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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: How could we change film criticism to please Kevin Smith?

The other day, Kevin Smith let loose on his Twitter feed about how much he hates the “nasty bloodsport” and “AnimalFarm bullshit” of film criticism in the age of the Internet. All because most of my fellow critics hated Cop Out with a passion. In my case, it’s the kind of passion reserved for those we love who massively disappoint us.

Karina Longworth at L.A Weekly has a nice roundup of Smith’s arguments that I recommend reading, but I’ll summarize further:

• no critic who sees a movie for free is allowed to shit on a movie
• critics should have a filmmaker’s “best interests” at heart
• critics should have at least as much experience as a critic as a filmmaker has making movies before daring to comment on a film
• no critic should piss on a movie that the filmmaker himself admits is a piece of shit he made in a halfassed way with low ambitions.
Further, Smith has created a Twitter hashtag under which to continue such discussion: #FuckTheseBourgeoisFreeMoviePigs. (Film critic Ryan Stewart responded: “I like that @thatkevinsmith, a multi-millionaire, is obsessing on the one privilege of people who otherwise barely make enough to pay taxes.”)

Smith is proposing that from now on, critics who want to see his films in advance should have to pay admission to press screenings, and also that he may just invite 500 random Twitterers to see his films first and let them tweet their reactions afterward, because what’s the difference?

How could we change film criticism to please Kevin Smith?

Lest I be misunderstood, I’m being about 99 percent sarcastic here. But I’m leaving that 1 percent open to the possibility that there really is something we could be doing differently — we film critics and you who consume film criticism — that would actually be better.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Orangutan

    critics should have at least as much experience as a critic as a filmmaker has making movies before daring to comment on a film

    AGAIN with this notion! You have no idea how much that whole idea angers me. And it’s everywhere. Anywhere that you (using the collective ‘you’ here, of course) disagree with someone, that is one of the first counterattacks to pop up. Normally just after ‘you’re just jealous!’. Arrrrgh.

    From the article linked:

    My point: if I’m gonna show it to 500 arbitrary people for free, I’d rather show it to 500 arbitrary people off Twitter. What’s the diff?

    The ‘diff’, Mr. Smith, is that the 500 random Twitterers are most likely fans of yours (I’m playing odds here, why would you follow someone unless you’re a fan?), so I’d say it’s pretty likely that they’re going to like whatever you show them. Whereas a professional film critic, well, they don’t have any vested interest in stroking your apparently fragile ego.

  • LaSargenta

    You know, all this could have been avoided if he made a decent pic.

  • Jester

    I don’t think he’s saying pick 500 people following him on Twitter. I think he’s saying pick 500 people from Twitter at random.

    The argument he’s making (I disagree with it, but this appears to be the argument) is that there are no special skills needed to be a film critic. Further, he’s postulating that a random person on the street will be just as effective at film criticism as someone who does film criticism all the time. Even further than that, he seems to be arguing that the random person on the street might be a better film critic because they won’t over-think films too much.

    You can hyper-link this QOTD to the Variety topic the other day: film criticism, just like news reporting, has to face the threat of the “new media”: i.e., 100,000 bloggers each with their own opinions of a film (or news) and the ability to get that opinion published. Here’s the KS money quote:

    The same people who democratized writing about movies by being rank amateurs themselves when they started now poo-poo the idea of letting people from Twitter take their gig.

    Again: I am not defending this idea. I happen to disagree with it. But that’s KS’s position as I understand it. I myself have found a group of four movie critics I like (MAJ being one). I find that a mish-mash of their four opinions tends to be my opinion. And it’s no coincidence that all four have been doing this a long time and all four make at least some money at it.

  • AJP

    Isn’t everyone an amatuer when they begin a new endeavor? I seriously doubt that Ebert’s first movie critiques were paid for, even if he had to submit them to his high school newspaper or something.

    In fact, I’d bet that Smith’s first efforts at movie making were amatuer ones as well. One could argue that the entire making of the movie Clerks was an excercise in amatuer filmmaking.

    The point is not that random people on twitter couldn’t become effective and insigntful movie critics. The point is that people who spend their time developing their skills (even if they do it in a non-pro status) are generally better at the job than those who just dabble. A random twitter denizen could possibly be as good as MaryAnn as a movie critic – if they put in the years of effort watching movies, honing their writing skills, and immersing themselves in the topic. Cranking out 125 characters on a lark one weekend on the other hand simply won’t match up.

  • Jester

    @AJP: Yep. And that’s where KS’s argument breaks down logically. He both:
    * wants random people off the street reviewing movies because they’ll be more open to any type of movie; and,
    * wants to ensure that a film critic has as much experience reviewing films as KS does making them.

    He can’t have it both ways, and he’s not seeing that in the heat of the argument.

  • Magess

    Jester, you pretty much nailed it.

    There’s a difference between saying you like something or don’t and being able to say why, and, additionally, being able to distinguish between like/don’t and individual technical aspects that go into any given media.

    The other movie reviewers I listen to are long time critics/film students, one with a little acting background. AKA, people who should have a more informed context for these things than the average viewer. And sometimes? Reading/listening to reviews by those people change my opinion about a movie because I come away *having learned something*.

