Your favourite film sucks
April 27, 2007 3:13 AM   Subscribe

'In defense of film critics' posits that 'Film critics [unlike food critics, etc] are expected to be cheerleaders.' I guess we're not supposed to think it's odd that the piece was written by paper's resident film critic. He does ask at least one good question, though: why have so many truly awful [and poorly reviewed ] films done so well at the the box office this year?
posted by chuckdarwin (36 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Peter Bart's tirade in Variety has clearly struck some nerves, because Richard Corliss, film critic for Time Magazine, has just printed an essay on exactly the same subject. Corliss agrees 100% with Rainer, and this doesn't surprise me at all, because as far as I can tell, with the exception of a few truly independent-minded standouts (Roger Ebert, I'm throwing spirit hands in your direction), MSM movie critics seem to be a fairly dull and homogenous bunch.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this, but maybe if critics want to be seen as more than predictable cheerleaders, they should work harder at presenting themselves as more.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:32 AM on April 27, 2007

I'm at a loss as to how any of this is new (or that different from book critics). If you want to get on the DVD cover (or jacket sleeve), it's only gonna happen if you say something positive. Glowing is better.

And am I alone in loving negative film reviews? I could read them for hours -- so long as they're well done -- not so much "I didn't like it" but "that was spectacularly bad and here's why".

People aren't newly disgruntled with film critics because they won't take a populist line; they've always felt that way. For as long as I could remember, the critic pics and the public's pics were seldom the same. The public thought the critics were elitist film school pricks, and the critics thought, well, pretty much what this guy thinks: that criticism and opinion-making are two different things. Well they are, but that doesn't prevent others from actually engaging in criticism. The internet hasn't increased the friction. It's just put other people's opinions and dare I say criticism out there, leaving people with more options for the usual choice: where can I find a critic who regularly predicted movies I will like so he can continue to do so in the future?

Oh, and I like Filthy.
posted by dreamsign at 3:43 AM on April 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I used to know a guy who wrote film reviews, and I wondered why they were always full of (often undeserved) praise. Rave reviews, every single one of 'em. Then I realised that the very reason this guy was a film critic was because he loved movies.

I suppose my point, if I must have one, is that someone who will voluntarily sit through every single offering at the cinema is unlikely to have the same taste in movies as someone who only likes good stuff.
posted by nomis at 3:43 AM on April 27, 2007

The Bad Review Revue is, and has always been, totally friggin' awesome.
posted by blasdelf at 3:56 AM on April 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

Let's also not forget about the David Manning thing. When production companies can't get anyone to step up to the plate to deliver some gushing praise... they'll invent one.
posted by dreamsign at 4:12 AM on April 27, 2007

Faint of Butt - this: Critical praise for Little Miss Sunshine and Pan's Labyrinth launched those films into the public conversation. Indeed, the reader feedback I get is less "Shame on you for dumping on that megahit" and more "Thanks for championing that 'little film' I might have missed."

Your article is better than mine.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:37 AM on April 27, 2007

why have so many truly awful [and poorly reviewed ] films done so well at the the box office this year?

Because they do every year?
posted by reklaw at 4:39 AM on April 27, 2007

nomis - you seem to misunderstand the way film critics work: your friend wasn't sitting through every single offering 'voluntarily', he was doing it because otherwise he'd lose his job! I know a fair few film critics, and they all find ~90% of the stuff they have to watch absolutely painful, because they love film.
posted by jack_mo at 4:48 AM on April 27, 2007

reklaw, I think we've hit an all time high (or a new low), though. I mean... Norbit? People have said it's the most sexist, racist piece of shit ever conceived...

"It probably isn't possible for a single movie to reverse all social progress made since the civil-rights era, but Norbit, the latest broadside from Eddie Murphy, does its best to turn back the clock."

