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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

quick list: five reasons for dismissing a film review that don’t cut it

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions on films, and I welcome pushback from readers about my reviews. But if you want to not be treated like a complete fucking moron when engaging me in critical debate over a film, I do expect certain level of not-being-a-complete-fucking-moron from your comments. So it’s probably best to avoid saying such things as:
“It’s not for you.”
Is the movie looking at me? Cuz I don’t see anyone else here behind my eyeballs that the movie is getting beamed at. Maybe the movie meant to look at someone else, but right now, it’s looking at me.

“It’s not supposed to be an Oscar winner.”
That might work if the Immutable Laws of Movie Goodness required that only Oscar winners be any good. But they don’t.

“You’d get it if only you’d read the graphic novel/played the video game.”
Movies are not sekret clubhus for an initiated elite. If passwords and decoder rings are not included in the admission price, I deserve to ask for my money back.

“You’d get it if you could just turn your brain off and relax.”
You turned your brain off? That explains a lot. Thanks for letting us know. Now go away and come back when your brain is working again.

“Why don’t you just get laid, you ugly old feminazi hag.”
This one has a basis in biological fact, actually: When a female is getting properly fucked to the degree that the commenter believes a female should be getting properly fucked, her brain goes into automatic shutdown, and her capacity for critical thinking is eliminated. That doesn’t mean that any critical thinking a female who is not getting properly fucked to the degree that the commenter believes a female should be getting properly fucked is doing is invalid, but a proper level of fucking shuts the bitch up and allows the commenter to pretend that he’s right about everything. Which is why I’m laughing at you and your tiny cerebrum.



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  • Knightgee

    So much projection is involved in these kinds of responses, as you have to be really insecure in your own opinions to use any of these excuses. Since when is there a dichotomy between a movie either being Oscar-worthy or nominated for a Razzie? Plenty of good movies don’t even get an Oscar nod, and sometimes terrible ones do. If asking that a movie be competently made in such a way that it doesn’t insult it’s primary audience is asking for Oscar level writing and directing, or the enjoyment of such films is completely dependent on my shutting down any higher brain function, then I weep for the state of movies.

  • Barbana

    Wow.

    This site had been a favorite stopping place for a long time for movie reviews and critical thought.

    I don’t think it’s gonna come as a shock when I say that (in my opinion) lately there has been a sharp and frankly shitty side to a lot of the posts lately.

    I get that it must be hard to put yourself out there for us unwashed unthinking morons to deal with but you do.

    Good luck, I think you’ve got an interesting take on things but I for one am getting tired of reading the constant anger.

  • It’s an unfortunate side-effect of MaryAnn’s desire to increase hits and readership, Barbana — the larger a pool of readers you attract, the larger number of assholes you get. And as we all know, a sizable percentage of internet posters are assholes. The nice ones don’t often bother with posting. So it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Hopefully the good-natured FF fans can stick it out.

  • doa766

    well, it doesn’t take a genius to notice that MaryAnn has a lot of trouble appreciating and objectively reviewing movies that are meant for other demographics

    when I see an abstract painting I don’t say “that’s crap that my 12 year nephew could’ve painted”, I say “I don’t get it, it’s not for me”

    but then again, most of the world’s problems are originated in the same thing: the inability people have to see beyond their own point of view

  • Rose

    I have always agreed with your reviews – though I am a huge fan of Dr Who and Princess Bride. When I don’t agree with you I promise I will be rude and abusive, it’d be impolite if I wasn’t.

  • iakobos

    “Why don’t you just get laid, you ugly old feminazi hag.”

    I have to admit I chuckled out loud when I read that. But, I’m genuinely sorry you have to deal with that. I have a small place on the internet where I’ve put myself out there so I can appreciate first hand what it’s like to get ripped, but no where near to the extent you catch it. I appreciate your work both reviewing movies and not losing your mind dealing with the trolls.

  • nyjm

    #6. Personal attacks veiled as reasonable-seeming ideologies.

