An Analysis of Film Critics and a Couple of Rants to be Safe

Okay, this rant is goint to be about several things. Let’s start with what started this rant, though. I saw Speed Racer yesterday, and my review will be published on Wednesday in the Falcon. I saw it and absolutely loved it – that’s all I’ll say about that for now, as I don’t like giving too much away in public arenas like this (wordpress and facebook) before articles that I’m writing are published.

I was surprised and dismayed after finishing my review to find that Speed Racer received a whopping 35% on the tomato-meter of Rotten Tomatoes. I had anticipated that it wouldn’t be nearly as highly reviewed as Iron Man, but I still did not expect it to receive so low. I quickly skimmed and read a lot of reviews, both negative and positive, and what I found was this: most of the critics who hated it said something along the lines of “Hah! Only an eight-year old could enjoy this! And I’m not eight! I’m so much more mature than eight! Pish posh on that! I only watch “Citizen Kane” and “The Godfather” and “There Will Be Blood!” I don’t have time for crap like that! I’m better, hahah!”

I also looked on IMDB for users who hated it, and most of them had something similar to what was said above. What’s with critics who feel the need to do this? I try not to disparage demographics in my reviews (though I confess to probably having done that at some point in the past), as all it does is make enemies and make you seem like some pompous jack-ass. And the sad thing is is that most of these people cited this as basically the only evidence for the movie being bad. If you say that “only an eight-year old would enjoy it,” then you’re automatically discredited when a nine-year old enjoys it, much more a 22-year old like myself. If you also say only someone doped up on drugs could enjoy it, then you’re automatically discredited if someone sober sees it – someone like me, for example – and enjoys it. (And yes I promise I did see it sober.) Some critics even went so far as to say, “I can’t even see a little kid enjoying this!”

This, in my opinion, is even worse. If you have no imagination whatsoever and can’t even imagine one, or even several dozen, little kids enjoying this, then why the hell are you a critic anyway? A film critic should have a grand imagination that is wholly open to new experiences, and should know how to creatively structure a review so that the reader feels like they’re going on a journey through the world of the movie almost by reading the review. Reviews that only babble on about the age demographic are made by self-absorbed pricks who can’t think beyond their own little middle-aged world. I saw it in IMAX, and after the end of the show an attendant called out to the audience, “All right, that was Speed Racer. How did you guys like it?” And everyone cheered, and by everyone I mean a whole slew of eight-year olds, AND adults. Someone next to me who had brought their nephew or son with them to the show leaned down and asked him, “Wasn’t that awesome?” Hm, guess you’re wrong, Mr. Anal-Retentive Reviewer.

I’ve noticed this trend in a lot of other reviews, for other movies that are marketed at families as well. Once the label “family marketing” has gone onto a film, whooooa, you better watch out for those critics, because unless it is directed Brad Bird (who, admittedly, is a genius at directing family-friendly flicks) or is perfect at fitting this exact picture of that demographic that they have in their mind, then they’ll jump all over you and label it as either A) too adult B) too kiddish for the parents to care or C) for no one in the world ever. Am I the only one who’s seeing this disturbing trend? Whether a not a movie successfully hits its target demographic isn’t really the point – my point is to illuminate the tremendous egotistical egg-headed inflation that goes on in a lot of self-appointed and professional critics’ heads. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about – I’m a film critic myself, have seen hundreds of movies, and have been prone to this before, which is why I’m so worried about it – I don’t want to fall into this myself, which is why I’ve never concerned myself that much with demographics before in my reviews – I did with “Fred Claus,” where I mentioned how some of the material seems like “left-over versions” of an R-rated script, and how it might be inappropriate for youngsters. But did I go critic-ballistic and say that this movie is no good for anyone, anywhere, ever? No, because that would be arrogant and despicably self-centered of myself.

In relation to this, I’ve noticed another trend – how much critics do not like movies with convoluted plotlines or complex action. Go on, think about it. I’ll give you a second. There, see? Movies that have action scenes that are too complex are very often derided by critics – take Speed Racer for example. I read many reviews that yelled at it for having action that was too confusing, for never being able to tell who was in first, and for the colors hurting their eyes. What demographic are they speaking to? Who are they trying to reach with this? All the reviews that focused on this told me nothing about the film itself. As for me, I had no trouble whatsoever, save for many a spot here and there, but that’s okay, when you watch an action movie, you take that risk, of telling who was in first and what was happening with the action. So if I had no trouble, then their criticism of that movie falls flat in the water, because all it does is tell the reader something about them personally – that they were unable to follow it. Much like the eight-year old thing, once it is revealed that one other person was able to follow the action easily, and many of the reviews that I’ve read by “regular old joes” on imdb had no problem with the action either, so I’m not alone there, then that argument falls flat in the water too. “I’m a forty-some-odd-year old critic, and my aging senses were not able to take the onslaught (yes, Speed Racer is a gloriously fun onslaught) of bright colors that were assaulting my senses. I did not understand the action, and so, based on that very personal experience, I will give this movie a 3/10.”