  • Althea

    So let’s see: Kevin Smith makes shoes. He works really hard at it and is proud of his efforts. Some of his designs were big hits, and people tend to look forward to his new stuff. Shoe reviewers get a pair for free to try out. His latest are ugly and uncomfortable. They’re the right size but they pinch, the nails in the heels are poking up, and the stitches are sloppy.

    But ol’ Kev thinks you ought not to mention that because why? You’re not the general public, after all – if you’d gone into a store and paid for them, you’d be more appreciative? (Hmm…free great shoes are hard to tell from free bad shoes…) You don’t make shoes, so you don’t know how shoes are supposed to be made? (Hmm…yeah, all you know is how to wear shoes…) You haven’t worn as many shoes as he’s made, so you don’t have the experience to determine a good shoe from a bad shoe? (Oop…well…you have, um, worn lots and lots of shoes BESIDES HIS…)

    Tell ya what, Kev – let’s just not review your shoes – oh, sorry, movies – at all. Nobody say nothin’ and let the genpub decide on his movies’ merits on their own. That’ll work. Yeah.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I had a different take than Jester’s. KS is fine with critics as long as they’re movie shills and quote whores who are good at what they do.

    To wit:

    • no critic who sees a movie for free is allowed to shit on a movie
    Translation: if I give them a free screening they owe me

    • critics should have a filmmaker’s “best interests” at heart
    IOW, a shill

    • critics should have at least as much experience as a critic as a filmmaker has making movies before daring to comment on a film
    IOW, a good shill with an established following

    • no critic should piss on a movie that the filmmaker himself admits is a piece of shit he made in a halfassed way with low ambitions.
    Translation: see all of the above

    As for the question at hand, my answer is be good enough to be one of the survivors. The blog craze is maturing past the point where every idiot with a keyboard is going online with their ideas, and the blogosphere is contracting as the gems get sorted out of the slurry.

  • Knightgee

    It’s disappointing to see this kind of petulant whining from otherwise decent filmmakers. I really am annoyed by this democratization of criticism that seems to be so popular. I’m not spending 4 years and thousands of dollars on tuition analyzing the intricacies, techniques, themes and styles of hundreds of books just so some random Joe off the street with no experience whatsoever in the field can come in and insist that his opinion is as well-educated, robust, and informed as mine is. KS would be completely insulted if his opinion as an experienced director on how to make a good movie was equated to that of someone who has never even been behind a camera before, yet he is effectively doing just that here to film critics.

  • Patrick

    While I love me some Kevin Smith, I find his position indefensible.

  • Entropy

    I’m not a film critic, nor do I make films. But the man has a point on several issues. Disagree if you want with the guy, but as a consumer the first thing I look at when I read a movie review online are the user ratings.

    If I feel like reading the critics reviews, I’ll do it, but it’s very rare that I read a critic’s positive review that actually gets me excited about seeing a movie, or a negative review that doesn’t dwell on things most people don’t care about.

    Personally, I’d much prefer the tweets of 500 random Twitter users (not fans of the guy, but random people) over any number of critics’ reviews, because critics tend to be, for the most part, either spewing praise over aspects of a film I don’t care about, or complaining about aspects of a film I don’t care about, whereas the 500 random people probably won’t spend an entire article complaining about whether or not the broad statement a movie seems to be trying to make doesn’t quite fit in with today’s world view or some other nonsense.

  • and to think, there was a time when artists of all stripes craved the approval of critics… when a bad review on the opening night of a broadway show could close it the next day; when rex reed could kill a movie’s box office with one chillingly sarcastic word; when an artist would kill himself because of the harsh critical review of his work.

    now — it seems to have turned on its head. perhaps if a film critic killed herself at the harsh words of film makers, that would satisfy KS.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    This is why writers are told early and often: NEVER respond to a bad review. It gets out of hand very quickly, and more than anything, makes you, the writer, look like a self-important douche.

    I would have thought filmmakers would receive the same advice.

  • 1. You can’t please everybody.

    2. If it was worth doing, then it doesn’t really matter what the critics think because in the long run, the effect of the work on new audiences is going to speak louder than some review written back in such-and-such decade. If it wasn’t worth doing, you’re not really in an ideal position to kvetch about anything.

    3. People tend to be even harsher on a bad movie when it’s a bad movie that they have paid to see. (In other words, people–both critics and non-critics alike –expect value for their money–even if it’s at a second-run theatre.)

    4. Film reviewing is hardly the most difficult job out there and when you consider how many people out there have jobs that are even more difficult and thankless than that of being a film critic, it’s hard not to roll one’s eyes on those who go on and on about how tough it is to be a film critic.

    That said, even the lowliest person deserves respect if he or she does their job in a professional manner. Indeed, even the amateur critic who chooses to spend time polishing their craft and gaining experience deserves some respect if for no other reason that there are undoubtedly many other things they could be doing for free that would be a lot more fun than sitting up late at night trying to write a film review for a readership which may or may not appreciate it.

    As a filmmaker who has paid his dues and has made his share of movies about people doing thankless jobs, Smith should understand this. If he doesn’t, to hell with him.

  • LaSargenta

    But, Entropy, a film doesn’t get made in a vaccuum.

    500 random people probably won’t spend an entire article complaining about whether or not the broad statement a movie seems to be trying to make doesn’t quite fit in with today’s world view or some other nonsense.

    The writer, the director, and lots of other people involved with making the film have and had worldviews that became part of the film. I’d beg to differe with you that that sort of a discussion would be irrelevant.