    MAJ, keep up the great work. One of the reasons I really like your style – and this site in general – is that you don’t try and bullshit us our yourself that movie reviewing is “objective.”

  • Nate

    #6. Personal attacks veiled as reasonable-seeming ideologies.

    I do think MAJ occasionally falls into this trap herself. She started her Knocked Up review with the words “Americans are children”.

  • kassia

    I don’t understand why people even take the time to post bullshit about someone else. If you didn’t like the review/interview/book/movie/website, then you don’t need to read it or watch it. You come to MAJ’s site, you should expect her viewpoint and her reviews, not from someone else. There’s a whole wide Internet out there to find people with the exact thoughts on something as you do.

    I haven’t always agreed with MAJ on everything. I personally like Twilight and I enjoy being able to turn my brain off, but when she says she doesn’t like Twilight, I respect that and move on. I came here originally for Doctor Who reviews and I agree with her on a lot of her opinions on that. Not everything is catered to your own whims.

  • JoshDM

    Wow, you must not be getting fucked enough.

    These were the comments you were looking for, right?

  • vucubcaquix

    Did you know Rush Limbaugh apparently coined the term feminazi?

    Gives me even more reason to despise the term.

  • I think you can change the third rule to plain old “source material”, or soon you’ll be adding “board game” and “amusement park ride” and “informational pamphlet” and “street sign” to it until it’s impossibly long.

  • MaryAnn

    It’s an unfortunate side-effect of MaryAnn’s desire to increase hits and readership, Barbana — the larger a pool of readers you attract, the larger number of assholes you get.

    I think Barbara is saying that *I’ve* become an asshole, not my readers.

  • MaryAnn

    Good luck, I think you’ve got an interesting take on things but I for one am getting tired of reading the constant anger.

    But hey, what’s wrong with being angry? I *am* angry, about a lot of things. Should I pretend not to be angry?

  • Ben

    I sadly have to join in with with Barbana and say my goodbyes.

    I initially came to this site many years back on the recommendation of Tycho of Penny-Arcade (www.penny-arcade.com – a website that I would guess is “not for you” :D) and I enjoyed your reviews as I found that your taste was often my own. This is not to say I came to have my own ideas reinforced, but that I could usually rely on the fact that if you liked a movie then there was a good chance that I would also enjoy it (and also you could warn me off the stinkers).

    It was even that I would come to the site to check on a review before going to see a movie, and wait if one was not yet available. However as time as gone on this has changed.

    I am sure it is me that has changed, but as a result I find that our opinions no longer mesh as they used to – and have begun to instead grate. This is fine, such is life, however it means I can no longer get the enjoyment from your site that I used to, and can no longer trust it as a source of reviews.

    I wish you all the best, and may you continue to provide enjoyment for I am sure the majority of your regular readers (and gain many new readers). So long and thanks for the all the TARDISes!

  • Paul

    For the record, when I am getting laid regularly, my opinions stay the same, but I’m much more relaxed and compassionate in my expression of them. Other people get more pumped up and excitable. Others become more confident. “Seinfeld” had entire episodes about how sex or the lack of sex affected different people differently.

    “It’s not for you.”

    Sometimes I’ll be watching a movie or reading a book and I’m thinking this is a good book or movie, very well done, but I have no desire to watch or read it again. Why? Because it’s not for me.

    And sometimes I’m watching a movie and find myself thinking, I bet that’s a joke about something else, but since I don’t know anything about that something else, I don’t laugh. Not for me.

    Of course, since I’m not a critic (or married), I have a lot more flexibility in watching movies that I think are only for me.

    But so far I’m only talking about potentially good movies that are “not for me.” As a writer, for the sake of getting along with other writers, I’ve accepted that certain genres are written to appeal to the emotional desires/dreams of others. I happen to think some of these desires/dreams are silly, but at writers’ groups/conferences, I never know when I’ll be standing next to a fan or writer of that genre. So sometimes, for me, saying a movie/novel is “not for me” is being diplomatic.

    But I’m not a critic. It’s not my job to pass judgment and say why. Your job is not for me.

