Sunday, March 27, 2011

Can Critics Ever Win?

Allow me to paint a scene for you. It's 11:15 pm on a Friday night. I'm waiting in the hallway at my local multiplex as my fellow theatrical attendees take care of some 'personal business.' I had just spent the last two hours being quite swept away by the animated western Rango, and was in a rather chipper and cordial condition. As I wait, I bide the time by opening the door for those who need opening and smile and nod at anyone who just so happens to make eye contact with me. Across the hall, the only other movie still rolling in the place has just wrapped up and out of it pours a rather different crowd from the one I shared my Rangonian experience with. They're scruffier, more growl, chub, and of the older persuasion. They have just spent their last two hours delving into the world of Snyder and Sucker Punch. Now, my immediate lack of desire to see the film, combined with my naturally inquisitiveness inspired in my the desire to sneak a listen at what the prevailing thoughts of your more common moviegoer would be.

There was a lot of variety, a lot of 'did we like it?' sort of questions enforcing groupthink upon the coalition cinema. As such it took me a long time to get some honest opinions from the boisterous crowd. Alas, as the collective started to thin out into their relative subgroups it became quite a bit easier to attain the following three general opinions on Suck Punch:

1. Look at the shiny shiny
2. The story definitely had its problems.

Now before I go on, I should point out that not everyone agreed with the prior two. Lots of desertion and disagreement varying from those of various age and personality. However, the following third observation I found quite amusing. EVERY group had at least one person (in some cases multiple) agreed on it:

3. The critics were wrong.

Sure, Sucker Punch wasn't the greatest movie of all time - You know, because every single review ever written about it made that exact observation - but it was entertaining, and that's all they want. Or so they kept telling themselves. Had any of these people actually read a review of the movie? To be quite honest, I'd be willing to bet not many, if any had. Why do I say this? Simply because almost all the complaints they had with the film were exactly what critics had said. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that critics are in fact critics and therefore instantly wrong.

Critics seem to have this stigma of only containing these imaginary four fat white guys who live in their parent's basement and watch nothing but independent films all day. You know, after all only 5 of the top 10 grossing movies last week had a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Can't believe those horrible critics looked down on gems like Mars Needs Moms, Beastly, and Red Riding Hood. They are so totally out of touch! I'm not saying you're wrong for wanting to see, or even enjoying those movies. But don't be so damned surprised that critics, who probably have to sit through 90times the amount of god awful movies that you do, don't exactly salivate at every movie you see.

Besides, if you don't feel like critics are doing a good job representing your segment of society, get off your fat ass and represent yourself. You have hands, a voice, mind, and if you toss in a computer with a passable internet connected the tools to be a critic yourself. Though don't be too surprised to find that the more you branch out, the less significant the films to which inspired your cause seem to become.

15 better thoughts:

sYnthYte said...

Good God. I have gone blue in the face explaining this very same thing to fellow moviegoers only to be blown off because "you just want your own opinion validated."

Ruth said...

Hahahaha - I know exactly what you mean. I've long since stopped worrying about what critics think, I'll make up my own mind and review them myself.

Univarn said...

@sYnthYte I think everyone these days wants their opinion 'validated' and they go to extremes to get the level of validation they so desire. The sad thing is, so few are willing to validate, or even accept, the opinions of others.

@Ruth I think there's a fine line between not worrying what 'critics' think, and putting them down because they often disagree with you. Especially since gross generalizing all critics to be the same is a dreadful curse that has become an infection in our society's eyes. It's infinitely easier to put down all critics than to A) try to find some that lean more in your own direction or B) become a critic yourself and rise to the occasion.

Jack L said...

I generally pay attention to the critics, I usually listen to them more than my friends, for after all they know what they are talking about, which my friends do not...
If a film gets such a large amount of bad reviews as is the case of Sucker Punch then I will probably not see it. If it gets mixed reviews though, I see it to make my own mind up.

The Mad Hatter said...

I do pay attention to the critics...but with a film like S-P it can be a bit of a fruitless exercise.

Here's why...

A film like SUCKER PUNCH isn't trying to re-invent the wheel: it only wants to achieve spectacle and give us the same amount of nourishment as the popcorn we're munching on. At the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with that (remember you're talking to the guy who likes AVATAR and A-TEAM).

Critics don't seem to want to evaluate films on this plane.

So as much as an action film lover *should* consider the words of Ebert, or Phillips, or such before plunking down their hard-earned, they won't because critics don't speak for them

What I *did* think going in, having skimmed the critical consensus, was that I needed to set the bar low and perhaps just turn off my brain for 120. Alas, even that didn't help as the shiny-shiny wasn't shiny-shiny enough to stand out from most of the shiny-shiny I've seen before.

I like where your brain is at...keep it coming.

Colin said...

Sadly, 'criticproof' movies are a fact; best to ignore the carcass that is mass-produced, boilerplate moviemaking and consider the flip side of the coin. Certain movies gain attention precisely because enough critics praise them. Without the backing of esteemed critics I would not have seen some of my now favourite films, so in this case critics/reviewers have an essential role - to those who are prepared to listen. Mainstream cinema doesn't interest me, but the basic reality is that my feeling doesn't reflect that of general opinion. I'm used to it, having been married for years to a woman who regards Notting Hill, Bridget Jones and SatC as the pinnacle of filmmaking.

Univarn said...

@JackL I don't think you should listen exclusively to critics. Mainstream filmgoers must exist to keep critics in line when they veer to far off the social path. Not always a good thing, but you could argue it's a necessary one.

@Mad See, I disagree with your notion that critics refuse to accept entertainment for entertainments sake. Case in point: Unstoppable holds an 89% on RT. I would agree that they set a high level to how entertaining a film has to be before they're willing to overlook too many flaws, but that being said - not all critics are that way. With the advent of fanboy mania, and the rise of entertainment based criticism in the online realm, there's a greater call for critics who buy into the notion of entertainment is master reviews. The problem is they have a very limited scope and aren't always the most reliable for every scenario. I like having a bunch of different critics (in which I would include certain bloggers) who I feel best represent the movies I like in certain contexts. Therefore I go to some people for just about any movie, and others if I'm curious about how a particular one will turn out. Variety is crucial :).

@Colin Well, 'criticproof' movies have been around forever. These days they tend to take up the mantel of big budget extravaganzas and rom-coms, but there was a time where with the right faces on a poster you could sell anything. However, if you're trying to tell me Notting Hill isn't a pinnacle of cinema we've got problems! :P

Castor said...

@ Mad: I disagree. I think any movie, even the ones that only aspire to be cheap entertainment, can be and should be good movies (whatever that means).

I do pay attention to the critics but only as a whole (via a RT score for example). Even then, I usually am quite liberal and don't keep movies below 50% out of my reach for example. I rarely ever read a review until I have seen the movie

Stevee Taylor said...

I usually pay attention to Rotten Tomatoes scores, which is why I'm a little edgy towards Sucker Punch now, even though I was really looking forward to seeing it. I find I trust bloggers a lot more...we all seem to know what we're doing and our opinions usually aren't too scathing and 'I didn't like this because that man walking his dog didn't have enough texture to his character'. It's the over analyzing which pisses me off.

Anyway, back to RT. The one thing that annoys me about their tomatometer is the fact that 'fresh' and 'rotten' scores are the only ones that come into it. Like, a fresh rating accounts for 60% and above. To me, a 6/10 isn't a fantastic rating. But what if a movie got an overall 90% consensus based on that fact that all of it's rating were 60%? That doesn't mean it's a masterpiece, does it? But that tomatometer will have you believe that it is.

If you understood what I just said, well done. That's just an idea I've been thinking of for a while.

Plus, I love all these critics rants! Finally, someone has spoken the truth!

TJMAC510 said...

I'm reminded of a story that happened around Christmastime. I was on an airplane waiting for all the passengers to get on so we could leave. I was reading Leonard Maltin's 2011 Movie Guide (a gift I got for Christmas) and minding my own business. Soon a couple appeared and sat in the seats next to me. The wife was reading Rolling Stone or one of those entertainment type magazines. She happens to be reading Peter Travers Movie Reviews that month.

Now the guy looks like The Dude but wearing a suit jacket. He leans over to his wife/girlfriend/sig other and says "You know what I hate? Film critics. Scum of the Earth I tell ya. There are tons of them but they are all the same. Pompous, stuck up people who don't know how to have fun. They just sit around watching boring French films or s**t like that and don't enjoy great films." The rant went on for a minute or so longer until he noticed me and casually asked me what I did for a living. I said "Film Critic (I should have said blogger but whatever)." There was plenty of silence after that.

But I do see a lot of this narrow minded view of critics being only out there to hate everything that we love. Yes we are supposed to be critical (it is in our title) but we aren't spiteful, vengeful people who hate everything, we are mostly normal people.

And as for RT I follow it pretty closely. I usually see a film even if it gets bad reviews (If no one else will see it, I will will be the death of me) but I'm usually more aware if I read RT beforehand.

Univarn said...

@Castor I think that's a good system. It's been my experience that anything in the 40% upward has a good shot at being my cup of tea. Below that and they're really walking on thin ice, unless that movie entertains or connects with me in a way that acts counter to the general flow of things.

@Stevee I get what you're saying. Whenever there's a movie I'm interested in I usually check out the RT score then click on it and check out their Average Rating Per Review to see the real story.

@TJMAC I think one reason that critics suffer is also lack of charisma. No offense but there aren't a lot of critics people think are 'awesome' outside those of us who follow them. However Celebrities, Directors, Producers, wealthy and ego strong individuals are out there on talk shows (or as I call them 'agree with whatever' shows) all lambasting critics with a collection of snide remarks. Few look up to critics, everybody looks up to the rich and beautiful and perhaps too many just follow suit.

Simon said...

Depending on the movie, I guess...if I wanted to see a stupid, entertaining movie, I'm more likely to ask people around me then look up a review, which will just analyze and suck the fun out of the whole thing. Yay, stupid movies!

edgarchaput said...

@'criticism' can be positive too... One hears the word 'critic' and has notions of an art house snob, like the guy in the airplane in JMAC's story.

@Univarn: I liked your point about critics having to slog it out through plenty more films than the average movie fan. We have other jobs (unless any of you are real film critics, in which case: carry on), social lives that do not necessarily entail watching movies (I like books and soccer!), etc., so expect a critic to 'speak' to the figurative 'you' is somewhat silly. If I'm a paid critic, which I am not, I have to assume that if my press screenings in mid week include 'Beastly' 'Drive Angry' and 'Season of the Witch', chances are that by the time I get to 'Just Go With It' I will have lost some patience.

edgarchaput said...

don't pay attention to the '@criticism'. There is no one who posted a comment named that. I think I didn't get enough sleep...

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Standing ovation.

Related Posts with Thumbnails