    And, too, for me, 500 random tweets about liking or disliking is pretty useless unless I know something about how those 500 peole think. I can’t imagine using that as my gauge. I might as well just use the weekly box office numbers then, and only see sutff that is making a lot of money because there are warm butts in the seats.

  • mortadella

    Random tweets and user ratings? Don’t give a crap.

    It reminds me of why so many directors hate those test audiences who fill out cards at the end of a showing. Most of those people aren’t necessarily cinema lovers, they just like the idea of being part of an event. They write things like, “It was stupid,” or “I didn’t understand the plot,” and leave it at that. Those test audiences are also responsible for a lot of the bullshit demographic studies that make a lot of mainstream films so trite.

    Could film critics of high caliber be doing anything different? I don’t think so. Kevin just had a bad few months and he’s venting a little too much.
    I mean, I like some of his stuff, but he’s getting defensive about Cop Out? Dude, come on, you’re not that delusional, are you?

  • darryl

    film critics should leave their politics at the door. too many use their reviews to spread their own virulence.

    try to understand everyone has a different taste and your own view is not the truth.

    alot of times you yourself criticize a bad movie and suggest whats wrong with it, but whats wrong with the movie has nothing to do with your unravellings–its just what you begin to focus your mind on as the boring piece of shit unfolds infront of you. same with a good movies.

    but the real problems come out when one hits your political marks but it sucks, yet you ll recommend it. again, vice versa.

    all critics are playing this same game and it makes their reviews nearly worthless. ofcourse, nothing is going to change, and kevin is being a whining little snot nose, but at the same time, hes right.

  • mortadella

    Mmm, darryl, when you were a kid, did a film critic kick your ass while you were on the way to school or something?

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    but the real problems come out when one hits your political marks but it sucks, yet you ll recommend it.

    How do you know this is what critics are thinking? Maybe they genuinely enjoyed as well as agreed with the movie? But no, apparently that’s not possible because the movie objectively “sucks”. That’s a mighty ironic thing to say when you started off your post with:

    try to understand everyone has a different taste and your own view is not the truth.

    I understand this point. MaryAnn understands this point. You apparently don’t.

  • MaryAnn

    How do you know this is what critics are thinking?

    This is why I think it’s absolutely vital that critics be upfront about their biases. And why critics should be the first ones to call bullshit on the notion that there’s any such thing as “objective” criticism.

  • It reminds me of a conservative blogging post I would pick arguments on. If you knew less about a subject than they did, they ragged on you for ignorance. If you knew more about a subject than they did, they accused you of being an over-specialized academic egghead. The perfect circle of defense against criticism.

    That’s what Smith wants here. As Jester pointed out, 500 random Twitters with years of movie experience who have already paid to see the movie, and have his best interests at heart so presumably already like his work and if Smith hardly put any work into a bad movie then the critics will pretend the movie never happened.

  • Kensai

    Next up: Kevin Smith takes a page from Uwe Boll and challenges the top 10 people who hated Cop Out to a boxing match.

  • RogerBW

    Replace all reviews with the text “Kevin Smith is so scared that people won’t like his film that he doesn’t dare to show it to us”.

    (I.e. we all know what “not screened for critics” means, so when you know your film is a piece of crap use the existing mechanism to say so.)

  • Entropy

    LaSargenta, my point is not whether or not there is some deeper meaning behind a film, however subtle it may be..

    The writer, the director, and lots of other people involved with making the film have and had worldviews that became part of the film. I’d beg to differe with you that that sort of a discussion would be irrelevant.

    My point is more along the lines of: most people don’t care.

    I’ll use the example of the film Law Abiding Citizen. Check it out on Rotten Tomatoes, or just about any other site that has both user and critics reviews.

    The critics, who gave the film a 13% rating, say: it’s trying to make a point about society that’s absurd, the story is such a stretch, it’s unnecessarily violent, etc.

    The users, who gave the film a 69% rating, say: I enjoyed it for the first 50 minutes and then it went too far, it’s a great time-waster, Gerard Butler as a bad guy wasn’t as believeable as you’d have liked to see, the movie was intense as well as violent from beginning to end, etc.

    I liked this movie. Many of the people I know liked this movie. Yes, we can see that the story is kind of absurd, but we would turn on the news if we wanted to see something a little more down-to-earth.

    My argument is: the average person knows what the average person wants to see better than a film critic does, because film critics are not the average movie-goer. Film critics watch movies as employment, they likely watch more than your average movie-goer, and so they know a lot about them, allowing them to see things that (unfortunately) most people don’t care about.

    I guess I’m trying to say that if most of the people I know who saw that movie liked it, the users who have reviewed it seem to have liked it, and critics give it a very poor rating, who’s wrong?

    I’ll tell you: it’s the critics.

  • LaSargenta

    I guess I’m trying to say that if most of the people I know who saw that movie liked it, the users who have reviewed it seem to have liked it, and critics give it a very poor rating, who’s wrong?

    Maybe no one is “wrong”. Different people want different things, so why are you looking to Les Halles to make you a plate of Chicken McNuggets? Why is the problem with the critics? Why is this even a problem at all?

