A Grumpy Old Critic Reviews Film Criticism

There is an alarming trend growing in reviewing movies:
1. Emphasis is only on box-office profits. This is the major problem in contrast with twenty years ago when people would actually write well-reasoned, well thought out film reviews and criticism. The bottom line in the film industry and everywhere else is, of course, the amount of profit that a film generates and this is the first and foremost driver for any and all media outlets.
2. Inaccuracies in the details of films and sloppy or lazy writing (Reviewers that cannot be bothered to follow up with details of movie plot points or to consider what they are trying to convey when writing a review!)
3. Average people I talk to don’t pay attention to film reviews as they “always get it wrong.”
I remember years ago when Bladerunner got some bad reviews. After its initial debut, the reviewer actually recanted after someone explained to him that the movie had merit on several counts. It turns out that Bladerunner stands up well and is considered a classic science-fiction film. In this day and age, I’m not sure that any movie reviewer would bother to re-consider an opinion as the main arbiter of the review is always box-office take. (This problem is nothing new to the film industry!!!)

Another problem with film critics are those who are overly reverential when the director is considered a genius. I have seen several Woody Allen movies that are not watchable, and were reviewed well, There is also a problem with the action/adventure genre where movies are often panned because they are not “art.” There are films that are considered “art” that are unwatchable, comic book movies & other genre movies that are given way too much credence without putting them in the context of their genre- such as the fact that they are based on comic books! All light comedy is dismissed almost without exception-while some of the best actors working do light comedy-Renee Zellwegger comes to mind.
There are other problems with film criticism. There are actors who are overlooked, those who are over/under “hyped”, there are reviews without any attempt to deal with the plot, or trends, with meaning or analysis of the movies they review. Some reviews just state the plot and worst of all, are those reviewers that reveal the plot! One of the worst in recent memory was a recent review for “Taken” with Liam Neeson where the ending was casually announced with a phrase such as, “Well, of course in the end… and the outcome of the movie was revealed because, (I suppose they reason), it’s an action movie and no-one cares if you spoil the ending, right?!

Recently I happened upon a section of Netflix that features Customer Reviews. In this instance, a movie I had seen almost 20 years ago was being reviewed. The film was “Tune in Tomorrow” and it was, as I recall, a light comedy that gently lampooned the old radio soap operas that were so popular in the 1950’s. The film was a fairly forgettable comedy but I remembered Peter Falk had a good part in it and it also starred a very young Keanu Reeves.
The reviews for this film were, to say the least, quite startling to me. One of them spoke of the excessive profanity in this movie. Another seemed to be quite literally lambasting the film for stark racism and bigotry. There were a few that simply didn’t like it, which is perfectly fine. But I came to the conclusion after reading these “man on the street” type of capsule of reviews that: A) 2 out of 5 customers on Netflix are mentally imbalanced; B) Some people are so sheltered they have not seen movies for almost 20 years; C) More than a few people are just being ironic, satirical, have a weird sense of humor or are just not serious; or D) Most people are not very good at reviewing films.

In stating this theory, I can expand upon this by looking at recent trends whereby people that are PAID to review movies do a fairly lousy job of reviewing films. A case in point: Recently, I happened to read a local review of the recent re-make of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The reviewer skewered the movie on several points, but one of them was the fact that “there were several unexplained scenes” such as the first one where the lead character (AGAIN Keanu Reeves!) was seen as a mountaineer in the 1920’s and then later is featured as the alien, Klatu, from the invading spaceship.

The reviewer got just about everything wrong, starting with some easy technical points. Not only is the main characters human likeness later explained in the film but this is fairly standard sci-fi stuff. Alien abductions occur with such frequency in the world of popular culture, most (sophisticated) audiences do not need to see the characters actually lifted into the alien craft to get the general drift. This is the job of the critic, to “get it” when reviewing films and have the ability to sift through the unnecessary verbiage of a scene.

Another major problem with movie reviewers are those reviewing comedy. For Example: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was touted as the funniest movie of the year? Yes, it had funny parts…BUT it was raunchy, and a very dirty R rated movie. Good Luck Chuck was not watchable. Another fairly recent comedy, Wedding Crashers was slightly funny, but not hilarious. The trouble with reviewing comedy is that it is just a subjective opinion. However, good acting as opposed to bad is not. (The actors in these films are not bad, but the content of the movie is questionable in my opinion.)
On one TV show, two critics were raving about the merits of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, comparing it with other comedies that were not as funny. In the first place, as stated, comedy is always highly subjective. I found this out when a friend worked at a video store and pointed out that several customers came back throwing the box on the counter and fuming with the complaint, “You told me that was funny!”, or “I thought that was funny! What do you mean you didn’t think it was funny?!” So, when screening this movie, I did find some funny parts. But funny is not the first word to come to mind when viewing this movie. Raunchy, dirty, X-rated and not fit for family viewing are my first thoughts when viewing this film.
I would like to point out that I used to believe myself to be a fairly sophisticated movie-goer. But the type of comedies that now pass as simply “funny” are seriously under-developed in slapstick and highly over-stocked with sexual innuendo and outright sexually explicit and sexually loaded material. I think to myself, “When did I become like Ruth Buzzi, this little old lady with a hairnet and a sour face hitting people over the head with a purse and wearing rolled up thick stockings and clunky shoes?”
The answer is, I suppose, a generational thing. Just as there is “a Guy Thing” in films, there is this huge generation gap in films today where the test audience seems to be only for ages 18-30.
After this, we are left with some films that use recycled and dated material for audiences that don’t know anything about classic movies or for that matter, any film that is older than the “Titanic.” This is a problem for baby-boomers, I suspect.

In conclusion, there is a problem for movie reviewers and for those who are reading a film review expecting to glean some information from the written review as to the merits and the quality of the film they are interested in viewing. There are still good writers out there who are interested in writing film criticism. This is an art form for a small group of people. But the pool is shrinking and as newspapers slowly fade into the sunset, I suspect the problem with finding quality movie reviews will continue to grow as the baby boomers fade away along with written words of newspaper copy.

Published by

MLJ

Author of "6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village", Ms. Johnson continues to blog on film and publishes a newsletter plus the Flipboard magazine 6 Degrees of Film @ the Movies. Her book is currently available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Degrees-Film-Future-Global-Village/

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