It’s very simple, Jazz.
The history of the cinema is rich, strange and lengthy, yet the talk in here rarely goes beyond the past few years and ALWAYS centers of “liking” or ’hating" a film without any explanation of what that means. IOW its good old-fashioned American anti-intellectualism in action.
Analyzing bad films can be useful, provided the ground rules are clea. Take “Heaven’s Gate” (please!)
It’s a huge sprawling affair with no substantial narrative and stick figures for characters. Plenty of time and effort was lavished on sequences that are nicely shot put have no purpose other than to “impress”
For instance —
Nicde, isn’t it. Well it’s of no use and has precious little meaning.
This is ONE way bad films are made, BTW. Just ONE
Most of the time they star Adam Sandler, and the reason why they’re bad is obvious
They star Adam Sandler.
It’s a huge sprawling affair with no substantial narrative and stick figures for characters. Plenty of time and effort was lavished on sequences that are nicely shot put have no purpose other than to “impress”
OK, that potentially is a quality of a bad film, but I don’t we can determine this statement applies to Heaven’s Gate—not just based on your post alone. (I haven’t seen the film.) It seems to me that someone can say the same thing about Days of Heaven or even 2001. My point is that we would need more evidence to back this claim up.
Moreover, I’m not clear how this illustrates the difference between films we don’t like versus films that are demonstrably bad.
Personally, I’d need to know more about the film. If the narrative or characters weren’t central to the film, then I don’t think your criticism would carry much weight. In Last Year at Marienbad, the characters are stick figures and the story isn’t very substantive, but it’s a more conceptual film, more than a narrative-based one. If HG is more a conventional, narrative-based film, then I think your criticism would be apt, but I can’t tell that from your post or the clip.
Now, I realize that would take more time and effort—probably a lot more than you’re willing to give, which is completely understandable. But I think this is the primary reason—rather than anti-intellectualism—that people don’t discuss films more thoroughly on the site.
Jazz, perception plays a great part in “films we don’t like versus films that are demonstrably bad.”
It’s easy to hate Heaven’s Gate and say it’s bad because of the perception of the film even before it was released. It was perceived as being this huge, overblown film even while in production, and the perception became the reality.
Malick was still under the radar to a degree in 78, so Days of Heaven could get a pass on the hype machine, and while Kubrick was a name, he wasn’t necessarily in the crosshairs because he was quietly over in england doing his thing.
Influence has a great deal to do with what people think about anything, and if “critics” decide they want to hate something, they can influence the public with their dismissals of a project, and I feel the more vehement the dismissal, the bigger ax to grind a “critic” has.
Your post seems to assume that critics don’t have a legitimate basis for their criticism against Heaven’s Gate—that other factors are influencing their judgment—factors that have nothing to do with the quality of the film.
My point to David was that these opinions aren’t very meaningful without some substantive evidence—specifically evidence that either supports the film or tears it down.
What you’re saying about the films could be true, but I think we first have to see a case for (or against) the films you mentioned.
Jazz, I was bringing up the films you mentioned, and as for the quality of a film, well, the true quality of a film can be obscured by bias.
Heaven’s Gate is not a great film, but neither is it atrocious. David is very correct in stating “Plenty of time and effort was lavished on sequences that are nicely shot but have no purpose other than to ‘impress.’”
And I’m pleased that David saw the beauty that the film offered on occasion, but the film is a mess.
While the cinematography is amazing, the editing is feeble, the rhythm is haphazard and the film overlong. But are my considerations influenced by the fact I read Steven Bach’s Final Cut before I saw the film? And was the ravaging the film took by critics influenced by the well-documented issues the film was having during production?
Bad reviews happen, but should a film be attacked as Heaven’s Gate was, or even praised to the heavens like Tree of Life was or should a review simply state what the film is and whether it succeeds or fails in that measure?
And in the question of “substantive evidence,” well, what is “substantive evidence”? It could be a case of Tomato/Tomato.
Right, and that’s the reason we need to see a case laid out before us.
