Sunday, March 18, 2007

ON THE RELEVANCE OF TODAY'S MOVIE CRITICS

Well, I have found an interesting article on the Web, from Peter Bart at Variety, about movie critics.

Specifically, the article goes on about how out of touch these film critics are when it comes to these popular, hit movies. For instance, he talks about how so many movies have been big hits lately. Bart cites the big business for 300, raking in 70 million dollars in its opening weekend even though the "critical consensus" (his words) was that it was a dud. He goes on to mention how Ghost Rider, Wild Hogs, Norbit and Night at the Museum were all hits that were panned by critics.

In fact, this has been going on for a long time. Last summer it seemed every movie at the theater was getting the thumbs-down, whether it was Da Vinci Code or The Break-Up, or Miami Vice or these other flicks. I could go on and on. Yet the box office was through the roof.

Anyway Bart says that the success of 300 and other movies "underscores yet again the disconnect between the cinematic appetites of critics vs. those of the popcorn crowd." He asks, "if the established media want to stay relevant, should their critics make a passing attempt to tune in to pop culture?"

First of all, Peter Bart should get it right. 300 was not a dud with the critics-- not all of them, anyway. Rotten Tomatoes rates 300 at 61%, which is considered "Fresh". People like Lisa Schwarzbaum and Richard Roeper were giving this movie positive reviews, so it's not as if the entire mainstream media hated this freaking movie! In fact, this movie had plenty of supporters out there, so there really wasn't as great a disconnect as he would have you believe. There was no negative "consensus". The only "consensus" I can see is that everyone thought 300 was a big gorefest, but that was it.

Maybe Bart is thinking only about the New York Times and these eastern newspapers. Now, that crowd is DEFINITELY a bunch of uptights and sourpusses as far as I'm concerned. He mentions A.O. Scott in particular who was quoted as calling 300 "as violent as 'Apocalypto' and twice as stupid." I have more to say about these elitist eastern critics later, but suffice it to say that these folks were outnumbered.

Second, Bart mentioned that the public made hits out of a lot of movies that got trashed by the critics. He seemed to suggest that people actually liked these movies. In fact, it wasn't just the film critics that hated these hit movies. EVERYONE hated them --- including the customers. I've heard so much vitriol about Wild Hogs from ordinary people and non-film critics that it is a joke. Norbit was so awful that it's legendary by now--- it was so bad that it cost Eddie Murphy an Oscar, for a different movie! Just because people went to these movies doesn't mean they were any good. In fact, I think people are starved for entertainment! So many of the movies being dumped into the theaters around this time of year are just so awful, but these studios want to save their best stuff for summer and the fall. So people see some trailer for some flick, or some ad for it on TV, and if the movie looks anywhere near half-decent they will go see it, cross their fingers, and hope that these critics are wrong! They want to see popcorn movies, that's all it means.

Still, so many movies have done such good business in the last few months. That's a ton of people going to the cinemas, hoping the critics are wrong. I think the larger question being posed here is: why are people ignoring the film critics in such big numbers? Why are people making hits out of critically-panned pieces of junk?

I think this is where the "disconnect" that Peter Bart talks about becomes relevant. My main beef is with the newspaper writers. I happen to think there are A LOT OF CRITICS at these major newspapers who have an elitist, cynical approach to the movies. You definitely see a snobbery eminating from these writers, particularly these Eastern ones. They get excited when these high-brow "art" movies and Oscar contenders come out. But if it's a popcorn movie of any kind, those folks definitely sharpen their fangs. If it's a flick that has a lot of special effects in it, or a lot of violence, you can tell these folks aren't that interested. And comedy? Forget it. You get the impression some of these folks would have panned Caddyshack given the chance. You get the idea.

I remember a lot of these film critics at these papers in Toronto were trashing King Kong when it came out a couple of years ago, and of course I loved that movie and it ended up getting great reviews from most people. There were people out there who trashed Snakes on a Plane, and even Wedding Crashers, and of course I liked those movies, too. It drives me nuts and it destroys the credibility most of these movie critics have if they trash genuinely good movies that are popular with ordinary folks out there.

It gets to the point where you are so fed up seeing these critics praise these boring art-house movies, while trashing and berating these fun action movies and other populist entertainment, that ordinary people start tuning out! People come to think that these critics don't care about the kind of movies they want to see--- so why should anyone trust them to know what they are talking about? Why bother listening to them if all they will do is trash every movie Ben Stiller is in, or every movie that the Wayans Brothers and Chris Rock are in. And what about Adam Sandler? Has Adam Sandler ever been in a big-time movie that received positive reviews? Anywhere? I know Roger Ebert has hated just about every movie Sandler has ever been in; in fact he even wrote an article about it one time.

Now, not all critics are uptight-elitist individuals. There are a lot of fairly populist movie critics out there-- like those guys on that TV show out of Chicago. And the online critics tend to be much more clued in to pop culture and all that, too. But man, there are a lot of newspaper critics who need to spend more time at the concession stands at the cinemas!! They definitely need to drink more soda pop and eat more jumbo-sized popcorn, because they don't know how to have a good time at the movies.

So yeah, Peter Bart has a valid point to make when he says these film critics are out to lunch when it comes to pop culture. Too many of them just don't get it. I think they definitely lack credibility with a large segment of the movie-going public. If these critics don't care about the movie genres people like the most, why should we ever rely on their opinions about which movies are good or bad? Good question.

The bigger question, though, is what to do about it?

Frankly, I don't think the answer is for these film critics to go around saying what great masterpieces these mainstream pieces of junk are at the theaters all the time! Just because a movie gets a lot of customers doesn't mean it's any good. All it means is that a lot of people got conned out of their money.

Film critics can't just go around saying this rubbish is brilliant! They need to have standards, you know. They have to keep their credibility without looking like a bunch of sour, out-of-touch snobs who hate all popcorn movies.

I think what critics need to do is be a little bit more populist when it comes to the movies out there. If the movie is a good popcorn movie, then say it's a good popcorn movie!! If it's a good buddy action movie, say it's a good buddy action movie!! It wouldn't hurt to give a positive review to lowbrow entertainment or a flick loaded with senseless violence occasionally, if the movie was first-rate. And it wouldn't hurt to actually eat some candy bars at the theater and try to have a good time, occasionally! If critics do that, they'll have more credibility with the general public.

And then when they do rip apart a movie like Norbit, people will actually listen.

No comments: