Monday, September 14, 2009

Hyper Critical

What is it about movie critics? Why do so few 'get it', when it comes to reviewing movies? Year after year I see enjoyable movies ripped to shreds in reviews. Sure, some deserved it. After all, as Huey Lewis said, "Sometimes Bad is Bad." (I've dated myself here, haven't I?) But sometimes it's not so clear cut. The issue, in my opinion, is about what makes a good or even great movie. This is not as simple as many critics like to pretend.

I think part of it is that critics think they have some grand responsibility to only extol the movies that are of breathtaking quality in the mold of 'A Lion in Winter', 'Casablanca', 'Lawrence of Arabia' and all those other Great (with a capital G) movies. You know, the ones that have the epic story, the masterful script, flawless performances and amazing Direction. Sure, those are top end flicks. No argument. But there is more to a movie experience than these pedestal toppers might lead you to believe. 

To me, what makes a good or great movie, is harder to define. I have seen a lot of films that were panned by critics, but I really enjoyed them. In spite of their flaws. It's like a book that has a flawed plot, but engaging characters. Do the plot holes stop me from re-reading it half a dozen times? No! A movie, like a book, is always more than the sum of it's parts.  I've seen movies that rose up solely on the strength of the actor's skills. I have seen movies with lousy Direction still completely engage me. And a great screenplay can make up for all sorts of shortcomings. In other words, a great movie, doesn't have to be Great.

Then there is the question of what kind of movie it is. Someone who adored 'Remains of the Day' might very well hate 'Terminator 2'. Someone who sees the humor of 'Dumb and Dumber' might be bored out of their mind watching 'Amadeus'. And I have seen more than a few critical reviews that were done by critics who obviously don't appreciate a particular genre of film. That drives me nuts. If you rarely, if ever, like Science Fiction then please don't review Joss Whedon's 'Serenity'.  Because you can often feel the under-layer of contempt coloring the entire review. It starts being about the type of film rather than the substance. Picking at things that make perfect sense within the boundaries of the plot and the universe the story inhabits. But to the critic, they are stupid or silly. If you don't like that type of movie, then do us a favor and step away from the keyboard.

The other thing that is a problem, is when critics take a movie like 'Transformers' and review it in the same way as they would 'Forrest Gump'. Look, there are movies designed to pull you into their world, engross you and lead you along the road with them. Then there are moves that throw you into the front row of a roller-coaster and tell you to disengage your logical thought processes and "hang on!" No argument that both 'Transformers' movies had more plot holes and continuity errors than explosions. But, in the end, it was still a pretty good ride, as long as you didn't analyze and just rolled with it. My point is that sometimes you have to take a movie for what it is, not for what you wish it was. Sure, 'Independence Day' got a little silly with the now infamous hacking of an alien spaceship with a laptop and the almost melodramatic patriotism, and yet I really enjoyed the movie. Would I have nominated it for any awards outside the technical sphere? Not a chance. But you don't have to be an Oscar contender to be a good movie. I just caught part of a Biography Channel story that offhandedly ripped the movie 'Van Helsing'. Sure there were plot issues, but I still re-watch that movie occasionally. It's just fun watching Jackman and Beckinsale, not to mention the other actors, swashbuckle their way through the Transylvanian countryside. I find myself returning to movies like that far more often then I queue up 'Rain Man', and I thought that was a Great film.

That's the odd thing, the movies I watch over and over are not the Great Films. The ones I return to most often are the ones that touch me in some way. Either they tickle my funny bone, the cast is especially engaging, there's an emotional connection or maybe it's an action film that just pushes all the right buttons. In some cases, these were, from a purely critical view, not very good Films. But they were great Movies. I'm sure some will laugh to know that I own and re-watch 'The Adventures of Ford Fairlane' from time to time. Critically, well . . . it wasn't much of a Film. But it's a hell of a fun Movie. I love the absurdities, Andrew 'Dice' Clay's turn of phrase and even the low brow humor. When it came out, you would have been hard pressed to find one positive review, but I'm sure I'll continue to pull it out once in a while and chuckle like an idiot the whole time!

Maybe what we need to do is be more specific in our terminology. There are Great Films, like 'Million Dollar Baby' and 'Schindler's List' that deserve their accolades for the high degree of quality at all levels. But there are also Great Movies, like 'St. Elmo's Fire' and 'Underworld'. Movies that, while no masterpiece by many critical measurements make an emotional connection or give a visceral thrill. Both types of movies are Great in their own way and both are deserving of respect for what they do right. After all, when the lights go down and the titles roll it's about being entertained, not about attaining perfection.


  1. Yay! M. Night Shyamalan had a go at his critics in his movie "Lady in the Water". The critic got eaten by a scrunt!

  2. Your answer is simple...every movie I like is good and every one I don't isn't. ;)


Please let me know what you think, even if it's to disagree.