If it succeeds magnificently, then it should be praised—but we should also see the basis for this clailm. Now, if a film fails—even if the failure is spectacular—I’m not sure that warrants an attack. We could argue that Plan 9 From Outer Space fails spectacularly, but it was a low-budget film. Heaven’s Gate, on the other hand, had a big budget, more talented individuals involved, so maybe it does deserve to be attacked—if it failed utterly. Then again, I don’t find that reason very compelling—in terms of justifying an attack.
What would justify an attack? Maybe if many critics thought the film was terrific and it signaled a shift or significant compromise in quality. Or maybe if critics praised the film because they were afraid to speak the truth—fearing some retaliation by the studios—then that might warrant a take down. I don’t know.
1. We should be convinced that the person has a good understanding of the film, and that they’re judging the film on its own terms. This would include discussion about the nature of the film—including its genre(s); what it was going for; its central theme and ideas, etc.
2. The evidence should show that the film succeeded or failed—relative to what the film was about and what it was tryign to do. The evidence would include as many examples from the film as possible.
3. The evidence would also be based on intersubjective criteria and principles. For example, the evidence involved the quality of the filmmaking. Or, if the film relied on heavily on a strong narrative, we could talk about the plausibility of certain behaviors or events in the film.
And with the things you have listed, I concur, yet I feel we see that seldomly in critiques. I see some “critics” reviews are more about the “critics” and less about the film. I see reviews that are less about what the film is and more what it is not — granted I avoid reading reviews as much as possible.
Now, why must genre be part of a discussion of a film? By discussing genre there are expectations and limitations being set, “it’s good for a sci-fi movie,” instead of the film being judged on it’s merits. And should a film like Outland be judged as a Sci-Fi film?
And in the question of quality of filmmaking, well, I think the quality filmmaking of Antichrist is too quickly dismissed as people would rather talk about the shock and supposed shame von Tier should feel at having created such a film.
I think what is need by “critics” is some consistency, and as you state, principles, and I don’t think ravaging a film is very principled.
That’s my sense, too (although, like you, I don’t read a ton of reviews). Since you feel that way, I’d highly recommend this review, Just Another Princess Movie, if you’ve already seen Brave. Basically the author attacks what she believes is a misreading of the film by other critics. It’s a pretty deep and thorough analysis of the film itself, and it’s one of the best reviews I’ve read.
I wrote “genre(s)” specifically because films often employ conventions from multiple genres and don’t fit neatly into one. The point of recognizing the genre is to help one understand the film better—not to hold the film strictly to the genre’s conventions. Knowing that Starship Troopers has political satire can make a big difference in your evaluation of the film.
I think we all try to identify the genre(s) of a film while watching it—as this is a way to help us understand what we’re watching.
You might be right, but utlimately, the quality of the filmmaking, has to be seen within the context of what the film is about and what it’s trying to do imo. So the filmmaking might be exceptional (and it is very good imo), but that won’t matter if the film ultimately fails—in other words, saying the film is bad would be appropriate, even if the filmmaking is excellent.
I think you’re using “principles” in two different ways in the sentence above. By “principles” I meant reasonable guidelines for determining whether an artwork is good or not—NOT ethics and etiquette.
Why would “ravaging” a film be necessarily unprincipled?
i dont seem to read that many savage reviews of films anymore. seems like there is more emphasis on a ‘nicer’ critical culture. but then that might just be because films dominance/place is no longer as secure and with numbers declining and so on, critics feel they cant be as savage (even if ironically its at a time when the the net has made it easier for people to be much meaner about anything they want.) they seem much more restrained, as though theyre not really being totally honest, maybe just cos there arent as many great films coming out as in previous eras so its harder to say one thing is objectively better than the other when theres not as much to choose from (arguably).
but i think a bad review can help you think about what makes movies good and bad and how to look at films. this is esp true in the case of genre movies like horror, etc. bad reviews can also weirdly make it easier to figure out the opposite, what makes other movies good and put things into perspective better.
im personally not into completely gunning a movie down, i prefer to read constructive, considered criticism, but there was a funny review in timeout london a while back of the last tom cruise and cameron diaz film that made me laugh.
i think bad reviews of considered classics can be a good thing actually – it gets oppressive reading yet another uncritical review of why citizen kane is such a masterpiece. it stops people being able to form their own opinion of the film and generally just discourages thought that doesnt fall under awe about it.
I’d like to understand why genuinely bad films — such as Beasts of the Southern Wild — get revered, despite their obvious flaws (in Beasts’ case, a flimsy, pedantic script, flimsy, unorginal direction and flimsy, amateurish performances) while a genuinely interesting and original work like Bernie seemingly gets dismissed out of hand. It’s thoroughly befuddling to me.
My above remarks on “Heaven’s Gate” were just an opening salvo. A substantial article would goover the film in detail and point out any number of other aspects that make it bad. It would also offer examples of good flms dealing with similar material (eg. “McCabe & Mrs.Miller”) and films of sprawl and ambition that actaully work (eg. “Once Upon a Time in America.”)
I was just making a comment in a comentary forum.
“I only learned from bad movies”
“I’d like to understand why genuinely bad films — such as Beasts of the Southern Wild — get revered, despite their obvious flaws (in Beasts’ case, a flimsy, pedantic script, flimsy, unorginal direction and flimsy, amateurish performances) while a genuinely interesting and original work like Bernie seemingly gets dismissed out of hand. It’s thoroughly befuddling to me.”
Bernie didn’t get dismissed out of hand at all (to site just the most obvious metric, it got 92% positive of Rotten Tomatoes). Beasts probably got a lot MORE press, but that has as much to do with Linklater being a long established commodity, and in that sense, he and the film are old hat, while Beasts is a first feature by an relatively unknown, relatively young filmmaker that won the Camera D’Or at Cannes and a jury prize at Sundance, so even without reference to what one thinks of the two films, the event-ness of the Bernie doesn’t really compare to the event-ness of Beasts.
Also, Beasts was fantastic. Bernie might be, I’ven’t seen it yet.
“I’d highly recommend this review, Just Another Princess Movie, if you’ve already seen Brave. Basically the author attacks what she believes is a misreading of the film by other critics. It’s a pretty deep and thorough analysis of the film itself, and it’s one of the best reviews I’ve read.”
That’s because it’s honest and seeks to actively express a personal connection the author felt necessary to be illuminated in the face of depersonalized/standardized approach to critiquing.
Most of these recent purpose-of-criticism/what defines good or bad writing?/how does it apply to filmmaking? threads to me all seem to be circling this issue Zinsser brings up in On Writing Well when he takes to task critics who take on the ‘language’ of a particular style of writing and then within that language try to make a name for themselves in ‘wit’ without ever really describing the actual thing they’re talking about or informing the reader what it’s all about at all:
“Two weeks ago Alex Rodriguez’s grandmother had a dream. She told him she dreamed he and some of his Yankee teammates went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. When it came time for dessert, Rodriguez asked the waiter to bring him a fortune cookie. “Sometimes those things can really tell it to you straight,” his grandmother said he told Derek Jeter. Unwrapping the paper message, he saw the words: "You will soon do something powerful to confound your enemies.
“Maybe A-Rod was thinking of his grandmother’s dream last night at Yankee Stadium when he stepped to the plate to face Red Sox ace Curt Schilling. He was 3-for-27 against Schilling in 2004 and was mired in his longest slump of the season. Nobody had to tell him the fans were on his case; he had heard the boos. This would be the perfect moment to confound his enemies. It was the bottom of the eighth, two men were on, and the Sox were leading, 3-1. Time was running out.
“Working the count full, Rodriguez got a waist-high slider from Schilling and crunched it. The ball rose in a high arc, and you knew just by watching A-Rod that he thought the ball might carry to the left-field seats. A strong wind was swirling into the Stadium, but the fortune cookie’s “something powerful” was not be denied, and when Mariano Rivera shut down the Sox in the top of the ninth, the scoreboard said Yankees 4, Boston 3. Thanks, Granny."
Zinsser then takes to task explaining all the whys and wherefores for why this is an absolute shit article (invented by him but ‘in a style familiar to any sports fans.’)