    Personally, I want more than what you’re talking about. No denigration of what you want, it is just that it isn’t what I want. I read MAJ, for instance, because I stumbled across her writing and found she wrote about a whole lot of things I was already thinking. Hence, I keep reading and I generally trust her and what she says even when I disagree with her.

    So, why do you even bother reading ‘the critics’? To keep yourself annoyed at them? To keep yourself secure in your feeling that there is only one way to look at your entertainment? Does it bother you that what you enjoy might have deeper layers that may or may not be unpleasant or uncomfortable for others? Or that something you think bites the big wet red one might be some font of inspiration for a whole other group of people?

  • [MaryAnn wrote] critics should be the first ones to call bullshit on the notion that there’s any such thing as “objective” criticism.

    I know we’ve had a discussion about “objectivity” before, but I’m still not convinced this statement is true. Aren’t there standards of craft which we can use to determine whether one movie is superior to another? Is there any way that someone who claims Cop Out is a superior movie to The Godfather would be taken seriously?

    And if there’s no such thing as “objective” criticism, does that mean that Kevin Smith is right, that the opinion of a movie critic is worth as much as the opinion of 500 random Twitterers?

    [Entropy wrote] I guess I’m trying to say that if most of the people I know who saw that movie liked it, the users who have reviewed it seem to have liked it, and critics give it a very poor rating, who’s wrong?

    I’ll tell you: it’s the critics.

    So is the value of a work of art just a matter of the majority opinion? I would guess that if Citizen Kane were released today, the vast majority of moviegoers would probably find it boring. Does that mean it’s not a good movie?

    Maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle. If art is meant to communicate (is it always?), and a film or a book or a song connects with a big audience, then it’s obviously doing something right. But a knowledgeable critic can point out other virtues or flaws in the work that the general audience might not have noticed otherwise, and that’s a valuable perspective as well.

  • Entropy

    LaSargenta: That’s just my point, though.. I DON’T read the critics’ reviews. I don’t read them because I have seen this as a very chronic problem with critics’ reviews in general: they are typically focused on things the masses don’t care about, and I’d rather hear what the masses have to say. Yes, there are people for whom the critics’ reviews are insightful and helpful, and that’s fine. I’m not saying that critics’ opinions are useless, just that they don’t focus on things most people care about, and that’s been a trend which has led to me (and everyone else I know) to skip the movie review section of the paper and rely on word of mouth from the average person.

    Bluejay: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. The value of a piece of art is placed upon it by the masses. As an artist myself, I know that if I’m the only one who likes the music I create, what’s the point? Some music critic out there might love it and write rave reviews, and that’s all well and good, but who cares if that guy is the only one who takes enjoyment from it? In the same vein, the music might be dumped on by all of the critics, but if the venue is packed every show with screaming fans, again, who cares what the reviewer thinks?

  • LaSargenta

    Well, Entropy, you said

    That’s just my point, though..

    …but, that’s not Kevin Smith’s point. His point seems to be that critics should just look at it like “the masses” (whoever the fuck they are — ’cause I’m definately a person and pretty average in my opinion and there’s an awful lot of shit that supposedly the masses like, like Sex and the City or GI Joe that I think is a stinking heap) and not bother to think.

    Sorry, in my world, if they know they won’t be made fun of for being ‘brainy’ everyone thinks and is happy to talk about it if they think someone might be listening. I work in construction, btw. Dockworkers are fantastic conversationalists.

    Get off your high horse (or low horse, as the case may be) about the masses, ‘kay?

  • Hdj

    I didn’t event know Cop out was a Kevin Smith film. Normally his films have his name all over them and the trailers say ” its the new Kevin Smith film”. Hot Tub time machine looks more like a typical Kevin Smith film then Cop out

  • Entropy

    The only people on high horses are the ones who seem to think their opinions are better than others. I’m not saying that what critics say is wrong, just that most people don’t care. My opinion on what movies are good and why are no more valid (or just as valid) than anyone else’s, no matter how long they’ve been watching or reviewing films. So why care what a critic thinks? I’d rather have an average of 500 people at random than the opinion of one critic who’s reviewed 500 movies.

    But maybe if critics focused less on the trivial things the average person doesn’t care about people would stop using that part of the newspaper to ensure the dog has a place to relieve itself while its owner is away at work. I’m not a tremendous Kevin Smith fan, and he is wrong to complain, but we just disagree on the reason. I think he’s an idiot for complaining that critics don’t like his film. He should be focusing on how sad it is that every year the review section of the paper is smaller and less relevant.

    And he has less paper for his dog to pee on if he has one.

  • Felix

    Kevin Smith wants me to get fucked?

    For once, he and I have something in common.

  • “…He [Atom Egoyan] credited good reviews with gaining him attention as a young filmmaker, and wondered if the changing film world had made it harder for his kind of movies — what he called medium-size films — to be seen.”

    from today’s NY Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/movies/30onst.html

  • and yet more, which seems to go to the heart of this discussion:

    “There was a time when there was a real anticipation of an independent film,” he said. “But the attention span has changed, and the ability of the critical community to read these films. I think there’s a tremendous pressure on critics and film writers to concentrate on films that are perceived to be more popular, and I think it’s changed the landscape.”

    by the way, the emphasis in both quotes is mine.

  • Magess

    The value of a piece of art is placed upon it by the masses.

    You realize that this means the Twilight series are the best, most important books of the decade. Do you honestly think that’s true?