Does ANYBODY else see a problem with this? Because it’s still disturbing me. And we haven’t even begun with my plot rant. Most stories that go into more complex plot are deemed bad as well. Dead Man’s Chest was a helluva fun old fashioned Indiana Jones kind of romp, but critics mostly didn’t like it, deeming it unnecessarily complex and too confusing to figure out. They said the same thing about At World’s End. Hm, now wait a second. I understood both of those plots upon first viewing. Yes, upon first viewing. They were easy to figure out – sure, they required more thinking than a summer escapist movie might usually warrant but it was nothing I couldn’t handle – and I probably haven’t even seen half as many movies as most professional critics have.

So why the discrepancy? Why can critics only take so much plot before they start to whine about having to think too much? Often critics go even worse than saying they can’t understand it: they claim it has no plot at all and label it an incoherent mess. Really? Honestly? You’re gonna call At World’s End an incoherent mess? Try watching Southland Tales, another film that critics despised even more. This one aimed to be a mess, an ode to the disconnected feelings of our present world. But underneath all that mess there was some kind of weird metaphysical/political/allegorical tale that made exactly perfect sense. I mostly understood it the first time around, and the second time, I understood it. It made sense. There was a story. It was difficult to figure out, yes, but there was a story. And I’m not some diehard Southland Tales Richard Kelly junkie. I wasn’t that big a fan of Donnie Darko and though I loved Southland Tales I wouldn’t call it the second coming or anything. But at least I’m not so arrogant as to think that just because I can’t tease some meaning out of it it must have no meaning at all. Reading reviews for Southland Tales you’ll notice that most of them simply say, “boy what a mess this is” and move on. They never give any evidence for the mess being there. They never say why it makes no sense. Sometimes, there actually are movies with glaring plotholes, and those should be called out like the plague – but some movies, like At World’s End and Southland Tales – contain no plotholes and are as seamless as American epics like No Country For Old Men. Yes, I’m comparing No Country to Southland Tales. Sue me.

Why are critics so pathetic when it comes to plot and action? When you don’t understand or don’t like a movie, there are two party lines. Either it’s for eight-year olds, or it’s a plot mess. Anytime you see a critic use one of these, look for evidence. More often than not there is none, simply because it was the last thing they had to fall back on because the movie just didn’t sit right with them. I challenge critics out there to stop having knee-jerk reactions to films because YOU didn’t like them. As a (hopefully) future professional film critic I feel there is a strong difference between me liking a movie and movie being good. I like to think that I’ll like all good movies, but this is not always the case, and I’ll admit to it when it is (most of the time :D). It probably comes with the territory of starting to write professionally – because you’re getting paid for it, you naturally assume that your opinion must be the correct one – since someone is paying you to write your opinion. And so you begin to write as if your demographic is the only demographic that exists in the world, and the eight-year olds in your head are the only eight-year olds in the world, and because the plot is incoherent and non-existent in your head than it must actually be both those things. How much of a naive and self-absorbed view is this? It’s disgusting.

Also, another thing I noticed with Speed Racer’s reviews was that it was criticized for having a threadbare plot with unlikeable and paper-thin characters. First of all, I don’t agree with this. Second of all, most of them then go and contradict themselves and call an introductory scene in which Speed races with his brother “completely unnecessary.” Wait, what? If you’re going to demand solid character development, then a scene in which the titular character shares a powerfully impacting moment with his dead brother would be pretty darn necessary. Even if you’re going to go the route of saying that the emotional scenes are kind of sloppily done, you still have to acknowledge that the scenes are there and necessary.

And now we’ll move onto something else that bothers me: the curious and rather insanely furious backlash against the Matrix trilogy since its initial release. I’ve mentioned this in pieces before, but let’s examine the evidence. The Matrix Reloaded, for all the hate and tomato-tossing it has received since 2003 for being such a long fall from the original, must have received something akin to Speed Racer in terms of a score on the tomato-meter, right? Check it out here, my friends. Yup, that’s right. The original Matrix received 73%, respectable even if it was somewhat lower than the original. And what did the original Matrix receive? Something in the high 90’s, right? Nope. A mere 86% – nothing to sniff but nothing too groundbreaking either. Box-office receipts were generally pretty damn good as well. Contrary to popular belief, the highest grossing R-rated film of all time is NOT The Passion of the Christ, it’s The Matrix Reloaded, baby. Yup, that’s right. Both audience and critic reaction was generally favorable at the time. I remember. “The Matrix Reloaded” was never a topic of derision until after the third one came out, which, admittedly, probably had a hand in bringing down the Wachowski Brothers’s glory.