Later on he then talks about writing in the arts in the same manner, and goes into this lengthy thing I care not to transcribe about how often critics leap upon a bad movie as an opportunity to exercise ascerbic wit.
The point is that two things prevent the larger amount of writing being generated in this society from expressing something honest: one are reviewers who have to write about every book or movie handed to them and may not really care about the majority of them, so fall back upon cliches and generalisms to help them present at least the content of the work if not the spirit. The other are those seeking to make a name of themselves in criticism for fresh turns of phrases and an idiosyncratic perspective, a hammering-on of convictions that may or may not really have fuck all to do with the work they’re talking about in the first place. Unfortunately, we also have the combined problem of the simple fact that the majority of audiences (and readers of these critics) are cynically and assume two things:
1) the artist isn’t as good as he thinks he is (seriously, see: Mubi)
2) the critic is just trying to sell the movie (the former dishonesty), or the critic is just trying to sell himself (the latter dishonesty).
Now reading Zinsser can give you all sorts of wonderful tools and concepts for how to really break out of that mode personally and attempt to write well on a subject. However, my basic thing is that if anyone here is interested in being a critic or does write criticism, the least you can do is be honest, and if there is nothing substantial you can think to say about a movie (or the movie itself doesn’t seem to have anything substantial to say), it’s better for that review to go unwritten. Depending on whether or not you’re getting paid to do the review, you should have some amount of room to say, “Nah, isn’t worth it.”
That would substantially improve criticism across the board.
In the case of finding good critics, you’re on your own. I rely mainly on a local writer not because he’s good (he’s terrible in the Zinsser wit-and-recourse-to-trope way), but because I’m so familiar with how he writes that some movies I can tell I’ll love because of how he loves them, some movies I can tell I’ll hate because of how he loves them, some movies I can tell I’ll hate because of how he hates them, and some movies I can tell I’ll love because of how he hates them (he almost instantly gets me into a movie when he says, “It’s bound to mean something to the type of people who engage in that way, but average audiences” (by which he means himself) “will probably be left scratching their heads.” and he almost instantly gets me to avoid the movie if he starts comparing it to Kurosawa (because that’s where he needs to stretch to defend the likes of 300 and Vantage Point. No really). I know the man loves video nasty and Norwegian zombie movies, so I don’t really have to do the mental calculation to think about how he’ll feel about The White Ribbon.
But anyway, reviews like the Brave one above are rare because it comes out of someone who is observing something about both the movie, and its treatment, that finally has something to say and has to put her foot down. From that basic starting point all she has to do is work with words to communicate her thoughts and feelings, not work with words to describe something the author may or may not feel dispassionate about.
I join this conversation because I`m a very hard boiled Malick fan. So i`m not attacking anybody, Just trying to elaborate what i understand from its compex narrative. In the case of The Tree of life i don`t think the whole movie is merely based upon the purpose of being impressive. It definitely is a High-Concept movie and its use of elliptical narrative is unique because of the style malick`s using in bringing the problems of Creation from both Christian and Evolution Theory in Philosophy to the pseudo-autobiographical story of a Texan man who recalls his teenage years (his Oedipal trajectory in the 50`s) in his home town, and calls to gain the approval of his father in some kind of near death experience (Elevator beeping) before that long famous scene of eternity in the finale. Is he willing – as Freud says- to replicate his own patriarchal position of authority? (To be normal)? but he is married. Then what is the motive behind all this? why he remembers the death of his own brother? Has somebody died in his own family? Is he suffering from some kind of trauma? why we need to see the actual birth of consciousness embodied from the evolution theory (that Dinosaur fight)? why we need to see all of them together at the end which obviously reminds me of that famous Saadi poem “The children of Adam are limbs of each other, Having been created of one essence”. Is it too late to Call?
“Also, Beasts was fantastic. Bernie might be, I’ven’t seen it yet.”
It is. But not at all in the same way.
Bernie looks like a lot of fun. I’ve had to edit clips of it into promotional videos et al recently.
One of the functions that film critics ans reviewers should perform is to warn the public of movies that should be avoided. At least that would save some people some money….
(But anyway, reviews like the Brave one above are rare because it comes out of someone who is observing something about both the movie, and its treatment, that finally has something to say and has to put her foot down. From that basic starting point all she has to do is work with words to communicate her thoughts and feelings, not work with words to describe something the author may or may not feel dispassionate about.
If you’re saying her passion to say something meaningful separates her review from others, I’m not sure I agree. To me, what separates her review is the depth of her understanding of the film and the details and evidence she presents to support this understanding of the film. You can tell she’s really dug far below the surface of the film, down to the film’s very core and she’s put a lot of time and thought into this. I almost never get the feeling that a reviewer has done this.
My sense is that the author believed that many critics had not accurately understood the film, and this inspired her to really dig and try to gain a deep understanding of the film. I think she largely succeeds.
Depending on whether or not you’re getting paid to do the review, you should have some amount of room to say, “Nah, isn’t worth it.”
For films that are just mediocre—absolutely. And there are many of these films. If the critics (especially the really good ones), could ignore these films and write about films that were truly exceptional or interesting or maybe even unjustly praised, I do think this would improve criticism.
You’ve seen Beasts? You didn’t want to weigh in on the thread? I would have been interested in reading your reaction.
“My sense is that the author believed that many critics had not accurately understood the film, and this inspired her to really dig and try to gain a deep understanding of the film. I think she largely succeeds.”
No critic is going to spend the time digging deeper if they aren’t passionate about the subject; without passion, they then resort to functional fallbacks in their writing, and hence Brave becomes ‘A Princess Movie.’ Then she, who had a personal and unique reaction to it, digs deeper and literally titles her review, “Not Another Princess Movie.”
A critic’s job is to give honest feedback.
So if a critic watched what they feel is a bad film, of course they should criticize it. A critic who wouldn’t do that is completely worthless.
99.9% of all critics are worthless.
Whether they write glowing reviews or scathing ones, I just don’t trust the opinion of any person who has chosen, as a profession, to stand in judgement over the hard work and art of other people, rather than creating art of their own. I’ll take a recommendation from pretty much anybody before I take a recommendation from a so-called “professional” critic.
If you love movies – as I’m sure most film critics pretend to – then I would assume the ultimate goal is to promote the things that matter. “I saw this movie and it was great, now I want you to see it” etc. There’s no merit in promoting something that is “bad” or “worthless” – what is the point of this beyond adolescent ranting or attention-seeking? It’s simply the critic accepting the role of arbiter and dismissing the work of others as some kind of self-appointed authority. Complete arrogance.
As a viewer, it’s my job to watch the film and to make the judgement of value. I don’t need someone to “warn me” or tell me which films to “avoid.” I want recommendations. I want to be pointed towards new experiences. Let ME decide if these experiences are “good” or “bad”, but don’t turn me away from something just because YOU don’t like it.
Sometimes you cant even trust the top film critics (let alone the worthless IMDB mass vote). Usually i do agree with the relevant ones, but sometimes there is a movie that you absolutely adore and if you had listened to most of the critics you wouldnt probably even check it out. As was the case with “Battle in heaven” by Carlos Reygadas. Luckily i became a fan of Reygadas before the movie came out and i always check anything by filmmakers i like despite what the critics say. If i was to rely on Rotten tomatoes cumulative, i’d have gotten an idea it was a movie on par with some mediocre Nicholas Cage one. And its rating there was almost the same as most hollywood garbage gets, which was to me mindboggling, because its way above that dreck. On the other side there are movies those critics give high approval and i end up really disliking (the last Mission Impossible being one of the most obvious examples – 94%, among top critics even 97% – wtf – where we watching the same movie? the acting was atrocious, and with such a budget any movie would visually look awesome and have top quality stunts, but that’s hardly enough to make it a good movie! Critics can fail too, miserably) Two other examples of “foreign cinema” are The Raid: Redemption and Tropa Elite, which suffer from the same cliches and weakness as most new Hollywood and are even done in a exactly same way with similar style as most popcorn action movies. Tropa also being a fascist propaganda for advocating police violence and labelling poor people and junkies as “scum”. That so many people liked it is almost a serious social problem…
Bad and good can be relative, personal preferences are a big factor. Some people simply enjoy those really bad ones and consider them their favorites, which is fine with me, even though b movies arent my thing. But my problem isnt with those. Usually they’re even advocated as being bad or by filmmakers who are proud of the fact that they’re done in such a way. The problem are those that are made on a big budget, advertised as something serious, get media coverage and critics heralding them (probably because they got paid by the company that did it) and in the end they’re nothing but mediocre garbage.