...and it was #1 globally for weeks.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:02 AM on April 27, 2007

I think the error is that film criticism is a "profession" (as the author puts it). It's not. Film study could be a profession, with degree programs, peer review, standards, and all the rest. But film criticism is a bit like punditry--you can make money at it if you say the right things to the right people. If you are to make money at it, people have to like reading your opinions. If you say "You'll like this for these reasons" and they don't, well, you're going to lose readers and not make any money. Film critics need to write for particular audiences, not to capture the aesthetic Truth of the matter (as if there were such a thing).

I, for example, take all my cues from Manohla Dargis. If she dislikes a film, I know I will love it. Works almost every time.
posted by MarshallPoe at 5:03 AM on April 27, 2007

Blogginess has overtaken critical discourse on the Web.

ah, that's the real reason this film critic finds himself disagreeing with the box office ... he's a snob
posted by pyramid termite at 5:08 AM on April 27, 2007

And am I alone in loving negative film reviews? I could read them for hours -- so long as they're well done -- not so much "I didn't like it" but "that was spectacularly bad and here's why".

Dreamsign, be sure to check out Ebert's "I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie" which is a collection of his most scathing reviews.

Chuckdarwin, I don't doubt Bloodrayne was terrible, but it made less than $4 million worldwide, so I'm not sure why you mention it in this context. The undeniable success of Norbit, on the other hand, proves that Idiocracy was a documentary.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:14 AM on April 27, 2007

I mentioned Bloodrayne just because I wanted to crush it under my bootheel on MeFi.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:20 AM on April 27, 2007

blasdelf - that site rocks! Peep this one:

Norbit: "If I thought hijacking a plane carrying prints of the film and crashing it into [Eddie] Murphy's house would put a stop to it, I'd go out and buy a box cutter right now." -- Pete Vonder Haar, FILM THREAT

posted by chuckdarwin at 5:22 AM on April 27, 2007

Horace Rumpole: aw, it's a book. Don't think I'll pick that up sight unseen, but will check it out at the library the next time I get a chance. Thanks for the recommendation.

blasdelf: the Bad Review Revue: Special Emergency Edition is a thing of beauty.
posted by dreamsign at 5:33 AM on April 27, 2007

He does ask at least one good question

I don't think that's a good question, I don't even think it is a question worth asking as the answer is so obvious. The whole idea that you would expect critics and the average punter to agree is baffling to me.
posted by ninebelow at 5:47 AM on April 27, 2007

Here is the WSJ article Rainer refers to in his CS Monitor piece.
posted by ninebelow at 5:49 AM on April 27, 2007

I used to write film reviews. It's hard to write reviews about films that are so-so.

Sometimes they're excellent, in which case you can capitalize and enthuse as much as you want - but then the reader goes and sees them, and complains that it was nowhere near as good as you said.

Or, otherwise they're awful and you can really get your simile generator going to write zingy one-liners about just how bad the film is.

However, a lot of the film-going public aren't as interested or dedicated towards films as you think. To them, it's just two hours out of the house, and whether it's terrible or brilliant doesn't matter. Just as long as they're distracted for two hours. And reviews won't matter one way or the other to these people - more who's in it, and what genre it is.
posted by electriccynic at 6:41 AM on April 27, 2007

Most films are forgettable distractions, as electriccynic points out. And that's OK—the general public doesn't want to see Fellini films, they want light romantic comedy or things that 'splode. If a film is just awful, by all means critics should blast away; but it is important to keep in mind the intended audience.

A good film critic will often try to put the film in its proper context by pointing out that film x, while not particularly distinguished, may appeal to fans of Actor A or Genre Y.

Something I've noticed since I've had kids is that it's really hard to tell what is the next "big" kids' movie based on critics' reviews. Cars was not that well-received by critics; it wasn't panned, but I don't remember it being highly praised except by Time magazine. I took my son to see Cars and he was literally jumping up and down in the aisle with excitement watching it. Then that Robin Williams penguin movie comes out, and I read all these great reviews, and it's a gigantic snore. Go figure.
posted by Mister_A at 6:58 AM on April 27, 2007

Mister_A, I haven't rented Cars because it's about... cars / Nascar / Southerners and it features 'Larry the cable guy'.


Not my cup of tea. However, if it got a 76 on RT, it's probably passable. Pixar has yet to release a complete turd.
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:06 AM on April 27, 2007

ninebelow typed:The whole idea that you would expect critics and the average punter to agree is baffling to me.

I don't expect them to agree... and I don't think they do, usually. But for a film like Norbit to be so universally panned, yet successful is a tad confusing. Maybe people will just go see Eddie Murphy in anything.
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:09 AM on April 27, 2007

Am I alone in loving well-done positive film reviews? To me, even the best of the negative film reviewers (say, Anthony Lane) excel mainly at making me laugh, yet to this end will often sacrifice engaging the film properly. I grant that many movies do not really deserve such engagement. Still, between Anthony Lane giving me a belly laugh while panning the latest Hollywood cookie-cutter product and Roger Ebert genuinely making me thoughtful when he expresses his love for a movie, I'll (generally) choose Ebert.
posted by sappidus at 7:32 AM on April 27, 2007

I used to write film reviews. It's hard to write reviews about films that are so-so.

This is true of all forms of reviewing.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:06 AM on April 27, 2007

chuckdarwin: Well, it's not really about southerners, though it is about cars. It's a fable about personal responsibility and choosing the right thing over the easy thing. It's well done and it's cute if you take it on its own terms. Plus I like Owen Wilson for some reason. Again, I'd never have seen it if I didn't have kids, but my kids love it.

And that's the point really: It's terrific pixar animation with some likable actors in a fairly conventional story. Kids love stuff like that.
posted by Mister_A at 8:21 AM on April 27, 2007

On crappy movies doing well:

It is a bad year for movies generally. I haven't seen anything on the marquee of our small-town theater worth seeing for months. Yet many people go to see movies regardless of whether they are worth seeing. They'll go to see the best thing available, regardless of is objective merits, because they want the event of going to see a flick on a big screen as opposed to staying home and watching one on DVD.

There are also a sizable number of people out there who have created a movie classification called "popcorn flick," movies brain dead inside but still throw enough flashy colors and moving images on the screen to fool Frist. Someone replied to a review I wrote on my personal blog a couple of days ago to defend The Chronicles of Riddick of all things, a movie so loaded with silly concepts and testosterone-fueled posing, both from its characters and from its very story, that it seems most suited for an audience of gibbons. The reason people will profess to love these kinds of disposable movies escapes me; it's like idolizing a theme-park ride.
posted by JHarris at 8:22 AM on April 27, 2007

Mister_A - Then that Robin Williams penguin movie comes out, and I read all these great reviews, and it's a gigantic snore. Go figure.

Not just figuratively - literally - I took my kids to that in the theater and my four-year old son slept for about 50% of the time...
posted by jkaczor at 8:30 AM on April 27, 2007

I guess I'm going to agree with the idea that his question wasn't that good. It's been that way as long as I can remember. I guess Norbit's some horribly racist and sexist movie, I haven't seen it, but so was Big Momma's House. So is White Chicks. So is just about everything that's popular. Mainstream Movies are socially irresponsible and terrible as a rule, and the gems among them are simply exceptions. Is it gertting worse? You'd be hard pressed to prove it to me. I love Singin' In the Rain but do you have any idea how many godawful shit-stained musicals were released during the height of gene kelly's career? While he was making some excellent work there were a lot of other terrible movies being made. The only difference is that movies stayed in theaters a lot longer back then because as far as anybody knew that would be their only chance to ever see the film. Movies didn't get play on tv and no vcrs meant that if it left theaters it was gone forever, as far as anyone knew back then. So fewer movies were made and all, but they weren't all good.
posted by shmegegge at 8:58 AM on April 27, 2007

For the record, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ruled. It's everything I wanted from that movie.

So please don't lump it in with your crappy movies that did well, because the critics were way off base on that one.