  • “It’s not for you.”

    I don’t think I understand why this isn’t an acceptable point of discussion. Of course you can only review things from your own perspective, but is someone automatically a “complete fucking moron” for suggesting that your biases and preferences may prevent you from enjoying a film that others like?

    In the case of Avatar: TLA, the whole point of TempestDash’s jazz analogy was that maybe the show isn’t for you, the way that Miles Davis isn’t for people who don’t like jazz. It was an intelligently-made point and you engaged with it intelligently, even saying that it helped you to see what an adult might appreciate about the show. You also said (elsewhere in that thread) that you think the show is for children, and that you are not a child; basically you were arguing “it’s not for you,” no?

    I’m not saying “it’s not for you” is always the right argument to make, but I wonder why you seem to be dismissing it out of hand here, as not even worthy of discussion.

  • MaryAnn

    For the record, when I am getting laid regularly, my opinions stay the same, but I’m much more relaxed and compassionate in my expression of them.

    Yeah, but you’re a guy! It’s totally different for you! :->

    I’m not saying “it’s not for you” is always the right argument to make, but I wonder why you seem to be dismissing it out of hand here, as not even worthy of discussion.

    Oh, come on. I’m not talking here about people who are able to make nuanced arguments and have reasonable adult discussions. I’m talking here about the trolls who drop in, think they’re being witty by posting a quick insult, and leave.

    These kinds of commenters drop an “It’s not for you” — and that’s it, full stop, nothing else — when they believe that I (or other critics), for instance, shouldn’t call kids’ movies stupid because they’re kids’ movies. And the larger point, too, is that, for instance, kids’ movies can appeal to adults, and part of my job — when it comes to movies that aren’t supposedly “for me” is whether I can pass on word that perhaps a movie that doesn’t appear to be “for you” might interest you after all.

    I mean, *Charlie St. Cloud* isn’t “for me,” but I found something to interest *me* in it. That’s worth writing about and letting readers know. Just as it’s worth letting readers know that something that isn’t “for me” really doesn’t have anything to appeal to anyone with similar tastes to mine.

    That’s why the “It’s not for you” line isn’t a fair reason to dismiss what I (or any critic) says. Even TempestDash’s jazz analogy with respect to *Airbender* — while fascinating and enlightening — cannot work to *dismiss* my criticism. It merely illuminates another perspective.

    If you read other critics — and especially if you ever read the comments threads on Rotten Tomatoes, or the forums on the IMDB — you see examples of my five things above *all the damn time.* I’m sorry if anyone here who *isn’t* a troll thought I was addressing him/her with my original post. I wasn’t. I was addressing the Internet film community at large.

  • …maybe the show isn’t for you, the way that Miles Davis isn’t for people who don’t like jazz.

    that makes no sense. there are lots of jazz and jazz musicians and *type* of jazz, other than miles davis. i happen to like several kinds of jazz and am not particularly enamoured of davis’ style. does that mean i shouldn’t listen to *any* jazz? or that all jazz must be measure by MD? (yes, i know, there are some who think that way). so that’s like saying all movies aren’t for someone who dislikes one particular movie by say, michael mann.

  • Nina

    I discovered this site about 3 months ago & have been happily checking in every day. When it comes to reading film critics, I do think you gravitate towards the critic whose taste in film is similar to your own. Except for MA’s liking for The A Team,
    (hey, we all like some mind candy sometimes), I enjoy her reviews and really appreciate her desire for thoughtful, mind provoking films. My brain just doesn’t check out when I’m in a theater or getting laid enough.

  • Tim Evans

    MAJ, my girlfriend turned me on to your site two years ago and I never looked back. Part of the appeal of coming here every day — and what’s causing me to post a comment for the first time — is the “fem nazi” bent, the focus on gender politics and the (at times) vicious slagging of demographics like the frat boys who loved MacGruber and thought the most “hilarious” part of HAPPINESS was when the Dad tells his son he wouldn’t rape him, he’d just jerk off instead.