I don’t think critics are worthless. Yes, it can be hard to find some genuinely insightful critical essays, but they’re effective in the role of one among many filters. If 10,000 films come out a year, I can’t watch them all. How do I know which ones to see? I ask people. And why not ask the only people who have seen all 10,000, which do you recommend the most?
That’s not as fulfilling as finding a new original perspective on an established favorite, but it certainly makes it easier to narrow down the list.
Movie criticism has always ruined movies for me, that is why I try to avoid it, even sometimes the ‘synopses’ as well.
Yes, I know that some of the most remarkable filmmakers were critics first.
But most of the self-proclaimed “film critics” are just a) people paid to do so and might have some experience or cinematic education & b) people who have nothing better to do and think that their opinions matter (feel alluded or call me that, if you like), and just can’t help themselves or think that anyone should read whatever they have to say about some other’s work (shyte or not).
But let’s face it, we all have an opinion, and we (even among friends) call a movie good or bad, if it belongs to our standards, but critics should be fair and go beyond personal attachments and focus on the elements a movie has.
No long ago, I regretted to have read the ‘review’ of an experimental film by Šarūnas Bartas (‘Koridorius’, 1994 to be precise, here the link this hipsterish review: http://mubi.com/films/the-corridor) and I call it like that, because yes, it gives you an idea of the ‘atmosphere’ of the film, but if you read the whole text, it doesn’t stop comparing it to Sátántangó by Béla Tarr, one comparison is enough, but this person says it like 4 or 5 times, that makes you think that you might watch the same movie or will prevent you from watching it, because you will think that all ex-communist countries and filmmakers are the same, and all thanx to that generalizing and irresponsible opinion, perhaps the critic doesn’t have another point of reference and the only comparison that comes to mind is what s/he used once and again.
But here you might say, I refer to the (failed) style of the critic, but coming back to the subject, I think that the viewer or audience is who might be responsible of what s/he goes to watch, not be blaming the guy who writes the two lines about the movie in the newspapers for let’s grab examples ‘Titanic’, ‘My Sassy Girl’ or any other über famous movie, not precisely what the world needs to watch.
Otherwise, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ have a very blurry border.
What is good to me, could be bad for you, and vice versa. There are undeniable terrible movies, its true, but there is also ‘good trash’ that is not only enjoyable, if you are in the mood, and there are apparently masterpieces that can bore you to death. So, yes, people (not only critics) should talk about movies, that’s what they do, and if they don’t do it, would mean that movies don’t provoke reactions in people .. and we all know that they do.
Beasts won the Camera d’Or??? Un-effing-believable. One of the ugliest, atrociously photographed films I’ve ever seen.
My above remarks on “Heaven’s Gate” were just an opening salvo. A substantial article would goover the film in detail and point out any number of other aspects that make it bad….I was just making a comment in a comentary forum.
Right. I’d love if you went further, but I know that it’s really time-consuming and difficult. That’s completely understandable. But that applies to almost everyone else. I don’t think we can conclude that people are anti-intellectual here because they don’t write substantive posts. (My sense is that our discussions are fairly substantive, compared to other online fora.)
I believe David was referring to Heaven’s Gate, not Tree of Life.
No critic is going to spend the time digging deeper if they aren’t passionate about the subject; without passion, they then resort to functional fallbacks in their writing, and hence Brave becomes ‘A Princess Movie.’
Right, but being passionate doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to approach a film in the way Loofbourow did. I don’t like a lot of reviews, but I’m not sure I can say this is because the reviewers lacked passion. (I tend to think that limited word count and time are bigger factors.)