Here’s the kicker, though – nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, ANYONE, who would defend either of the Matrix sequels (much less someone who defends both), either in the critic world or the audience world. Why is that? Entertainment Weekly, who initially gave Reloaded a positive score, put it as number two on their 25 Worst Sequels of all time list. What? Just because Reloaded wasn’t as good as the original it’s the worst of all time? Not Wild Things 2? Not Rocky V? The Matrix Reloaded?? You kidding me? Why has it become so popular to bash this once-great trilogy? And even some reviews I read about Speed Racer referenced the two “awful Matrix sequels,” when they themselves gave at least Reloaded a positive review.

And now this transitions into another rant – how much I hate party lines. It’s the party line to deride and say that both Reloaded and Revolutions were awful. It’s also the party line to say Keanu Reeves is a poor actor. When someone starts talking about either of these things, I just ignore them, because I know they’re talking out their asses. In the past, whenever I’ve tried to engage them in actual discussion, to debate my position, the conversation has mostly consisted of, “Have you seen River’s Edge? Devil’s Advocate? My Own Private Idaho? He was critically acclaimed in those movies – he’s a great actor! Most people confuse his acting skills with bad acting because you can’t really see Keanu act – if you’ve seen him in interviews and things like that you know his personality is nothing like the “surfer dude” he so unfortunately took on the mantle of after Bill and Ted. And yet he keeps on getting blockbuster success after blockbuster success while still having time to work on small projects like “The Lake House.” Whatever kind of acting he’s doing he’s fooling somebody if he’s doing all this and you think he’s some douchebag who can’t act.” And then their response is usually, “Keanu Reeves just sucks, everybody knows that. Come on.” You know the type of person. Many of you reading this probably are that type of person. A lot of people hate Keanu, but when you really sit down and think about, do you have a reason? Honestly? Do you? I dare you to come up with one. Simply because he chooses to under-act more than other screen-chewing actors like Daniel Day-Lewis he’s automatically terrible? Whaaat? Remember Siskel & Ebert? Gene Siskel said that, quote, “Keanu Reeves is a terrific actor.” Here’s a guy who’s probably seen more movies and knows more about them than you or I can ever hope to, and he still believed this. Hmmmm….

And then there’s the discussion about the Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions. I bet you by now most people haven’t seen either of those in a few years. Before you try to argue a point with me about how much special effects took over in the third film or how the first film devolved into psycho-babble bull crap in the second film, watch the trilogy again. Seriously, watch it. I watched Revolutions today and I realized what a grand epic play it was, with ideas, thoughts, emotions, characters, gravitas, action, special effects, groundbreaking in almost every way.

Critics also complained that nobody really cared about the world outside the Matrix in the first one – but that’s part of the point – you’re being seduced by the Matrix and almost choosing it over the real world – THIS is the choice that the characters have to make in the film. And so the critics complained about how they needed more backstory to flesh out the characters so they could care about the real world more. When the Brothers W gave them that in the second film they complained about how the real world was so grungy and dull and dreary – wait, what? Oh, I’m sorry – I didn’t know the real world had to be Eden or in the tropics for you to be satisfied.

So, basically, my post can be summarized as follows:

1. Critics really should get their heads out of their arrogant clouds and start living down here with the rest of us.

2. And if you’re going to go on and on about how much the sequels to the Matrix suck or how bad of an actor Keanu is, well, do it because you sincerely believed in it and have researched it. If you can give me a solid argument, well thought out and rationalized, as well as being fairly convincing, that Keanu Reeves sucks and that Reloaded and Revolutions were terrible, then I’ll listen to you. If all you’re going to do is say that “hey, dude, they suck, everyone knows that,” then honestly, what are you doing even talking to me? Don’t waste my time with idle party-line jabber. Stop being some kind of automaton and think for yourself. I recently spoke with someone with whom I had a very constructive conversation about Keanu Reeves’s acting – in the end we both still disagreed, but I had a better appreciation of why she thought what she did, because she had actually thought it out as opposed to just saying, “Haha Keanu Reeves sucks hahah.” Because if that’s what you’re going to do, I’ll just act as if I don’t hear you.

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