  • JoshB

    As a counter to Barbana et al. I love your unapologetic opinionatedness, and would be very disappointed to see you become more ‘diplomatic’ in expressing yourself.

  • Nate

    As a counter to Barbana et al. I love your unapologetic opinionatedness, and would be very disappointed to see you become more ‘diplomatic’ in expressing yourself.

    But isn’t that the exact same thing she’s accusing these trolls of doing?

  • MaryAnn

    But isn’t that the exact same thing she’s accusing these trolls of doing?

    Yup, it’s exactly the same. Which is why, from now on, to save time, all my reviews will be either “It’s awesome!” (for green-light movies) or “It sucks!” (for red-light movies) or “Meh!” (for yellow-light movies.) And the comments section will be shut down, because what else will there be to say?

  • But isn’t that the exact same thing she’s accusing these trolls of doing?

    Except…it’s HER site. Her opinions, her reviews. We come here because we choose to, and if we don’t like what we see here, we’re free to leave and find something more to our taste. Can’t quite understand why that concept is so difficult…

  • Nate

    Yup, it’s exactly the same. Which is why, from now on, to save time, all my reviews will be either “It’s awesome!” (for green-light movies) or “It sucks!” (for red-light movies) or “Meh!” (for yellow-light movies.) And the comments section will be shut down, because what else will there be to say?

    That is not what you were complaining about in your post. You were complaining about the defenses people used to support their claims that the movie was awesome or it sucked.

    You have also used the “turn your brain off” defense more than once, by the way. Or did someone else write those A-Team and Wolverine reviews?

  • Nate

    Except…it’s HER site. Her opinions, her reviews. We come here because we choose to, and if we don’t like what we see here, we’re free to leave and find something more to our taste. Can’t quite understand why that concept is so difficult…

    But she also has a comment section, where her readers can express their own unapologetic opinionatedness. Why is that concept so difficult?

  • MaryAnn

    I was complaining about trolls, people who are not interested in having a conversation but who drop in, leave a meaningless brain-dropping that says nothing and contributes nothing, and leave… or worse, those who think they can *stop* a conversation with their “wisdom.”

    I’m talking about people who want to *dismiss* conversation or criticism. I’m not talking about “defenses.” I’m talking about conversation enders (or comments that would at least like to be conversation enders), not comments that are the *beginning* of a conversation.

    You have also used the “turn your brain off” defense more than once, by the way. Or did someone else write those A-Team and Wolverine reviews?

    My reviews of those films don’t say anything about turning my brain off. My explanations for why I like these movies involve specific engagement of my brain, even if only on a minimal level. How do you even talk about a movie if you have to turn your brain off entirely to get anything out of it? My reviews of these two attempt to explain what I got out of what are theoretically mindless movies.

    But, again, even if I have said I’ve turned my brain off — though I’m pretty sure I’ve *never* used it in the way that trolls use it — it *still* doesn’t work as a way to dismiss a negative review to say that if only the critic had turned her brain off, she would have enjoyed it. If some of my reviews can be interpreted as meaning that I am sometimes able to turn my brain off, then clearly in this case, it was a matter of me not being able to turn my brain off. And isn’t that valuable to know, for you as a reader, too?

    Basically, what all the five points above boil down to is someone coming here — or to another critic’s site; critics get these sorts of reactions all the time — and saying, “Well, if only you were me, you’d get it.” But I’m not you, and I can’t be you. And why would you want me to you? Talking to yourself gets really boring really quickly.

  • I’m not talking here about people who are able to make nuanced arguments and have reasonable adult discussions. I’m talking here about the trolls who drop in, think they’re being witty by posting a quick insult, and leave.

    That wasn’t clear to me. Thanks for clarifying.

    If you read other critics — and especially if you ever read the comments threads on Rotten Tomatoes, or the forums on the IMDB — you see examples of my five things above *all the damn time.*

    I do read other critics, but not usually their comments threads. Boo trolls.

  • Muzz

    “It’s not for you” is, it seems to me, asking a critic not to be a critic and expecting a critic to not be an individual person all at once.

