I’m taking a moment of reflection from a weekend spend cuddled up with the flu, type A, and yes I had my shot…this little bug just recently showed itself so I expect it to be in next year’s syringe, to reflect on being a critic.
All geeks are critics of a sort. Just ask the fans whose childhoods have been “ruined” by Disney’s re-imagined laser-crossguard light saber.
I grew up on Statler and Waldorf (Pictured at left). Listening to them heckle Muppet performances with humbling barbs and keep Kermit on his webbed toes was an important part of my Muppet Show experience. As I grew and got a TV in my own room I stayed up to watch Siskel and Ebert weigh in on the movies of the day, many of which I would not be able to see for years, and I enjoyed their insights into plot and character.
As someone who now writes reviews myself I find critics are largely divided into three groups. The first, and largest still, are the literary critics—or in the case of movies critics with a literary background. These are the sort who will give a film like Grownups so many thumbs down that Rotten Tomatoes shows an aggregate around 10%, despite the fact that much of the film’s simple humor kept my family in stitches—and in conversations about analogies to real life friends afterwards. While a film like Mr. Turner, about an eccentric British painter, can draw 96% positive. Compare that to the final Hobbit installment which must be content with 70% despite the fact that an order of magnitude more people will likely pre-buy Hobbit tickets than will even see Mr. Turner, no matter how well the lead is acted by the brilliant Timothy Spell.
This is because the literary critics succumb to the best and worst malady in review. They are by and large so educated about what makes for a good story, by which is meant a work with literary merit, they often forget that entertainment stopped being a mainstay for the elite, if it ever really was, with Shakespeare and Mozart. Both of whom took the forms of their medium and translated them for the masses. Today more movies are watched and books read than ever before, but not by and large by credentialed people with the training to actually enjoy Kafka.
This leads to the second type of critic who looks for entertaining fun. This critic of the people looks for entertainment that works, and is free of much deep analysis. Was it fun to watch? Did I have a good time? In fact when I see a film averaging between 60 and 75 in a Rotten Tomatoes review, with a large number of reviews filed, what I usually find is that the work isn’t quite good enough to have swayed the majority of this type of critic. Fantasy films and SciFi can stumble here because these genre’s simply aren’t for everyone.
The problem with this type of critic can best be summed up by the conflict between Lorde and Selina Gomez over the lyrics to Gomez’s hit “Come & Get It.” Whatever you think about the feminizing empowerment, or lack therof, to that song’s lyrics Selena expressed the transgression best when she said, “…because in my opinion it’s not feminism if you’re tearing down another artist.” I cringe at such statements because whether history judges her right or not, she leveled an honest critique.
But in the same way Selena did not respect her work being criticized, critics who look only at entertainment value tend to become overly plugged in to what is hip and selling right now—and do not like criticizing the popular. Twilight was a tidal wave sensation, and God help the critic who attacked that love story. At the time. But in the aftermath a simple picture said everything about that movie that mostly only the literary critics dared to say, amid everything else wrong with its structure, with one of the meme variants shown on the left. And most teens I know who have seen Up and read Twilight wholly agree.
Another example is Divergent, by the third book in the series a statistical insignificance separates the 1 and 5 reviews on Amazon, but the flaws were evident to close inspection all along.
So this leads to the third and rarest critic of them all…the hybrid. Someone who can enjoy or analyze or both, and critically selects when. I try to take this approach. For example when I review an otherwise popular film, like Maze Runner, or actor in a particular film, like Jim Caviezel who I like generally but not so much as Bob Ladouceur in When the Game Stands Tall, I will try and analyze the failure and present it to the best of my abilities. Other times films like Guardians of the Galaxy or Interstallar come along and take me for an amazing ride that leaves me wanting more, and I may just report the thrill and invite you to join me on that journey. While at other times movies like Belle or Beyond the Lights may have something to say interesting enough to merit analysis.
Regardless, like the grumpy old Muppets who started me on this journey I’ll always try to find movies that can take you to new places and give it to you straight about what to expect on the ride.
Next time expect a few words on that most maligned of concepts “Disneyfication”.
And as always—See you at the Movies!!
Well, at least if you live in the same city I do, and don’t have a day job beyond writing to keep you from the afternoon matinee.