  • Jim Mann

    Entropy said:
    The only people on high horses are the ones who seem to think their opinions are better than others. I’m not saying that what critics say is wrong, just that most people don’t care. My opinion on what movies are good and why are no more valid (or just as valid) than anyone else’s, no matter how long they’ve been watching or reviewing films. So why care what a critic thinks? I’d rather have an average of 500 people at random than the opinion of one critic who’s reviewed 500 movies.

    If your only reason for reading a critic is to see if they liked the film or not, you have a point. But that’s not why I read critics.

    I like to discuss movies, and to I like to understand how they work, what makes them good or bad, and so on. (I also like doing that with books.) Reading a good critic is like being engaged in an interesting discussion about a film. Doesn’t even matter if you agree with the critic’s overall evaluation. The sign of a good critic is that you gain insight into the film even if you disagree with many parts of the evaluation.

    Also, even if you are just looking for a “thumbs up/thumbs down,” such an evaluation from a random person seems meaningless. If a random person comes up to you and says “good movie; go see it,” how do you know how to judge that statement. You have no background or history with the person. Their taste may be very different from yours. When I read Roger Ebert or MaryAnn, I have a context to put their comments in.

  • darryl

    there is objective criticism.

    if one is a true critic and lover of movies, one should see there are only a few different genres of art,each one appealing to a different class or taste of human being. if one learns what others like, by subjecting themselves to the many stages of human taste, one will see if cop out is a good movie for those who like that type of movie, or its not.
    not if they themselves have outgrown the genre or do not like the message , but if its good for those that do like it.
    saying macdonalds sucks when 75% of the population eats it daily would only suggest one is oblivious to the reality that surrounds you.

    objectivity only requires one to come down of their high horse.
    remember, this is not creating a product, its criticising it for those who wish to purchase it.

  • Roy

    I’ll use the example of the film Law Abiding Citizen. Check it out on Rotten Tomatoes, or just about any other site that has both user and critics reviews.

    The critics, who gave the film a 13% rating, say: it’s trying to make a point about society that’s absurd, the story is such a stretch, it’s unnecessarily violent, etc.

    The users, who gave the film a 69% rating, say: I enjoyed it for the first 50 minutes and then it went too far, it’s a great time-waster, Gerard Butler as a bad guy wasn’t as believeable as you’d have liked to see, the movie was intense as well as violent from beginning to end, etc.

    There’s a huge selection bias that your not considering, though. Critics generally review a large number of movies, People generally only go see movies they think they will like. The user ratings section is not at all the same as a random sample of average moviegoers.

  • Knightgee

    I guess I’m trying to say that if most of the people I know who saw that movie liked it, the users who have reviewed it seem to have liked it, and critics give it a very poor rating, who’s wrong?

    You’re appealing to the majority, which is a flawed argument. At one point, it was popular to believe the Earth was flat. At one point, it was popular to believe black people were inferior. The masses are not automatically right. The popular view is not immediately the only valuable and correct one. Furthermore, the notion that critics shouldn’t dissect media is ridiculous. Media is a powerful socializing force. It needs to be analyzed and confronted. Just because you don’t want to invest the time and thought into doing so doesn’t mean those who do are somehow wrong to do so. You can go laugh at gay panic humor all you want and I’ll be over here having an intelligent discussion about the ways such humor trains us as viewers to see gay people as objects of derision, weirdness and humor.

  • darryl

    so, now that everyone thinks the earth is round, its not?

    people have known the earth was round for atleast 5000 years, which is shown in their understanding of how to make a calendar that is 26000 years in duration..the gyroscopic completion of one true earth cycle which can only be understood if you know you are working with a circle. when people turned to god they tried to see the world a new way, an unscientific way. dont take it too literal or you already failed in your critiquing.

    movies arent trying to teach anyone anything, they are just trying to entertain because it is entertainment that sells, not education. it is you who is trying to brainwash people, not the movies.

  • MaryAnn

    saying macdonalds sucks when 75% of the population eats it daily would only suggest one is oblivious to the reality that surrounds you.

    Oblivious to what reality? Both things can be true at once: 1) Lots of people eat at McDonald’s, and 2) McDonald’s sucks. The 25 percent of the population that thinks McDonald’s sucks might want to know where else to eat. They might also be interested in discussing why McDonald’s is so popular even though (in our minority opinion) it sucks.

    And then there are other things to be examined: Why is McDonald’s so ubitquitous? Why does it appeal to so many people when real food tastes so much better (even if McDonald’s has been scientifically designed to taste as good as it does)? How is the popularity of McDonald’s changing food and how we eat and what we eat? Why are so many people satisfied with so little? Why don’t more people crave novelty?

    movies arent trying to teach anyone anything, they are just trying to entertain

    That’s certainly true of many movies. But you say this as if standards of what is considered “entertaining” never change, and as if there aren’t other factors at work (corporate hegemony, changing technology, politics, etc).

    If you don’t want to think about anything beyond pleasing yourself — such as the cultural forces that shape what you find pleasing — that’s fine: No one is forcing you to. But that doesn’t mean that other people don’t like to think about these things.

  • Magess

    saying macdonalds sucks when 75% of the population eats it daily would only suggest one is oblivious to the reality that surrounds you.

    No it isn’t. It’s not saying that 75% don’t, in fact, eat it. It’s saying that it sucks. Quality and popularity are unrelated. Usually, it seems, they’re inversely proportional.

