an opinion on a performance at the Festival of Dionysus.

    The particular brand of animosity that pits box office versus critics, though, is in part an extension of the way many have been conditioned to react to the news and information media. Thanks to cable news, political blogs, radio talk shows, etc., many seem to have adopted the opinion that the primary obligation of anyone in the information media is to confirm their own prejudices. If you say something contrary to what I believe, then you have no place having a public opinion, and in fact, you should probably be silenced.

    Witness the pitchforks and torches that come out anytime someone says something less than laudatory about Sarah Palin — or conversely, the rabid zeal with which Al Sharpton shouts down the slightest whiff of racism in any remark made by anyone, real or perceived.

    It’s a lot easier to attack those who express different opinions as infidels, rubes, monsters, or out-of-touch snobs than to defend your own work or your own beliefs in the face of criticism. Hence, critics are simply a uniform bunch of “anti-fun,” elitist sourpusses when most of them don’t like your big hit blockbuster. When they do, of course, you’re happy to take the plaudits.

    In this case, though, when even Harry Knowles, the apotheosis of the fanboy geek, headlines his review with “foul-mouthed, racist, and misogynistic,” you know there’s something going on that’s much harder to dismiss. Maybe Mr. Bay cries about this privately atop his giant pile of money. We’ll never know.

  • Waiting to see Transformers: ROTF

    Like I said before, movie/film critics see way too many movies/films to be objective. They are industry insiders, and as such, what they say is terrific vs. tripe depends on industry pressure.

    Dark Knight was good, but not that good.
    Brokeback Mountain was good, but not that good.
    Titanic was good, but good grief, not that good.
    Bladerunner was good, but not that good.
    Patton was good, but not that good.

    The list goes on and on. And I watch and enjoy many of these again and again.

    But then, ultimately everyone is a critic. What matches their tastes gets a good review, and what does not gets black-listed.

    Looking at it that way, the main difference between professional critics and everyone else: who gets paid for putting their OPINION in print.

  • AJP

    Waiting to See Transformers: Do you really think that MaryAnn is an “industry insider”?

  • amanohyo

    Waiting to see Transformers and marshall, I read a lot of books. Does that mean that I am somehow less capable of objective criticism than someone who reads far fewer books? And what about the quality, type, and variety of books I read? Don’t those count for something? When I need an informed opinion about the quality of a book, I ask an expert, ie someone with a lot of experience. I don’t understand why that wouldn’t be the case with movies as well.

    I agree that some well known critics have developed strong ties with the larger studios, but go to Rotten Tomatoes and ask yourself how many of those “professional” critics are truly Hollywood insiders. As AJP already asked, would you consider MA or Walter Chaw to be insiders?

    Ultimately, everyone is a critic in the same way that ultimately everyone is a chef and an author and a role model and a philosopher. Of course the difference between a professional critic and joe-schmo on amazon or criticker is that the professional gets paid; that’s the definition of a professional. And of course a review is fundamentally an opinion (although it’s often detailed and well-supported).

    The question that we are trying to answer is what is the purpose of film criticism, or perhaps more specifically, what makes a good movie review? Should a review place the film in a larger context? Should it try to make connections to larger ideas about history, society, art, and/or humanity? Should it make you notice new details and ask new questions? Should it be entertaining? Should the personalities of the filmmakers, actors, and/or actresses be considered? Should a review even include a recommendation or score at all?

    MA is just saying that there are many people who think that if a critic writes an unfavorable review for a movie that later turns out to be popular, then the critic has automatically “failed” in their job. For these people, I’m guessing that a good movie review is one that correctly predicts whether they will personally enjoy watching a movie or not and nothing more. I would argue that in an objective sense, good criticism is about more than the simple recommendation of a product, that the most important things are the why and how and in what context, not the orientation of the thumb. Like Accounting Ninja, some of the best reviews I’ve read are ones that I didn’t personally agree with because they made me see elements of the film in a new way and forced me to reconsider my position.

  • Paul

    What I want from a movie reviewer is a deeper view of the movie, which is pretty much what I want from a literature professor about books. I can decide for myself if I “like” it or not. If there is no deeper side, or if the subtext is ugly, that’s justifiable fodder for the critic.

    So that means I want critics who have seen lots of movies, or else they will not have learned to study a movie while they watch it. That also means critics are going to be harder to please, just as I am when I’m book shopping.

    It used to annoy me when they advertised books by having people say “I usually don’t read books, but I really liked this one.” I understood the method, they were trying to broaden the appeal, but it wasn’t aimed at a guy like me.

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