    It’s a sadly common attitude: if you didn’t like it you shouldn’t be reviewing it, or you shouldn’t be criticising it from your movie watching perspective and give a product review describing what you assume is the target audience instead.

    It’s lame and sad that we expect this from critics nowadays, and worse that people get angry when this doesn’t happen. I think that’s the point. If somone wants to make a case that there is worth that the reviewer missed for one reason or another then fine, but that’s not the same thing.
    (this may have been covered already)

  • I_Sell_Books

    @doa766:

    well, it doesn’t take a genius to notice that MaryAnn has a lot of trouble appreciating and objectively reviewing movies that are meant for other demographics

    Well, that’s kind of the whole point of being a critic…of anything. That’s the job description: critique something from your point of view.

    Um, yeah.

  • MaryAnn

    For the last time: There is no such thing as an “objective” film review.

  • Matt C

    I think some people just don’t like your bluntness and honesty of your reviews. They just hide behind the ‘feminazi’ and other hateful insults, and they just can’t understand that it’s an opinion. Everyone has one, and that they’re not always right.

    Some people just need to agree to disagree here. Healthy debate is good, but insults are not.

  • MaryAnn

    I think some people just don’t like your bluntness and honesty of your reviews.

    I’m sure you’re right, Matt, but this makes no sense to me. What would be the point of film critic who pussyfooted around and pretended to a reaction other than her own honest one? And I don’t get this at all:

    MaryAnn has a lot of trouble appreciating and objectively reviewing movies that are meant for other demographics

    The alternative to me “appreciating and objectively reviewing movies that are meant for other demographics” would be me saying: “Look, I haven’t read the source material for this, and I hate the genre, oh, and I have no appreciation for the history of this filmmaker, but nevertheless I can safely say that everyone who has read the source material, loves this genre, and adores this filmmaker will worship/hate this movie!”

    Any reader would be right to laugh at the ludicrousness of such a review, and anyone who was in the “proper” “demographic” couldn’t possibly trust such a review. So why on Earth would anyone want me — or any critic — to write like that?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    For the last time: There is no such thing as an “objective” film review.

    Feh. We’ve been over it and over it in a dozen or more threads, but doa refuses to understand the meaning of the word “objective”, but rather keeps trotting it out like some kind of trump card. Several of us have even mocked up an “objective review” as an example (this move is 105 minutes long. There are 15 major characters…). It’s almost as bad as tim and his obsession with penises…

  • Matt C

    What would be the point of film critic who pussyfooted around and pretended to a reaction other than her own honest one?

    What I’m trying to get at is this: Some critics who go against the grain, and don’t like a movie their peers liked but are apologetic about it. And their reviews are tempered with sentences like “I know/appreciate the craftmanship the filmmakers put into it, but I just don’t like it.”

    That’s what I like about you and Nikki Finke: you’re honest and blunt about what you like/don’t like. And you don’t make excuses for it.

  • MaryAnn

    And their reviews are tempered with sentences like “I know/appreciate the craftmanship the filmmakers put into it, but I just don’t like it.”

    Hey, this ain’t kindergarten. Filmmakers making a shit ton of money in an industry that expects us to pay through the nose for their products do not get gold stars just for showing up and not eating the paste. :->

  • Bassy Galore

    I’m not a critic, blogger, writer or anything, but I do understand your frustration, because I *do* read the comments left on this blog and other review blogs. The people who leave the above mentioned types of comments are annoying trolls, but I just shake my head and keep reading. Their “job”, if you will, is to frustrate and annoy people and they get their kicks out of getting acknowledged for their existence.

    This post serves as an advertisement that they have gotten to you. Any trolls out there reading this are laughing their collective @sses off because they did their “job” and they did it so well that they got a whole post! Don’t give them that power, man.

    Trolls will always exist, but you just have to ignore them best you can and focus on the people who do appreciate your reviews and want to constructively discuss the movie (or t.v. show) with you or each other.

    BTW, I don’t comment much, but I’m always reading.

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