I’ve mentioned on this blog several times how I have always loved the art of criticism, particularly film criticism. I grew up watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert debating about movies passionately like someone had insulted their child and not a movie. Gene and Roger taught me to love movies but also that part of the fun of movies was talking about them with friends.
Unfortunately I don’t have that many friends who love movies in my real life. I’m not sure why but most of my friends are more TV people than movies which is cool and certainly can provide much to talk about but there is something about the whole story of a movie which excites me in a different way. Books you live with characters for many hours. TV shows you get regular updates on said characters and plots; whereas, a movie you get the whole story in 2 hours and that’s exciting.
So I turn to the blog community and discuss the movies I see and 99% of the time I have a wonderful experience. Like Gene and Roger sometimes we disagree strongly on films but again that is part of the fun of it.
However, there is something that annoys me in the online movie community. I feel like some critics/bloggers approach reviews like I do when given a manuscript to review. If I’m being requested as an editor I am going into said reading looking for what can be better, looking for mistakes. That is different than my approach as a general reader of books.
Sometimes I feel like people go into movies trying to be an editor and not an audience member. Instead of letting the movie dazzle you and having an open mind you nitpick every little thing that doesn’t make sense or requires a logical leap for the story. Every little last flaw is noted until it seems like they had a miserable experience at the movie.
To be fair, there is something about truly bad movies that invites that type of analysis. I heard Emma Thompson say once ‘only in bad movies do you notice the craft services table in the shot’ and that is so true. If I’m enjoying the experience and loving the characters I am way less likely to care if a plot hole exists or a character is one-note.
We also all have our tastes and it is impossible to go into a movie with a completely blank slate. If you are a part of the movie online community you are going to hear buzz, watch trailers and have some expectations. For example, many people seem to be disappointed with Interstellar because probably partly the expectations were very high (haven’t seen it yet) whereas Gravity was more of a pleasant surprise for a lot of us since it’s not supposed to be a Christopher Nolan masterpiece.
So yes we all have some preconceived notions going into a film but I try to set those aside and am more than willing to admit when a movie surprised me. For instance, I hated The Rescuers, so wasn’t expecting to like Rescuers Down Under and then the movie dazzled me and won me over.
Recently I was so impressed with Big Hero 6. I thought it was something new and different from Disney and was just charmed by it from beginning to end. For the most part critics agreed with me but the blogging community has been more mixed. Many are in the middle on it which I respect and can understand but one review I listened to yesterday said ‘it was the weakest Disney offering in the last 20 years’. I’m sorry but that is just absurd. You are going to tell me that Big Hero 6 is worse than Chicken Little? I defy anyone to make that case.
Such hyperbole I suppose gets clicks but sometimes I wonder with certain bloggers if going to movies is such an unpleasant experience than why go? Some are so routinely negative on their posts that I don’t get why they go to the movies at all unless they just like criticizing stuff.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a bad movie review. I love the Nostalgia Critic and every year get a kick out of Jeremy Jahns or the Schmoes Know’s Worst of the Year list. Why? Because it is either funny in the case of the NC or they have proven their viability in recommending many good movies that I trust them with their bad reviews. I have seen their perspectives fleshed out in videos so even if I disagree and like a move they hate I can understand where they are coming from and respect it.
When I was reviewing the renaissance periods I started reading the rotten reviews on rotten tomatoes because I figured ‘who doesn’t like these movies?’ (at least Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King). I mean I can see it not being a favorite but to say they are rotten is nuts IMO. I started to notice that in many Disney classics a magazine called Slant kept coming up on the rotten side. This magazine gave Beauty and the Beast 1 1/2 stars. They gave Little Mermaid 2 and Lion King 2 1/2. I’m sorry but that just screams ‘click baiting!’. They want people to go to their website because most people just look up one such movie review. Those clickers don’t realize this is a magazine that clearly is trying to stir the pot and be an agitator. Once I saw they were so universally critical and couldn’t really back it up they certainly lost my respect.
There is a certain part of the online community that behaves in this way. They want to attract attention so they dog on things that others love instead of trying to see some value. Again, why? What does that offer in the way of discussion and conversation about movies to just criticize everything?