Remember. 300 got a 63% on RT. It should have recieved a negative score. That must never be forgotten, nor forgiven.
posted by Alex404 at 8:58 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Now, where critics are concerned: if they want more people to like them, they should get together as a group and drag Peter Travers out into the street and beat him with a rusty tire iron until he promises to never review another film ever again. He can still call himself PeterTraversRollingStone if he wants, but from now on he can only review Ladies' Cotillions and Salad Bars.

They could also, if they so chose, keep Janet Maslin locked up in a tiny dark room until she remembers when she used to be respectable.
posted by shmegegge at 9:02 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

People want to go to see a movie, any movie. I think word-of-mouth reviews have a much bigger impact on attendance than critical reviews. If the movie doesn't entertain audiences, they won't recommend it to their friends (but they'll still go to the movies again next week). This is why Hollywood is obsessed with drawing huge opening-weekend crowds, to defend itself from poor word-of-mouth.
posted by Lord Kinbote at 10:49 AM on April 27, 2007

In regards to the decline in quality of films, both real and perceived, look at it from the studios' point of view. They're facing down increasingly dissapointing numbers for almost everything they put out, so they're going towards the safe bets, like the idiot comedies. They're still trying to seem like they're willing to take chances, in the form of indies (that really aren't). And if they do badly, which some do because they're just bad movies too, they can write them off far easier. They didn't cost $100m to make. And still, given all of that, I wonder how a movie like Norbit, or Wild Hogs, can get made.

They think throwing money at movies makes them better, and I don't think that's true. Production values, special effects, CGI, etc.. just because you use them doesn't automatically make your film better. They should be used in service of the story. But if the story isn't there.. well whatever. Make shit blow up, no one will care about the 5th grade-level plot.

On the topic of reviews, I am consistently impressed by the reviewers at the Onion A.V. Club. And yes, the bad reviews often are immensely entertaining.
posted by ninjew at 11:24 AM on April 27, 2007

Bad movies do well becuase young people go to movies by habit and for social interaction every weekend. Bad reviews, or any reviews, don't matter for movies targeted to that demographic. The only thing that does is the trailer.

For the rest of us it all a matter of tastes and if the actor, director, or screenplay/screenwriter has personal momentum or resonates with us. Most people will go to see, or rent, a personal favorite no matter what reviews say.

Good critical review writing (music, theater, film, literature) as a form is treated as entertainment unto itself but most people are not all that influenced by it. Mostly because 90% is pretentious bullshit spewed people who can't, or don't have the balls to, create something on their own -OR- it's bought and paid for Corporate hype.
posted by tkchrist at 12:31 PM on April 27, 2007

Bad movies do well because they're in 4,000 screens on opening weekend. My parents live in a small town, with a 9 screen theater. They see everything. They just like movies.

They don't care what critics say, because they haven't found a critic they believe. And they don't come out of every movie liking it, but it's almost impossible to predict what they'll like and not like. *cough* Wild Hogs *cough*

That's actually the biggest problem with critics. You have to find one who likes what you like, and dislikes what you dislike. Otherwise, you can't just listen to what they say.
posted by graventy at 4:39 PM on April 27, 2007

That's actually the biggest problem with critics. You have to find one who likes what you like, and dislikes what you dislike. Otherwise, you can't just listen to what they say.

But given the usual disparity between critics and popular opinion, the most reliable predictor of your tastes may be a non-critic, an “opinion-maker”, which is why this guy is getting so defensive. “Yes, but my opinion is worth more! More!”
posted by dreamsign at 7:15 PM on April 27, 2007

I haven't rented Cars because it's about... cars / Nascar / Southerners and it features 'Larry the cable guy'.
posted by chuckdarwin

Really? You avoid southern literature, art, music, etc. simply because they're southern?

What a bland life you must lead.
posted by justgary at 11:12 PM on April 27, 2007

I avoid certain southern literature, art, and music, etc. simply because they're southern, yes.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:53 AM on April 28, 2007

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