    It might be the case that your McDonald’s fans like a quarter pounder more than any other burger on the planet. Or it might be the case that they’d actually prefer the taste of a $40 kobe beef burger, but don’t prefer the price tag. Or it might be that they’d prefer Wendy’s but it’s twice as far and they’ve got limited time. Even the mere fact that people are eating it doesn’t mean that it’s a vote for superior quality above the competition. They could eat there and tell you it sucks. People do things they don’t enjoy all the time.

  • The importance of “Twilight” will be determined by the future. If it kicks off a spasm of books about teenage girls dating the undead, or even just fantasy romances for teens in general, then it will have turned out to be “important.” If not, then it was just a really weird blip on the radar screen.

    I have to admit, what I’m about to say may not be very useful, but I only really cared about criticism once I started trying to be a writer. I wanted to look deeper at the inside of art instead of just enjoying the outside. Sure, sometimes I’d be watching a movie and think, that’s sexist, racist, etc, but it was just a superficial reaction.

    My brother, on the other hand, is a camera man for TV. It can making watching TV or movies with him either interesting or annoying.

  • darryl

    its ok, i like your reviews because you are far more entertaining than most critics. but this is all to do with your sense of humor and writing style and nothing to do with your world view. you may think they are one and the same, but they clearly arent. your world view is being changed by your growing political rhetoric, not by the world around you.

    the world isnt listening to you so your anger grows. perpetual self inflicted torture. that is everyones problem these days. lay the blame upon others for not listening to you, which creates growing resentment in oneself. anger at the world, anger at oneself.

    if you really want to change how people see things, a new way must be figured out. otherwise, one should be a critic for the people. to make it easy for them to pick a movie.

    anyways, thats how i see it.

  • Knightgee

    The importance of “Twilight” will be determined by the future. If it kicks off a spasm of books about teenage girls dating the undead, or even just fantasy romances for teens in general, then it will have turned out to be “important.”

    How will it inspiring a brief fad make it important? Unless it’s being inducted into the canon of literature as a key and essential book for understanding a particular time in American History and Literature, it’s pretty much just another popular book that inspired a fad. They had those in the past too and there’s a reason why we tend to forget about them, because the fad got old.

    And that’s ignoring the fact that what’s put in history books tends to be determined rather dubiously, so determining it’s importance by whether someone decides to include it in historical canon is also a poor gauge of relevance.

  • Knightgee

    so, now that everyone thinks the earth is round, its not?

    That was discovered through objective scientific observation, not “well everyone else believes it so it must be true”. Your logic is the latter.

  • Knightgee

    movies arent trying to teach anyone anything, they are just trying to entertain because it is entertainment that sells, not education. it is you who is trying to brainwash people, not the movies.

    This is just patently false. Many film-makers, in the past and now admit that they make movies with the intent to inform, educate and/or inspire the audience to think about certain things in a new way. But that’s irrelevant. Even if this wasn’t done intentionally by the makers of films already, that doesn’t make film analysis meaningless. Read The Dream Life, read From Hanoi to Hollywood, and other books that do research into the ways movies and politics/social issues began to intermix and affect one another. Study the ways movies reflect on our society and culture as well as how they inform our society. Study the ways themes presented in movies spilled over into reality and began to alter the way we viewed ourselves and conflicts. You’ll quickly realize, assuming you open yourself to the realization, that movies can and do teach us things, sometimes in ways we aren’t even aware of.

  • what’s put in history books tends to be determined rather dubiously

    How so?

    Unless you mean history textbooks (at least in the US), in which case I agree that the opinion of the Texas Board of Education is rather dubious…

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    your world view is being changed by your growing political rhetoric, not by the world around you.

    the world isnt listening to you so your anger grows. perpetual self inflicted torture. that is everyones problem these days. lay the blame upon others for not listening to you, which creates growing resentment in oneself. anger at the world, anger at oneself.

    Darryl, if you want your argument to be taken seriously, STOP FUCKING MINDREADING! Seriously, listening to you explain on MaryAnn’s site how you know what her thought processes are better than she does is really fucking annoying and patronising and makes you look far, far more full of your own self-importance than any critic I’ve ever read.

    Except Armond White.

  • drewryce

    In economic terms the movie goer is the buyer and the film distributer/studio is the seller.
    There exists a disparity of information regarding the product.
    Having seen the movie, and conducted screenings before randomly selected audiences, the Seller knows more than the Buyer about the quality of the goods for sale.

    This is bad for the Buyer since it is more likely that he will purchase inferior goods.

    It is bad for the Seller of quality goods since it artificially reduces the number of Buyers for his goods as they mistakenly purchase inferior goods.

    It is good for the Seller of inferior products since it increases the number of his buyers as they mistakenly purchase his goods.

    Movie reviewers are a means to lessen the information gap between the buyers and the Sellers.
    This is bad for the Seller of inferior products since it decreases the number of his buyers.

    Sadly, Kevin Smith is of the apparent belief that he will continue to make inferior products such as Cop Out. Being economically rational he therefore opposes the means by which the Buyer gets advance warning about his product.

    Smith’s proposed “fix”, 500 of his twitter fans review the film, is flawed since it preselects for Smith’s twitter fans. Yes, they will “like” the film (remember the Chris Farley star interviews on SNL, ‘hey, remember that scene where you…”). This does nothing to lessen the information gap.