If we go back to Siskel and Ebert they were advocates of film. You knew they wanted every movie to be good so you respected their opinions when it wasn’t, even if you disagreed. One of their most famous reviews was for the movie North, which I have not seen given their warnings. This review was over-the-top but it was because they had such passion for films that it was taken seriously by most people. If they harped this way on all movies their feelings on North would have been unmemorable.
It’s a tough to do but I wish more bloggers would try to be an advocate for film. If animation is your thing than be an advocate for it. Explain to me why a film frustrates you because you love the art and it even angers you to see it done so poorly. But also share with me that transcendent experience of when a movie works and takes you to a new place, makes you a better person. I’ve tried to do both and enjoyed it immensely. Siskel and Ebert were amazing advocates for films they loved. If we look at their review of Hoop Dreams we see equal passion as their hate for North.
That’s what I hope my reviews do. Yes, I have movies I hate but it’s only because I love Disney and animation so much that the failures frustrate me! In fact, I recently did a worst of list; however, there were only 3 F’s in all my reviews (4 if you count my Maleficent) so even a movie like The Rescuers which I personally hate I still had some good things to say about and gave it 2 grades because I can see why others really like it. I think only having 3 Fs says something about my love for animation. If there were 25 F’s than my reviews start to lose any sense of credibility. (I had 22 A’s!)
We are so lucky to live in an era where we can all be part of this discussion, not just the professionals.
A youtuber that I think does this balance of critique and finding the positives is named Oliver Harper. I can’t give enough praise for his reviews. They are thorough, almost more like a podcast than a 5 minute review, and he covers everything from the music, to the casting, to everything else. He always shows such respect for any movie even true stinkers like Batman and Robin and again it gives his reviews a lot of credibility in my book.
In fact, most youtubers are very fair and most bloggers, so I am talking to a small minority here. I’m talking to the people who just never seem to have anything nice to say. They just have such miserable experiences at every movie that it seems like a hopeless enterprise. Maybe start reading or playing video games or something else and maybe you’ll enjoy that more?
Like I said, I really don’t mind when a critic dogs on a film. In fact, I find it quite entertaining but it has to be earned and the approach of the review should be as an audience member not as an editor with a red pen marking all the stuff that is wrong.
When I was doing the Mulan review I started looking at feminist blogs and was overwhelmed at how negative many of them were. They just hated every movie and again it begs the question why are you watching movies? There was one I saw that had 10 movies they recommended and literally 100s of 0 to 1 star including Mulan. Groan.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by frequent commenter on this blog Swanpride and her feminist media blog ‘Honoring the Heroine’. I don’t always agree with her but I enjoy talking about movies with her. I think some issue bloggers like feminism see themselves more as voices of protest than movie lovers. One such site said ‘it’s time to be vocal about what needs to change”. I’m sorry but we are talking about movies. This is not politics with laws that could hurt or help women. The idea that your nitpicking every movie is somehow part of a great change for women I find laughable. If anything the honoring approach of Swanpride is much more likely to change anything in leading people to positive portrayals of women, but in the end it’s entertainment. Want to change the plight of women? Stop harping about movies and go volunteer at a shelter or help UNICEF. Honestly these movie blog crusades are just silly.
Again, back to Siskel and Ebert, that passion and discussion is what makes movie-going fun. And I feel a lot of bloggers, crusaders or not, miss the fun part of it and just try to to turn the word critic from a noun into a verb.
When I wrote my Wreck It Ralph review I was nervous because I do not love that movie as much as other people do. I don’t hate it but to me it is average. I defended what I had to say as well as I could and surprisingly didn’t get much of a pushback. I have to believe that is partly because I had established a blog with a tone that was fair and passionate about animation. People are less likely to be resistant of your opinion if they can tell you respect them, their feelings and the film they love.
Anyway, this long rant is just to say be positive, expect to be dazzled and then when you find movies you don’t like go for it! But enough already with the trolls and jerks and let’s have real critics. Don’t just be the Statler and Waldorf of movie blogs. Just be yourself and let your passion for films come out and enjoy the discussion!