    What would make some sense is the more scientific method already in use by the Seller. The Seller could release the data from the pre-release screenings before randomly selected audiences. This would give the Buyer more information about whether he is likely to enjoy the film (“look the film got a 63 in my age and sex demographic, I am more likely to enjoy it than the other film that got a 46”).

    Did Smith publicly release the pre-screening data on Cop Out? No? Perhaps because even his twitter fans would be discouraged by the reactions of the poor bastards that had to sit through 90 minutes of his really bad film.

    Last point, although the pre-screen data would, if released, lessen the information gap it still wouldn’t do away with the need for professional reviewers. The reviewers describe the film in terms beyond like-don’t like. The on line reviewers, such as MaryAnn, are an addition to the word of mouth that provides the best bridge of the information gap. The reviewer discusses the “Why”. “Why” is this movie worth seeing, “why” is it not?

    The Good Reviewer is the on-line version of the post film viewing cup of coffee and a slice of pie with a friend.

    Invaluable.

  • @Knightgee: There are many ways a movie might be important. Yours is one: that it is a reflection of its times, and thus a cultural artifact in the archeological sense.

    Let us say Twilight inspires more books to be written for an obviously underserved market catagory. The importance of Twilight will vary depending upon the length of its market effect.

    Then there are the writers’ writers, or the directors’ directors. Whenever you hear a famous person refer to being inspired by a non-famous person, that’s the sort of person I’m talking about. Which of them is more important? The inspiration or the popularization?

    But there are many things that make it hard to determine the importance of a book. For example, Moby Dick was a flop in the author’s time. He didn’t live to see it called “the great American novel.” I was told by a romance writer that all romance writers love Jane Austen, but almost all romance writers ignore the lessons of Jane Austen’s books. Adam Smith was promoted as the philosophical basis for Reaganomics, but anyone who actually read the entire “Wealth of Nations” would realize Smith would abhor the GOP. Ayn Rand was recently, and briefly, raised as the new favorite philosopher of the GOP, and even as her name rose I wondered how long it would be before they remembered she was an atheist. Since then, they’ve dropped her again, for no stated reason.

  • Knightgee

    Let us say Twilight inspires more books to be written for an obviously underserved market catagory. The importance of Twilight will vary depending upon the length of its market effect.

    This was more or less my point. If it doesn’t extend beyond the status of a fad, it will be as forgotten as all the fads that kids and teens went through. It might be remembered more in relation to the vampire genre specifically (I can’t imagine this would be a positive remembrance), but I don’t see it sicking around and becoming a classic American book.

  • drewryce

    Paul has hit on a great example when he points out that Moby Dick was a flop during the authors lifetime.
    If I may add, it was the discovery and review of the book in 1927 by William Faulkner that put Moby Dick on the map.

    QED, reviewers perform a valuable function.

    Now Kevin Smith just needs to die and wait 100 years for some future reviewer to find “Cop Out” and proclaim a rediscovered masterpiece!

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    drewryce, that post on the importance of the Good Reviewer is excellent stuff. I’d just like to add one thing to it, if I may.

    In this debate, people have become fixated on the idea of the critic as someone who only, well, criticises. And shouting “Bullshit!” can be a valuable thing, but it’s not the most important function of a critic.

    The most important function of a film critic by far is to promote alternatives to bad films. The most romantic and brilliant image of film criticism I have ever heard is in the book Schrader on Schrader, where Paul Schrader recalls Pauline Kael as someone who would always run into the office shouting about some brilliant but obscure film she’d discovered, and how they all needed to “run to the barricades”, in her term, to defend it.

    Let’s look at the most recent positive review MaryAnn’s posted, A Prophet. I’ve seen this film and I think it’s brilliant. I first heard about it when it was shown at Cannes, and the critics all came out talking about this remarkable French crime epic. Later, critics for Sight & Sound named it their Film of 2009. Later still, it was released in the UK and the weight of critical buzz forced cinemas to book it. And then I saw it.

    You’ll notice that, at every turn, it was critics who helped this wonderful film gain further attention.

    You might consider the idea of cinemas booking films because of critical buzz to be another example of how critics wield too much power, but I ask you this – if critics were not there, who would step up and promote films like this? The distributors, most of whom are indie companies, can only do so much. And I don’t think the anti-critic crowd would step up to the plate at all.

    The rallying cry of the anti-critic crowd is that critics never give genre movies their due. And I love genre movies; they make up a fair percentage of my all-time favourite films, and nobody wants to go back to the era when reviewers would even write off a work as unique and personal as Eraserhead as being just another horror movie.

    But genre snobbery among critics is already pretty much dead. When I talk to the people who hate critics, I always feel as if what motivates them isn’t a sense of injustice at genre movies not getting their fair shake – because otherwise why would anyone attack a proud geek like MaryAnn? – it’s the idea that someone, anywhere, might prefer a drama movie or a foreign-language film to the latest horror remake or superhero flick.

    These aren’t genre fans, they’re Genre Supremacists. What would 500 anti-critic tweeters turn in as a review of A Prophet? I mean, A Prophet is hardly an inscrutable art film – it’s a thumping crime thriller with lots of crunchy violence and memorable characters. But still I hear no geek buzz about this movie. What’s the matter? Not enough tits? Not enough zombies? Not enough spaceships?

    If fanboys want to get rid of critics, this is the challenge I lay down to them. Review and promote minority-interest stuff like A Prophet using the same criteria (“is this a good example of its type?”) you claim conventional reviewers don’t adhere to. Promote them. Make people aware of them. Dissect them with passion and enthusiasm. If you can do that, wonderful – you deserve to replace the critics.

    But if you can’t, and I suspect you either can’t or won’t, you lose the right to complain when you see Martin Scorsese or PT Anderson fail to get their dream projects off the ground. You lose the right to complain when it becomes harder and harder to get a low-budget masterpiece shown among big-budget crap. You lose the right to complain when yet another remake of something that wasn’t even good in the 80s comes out, or when promising foreign directors like Alexandre Aja and Nimrod Antal are trapped on the remake train. You lose the right to complain because you made this happen. I’ve suffered through this world – now it’s your turn.

  • LaSargenta

    Hey, Der Bruno Stroszek, that buzzing in your ears is my very loud applause! I second that.

  • AJP

    Let us say Twilight inspires more books to be written for an obviously underserved market catagory.

    Are you seriously saying that the fangbanger subgenre is an underserved market category? You can find literally dozens of books in this subgenre without even trying hard.

  • I don’t think he described it well, but the one part of Kevin Smith’s rant that I will defend is that there are definitely critics out there who are in love with their own viciousness, and the act of being so. That’s not particularly useful. There is also the need to separate certain things from the actual criticism of the movie itself. From my vantage point, the SWA debacle seemed to create a wave of anti-Kevin Smith vibes, and I’m sure some people used their Cop Out reviews to talk more about how that event made Smith seem like a whiny egotastic film director than why Cop Out stunk, or even going so far as to essentially link the two together. Nothing wrong with mentioning it, because it happened, and it was public, but some writers need to remember that if they’re judging Smith as a person, as a director, his career trajectory or his goals, they should be doing it using Cop Out as primary context. If I read a negative Cop Out review, I don’t want to hear how Kevin Smith charges $45 for autographs, or that he’s a big whiny baby, or how great Chasing Amy is; first and foremost, I want to hear why Cop Out is not as good as it should be.

  • @ AJP: Sorry, I was actually thinking of the teen paranormal romance market. The “fangbanging” thing has kept paranormal off the teen market lists for a long time (teens might have still been buying them, but in the fantasy section). The lack of fangbanging in the first three books is probably why so many teens could buy them without having to hide them from their parents, and a lot of teens may not want to read about group sex with vamps and werebeasts, even if they’re interested in paranormal romance as an idea.

    @Bruno: I agree with a lot of what you said, but geek supremists who wish to protect their holy writ of Star Trek and Star Wars aren’t the only defensive fans. There’s the slasher fans and the big, dumb action movie fans, too. But defensive anger can come from anyone with a weak ego and fragile world view that only sustians itself by the reading or watching of second rate fictional narratives.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    @LaSargenta: thank you!

    @Paul: I didn’t mean to give the impression that it was only science fiction fans who behaved like this. Horror fans, at the moment, seem to be the worst for it, which is a shame, because I was a teenage horror fan – that could be a B-movie, couldn’t it? – and I remember my fellow fans as being completely open-minded and willing to give pretty much any film from anywhere in the world a chance. We were as tough on bad horror movies as anyone, because we loved the genre and wanted it to be great. That attitude doesn’t seem to be the default any more, which is a pity.

    The personality flaw you identify is a real one and I’m sure that if drama films started getting more bad reviews there’d be some annoyingly loud and vocal drama geeks behaving similarly.

    Obviously there is a grain of truth to the idea that drama, and realistically presented drama in particular, is unfairly privileged in our society. Walk into any bookshop and you’ll see excellent sci-fi and horror novels such as The Road, Never Let Me Go and Beyond Black stocked in general fiction because their publishers fear people might be put off if they learn it’s a genre novel.

    But this isn’t really the case with film critics any more, I think. It was once, but it hasn’t been for years now. In any case, the issue of whether the Genre Supremacists have a point isn’t the core of the issue – the core of the issue is that they seem to think they’re owed a critical consensus that agrees with their views, and they get angry when they don’t get it. This is ridiculous, no matter what you’re into.

  • No problem, Bruno. I also think “drama” is a little too preoccupied with their high horse, but since most literary writers make so little money, I try to forgive them their pride. I don’t know how that applies to their movie counterparts.

  • Dan

    I’m sick of this back and forth shit with Kevin smith and the critics, I see Smith’s argument and I understand the critic’s points but both of you just stop, cop out was a ridiculous movie with some silly humor and the critics fucking ripped its face off with a rusty bayonet and I understand that its their job but just let it go, you got your say in, now shut up. Stop this retarded internet war, its getting annoying every time I stumble on this shit. Kevin Smith is a distinctive and successful film maker, a lot of the critics just couldn’t let loose and watch something completely ridiculous for the sake of ridiculousness.

  • JoshDM

    Ready for the fix?

    CHARGE THE STANDARD FEE TO REVIEWERS FOR WATCHING A MOVIE.

    Allow only reviewers or screeners or whomever early access to the movie as usual, but make them pay the $10 (or whatever) theater entrance fee.

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