Film Criticism : Index

The review index is at the bottom of the page, but first, a word on intent and methodology...

Like Rick Blaine’s Café Américaine, sooner or later, everybody winds up at the movies. The issue always seems to be, “What do we see?” Well, how do you decide? You can’t really trust the quotes you see in the papers – those are all put there by the studios to hype their films. But even they can be helpful. You can pretty much guarantee that if you haven’t ever heard of the newspaper, it’s a completely worthless piece of press fluff. And – ahem – some studios have even been known to invent their own critics. Whoops! In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you’ve heard of the critic or not – they’re probably working for the studio in some form or fashion. Sun-Times pseudo-critic, Roger Ebert’s At the Movies show runs on ABC, which is in turn owned by Disney. So there’s really no escaping the merchandising blitz that accompanies a film’s release.

The main objection I have with what passes for film criticism – especially the distinctly American flavor of it – is that at its heart, it’s part of the marketing effort. Even if the reviewer absolutely hated a picture, it all comes down to stars and thumbs and opinions – should you, the ticket buyer, go and spend your $8 on whatever this is? Sight & Sound, the venerated magazine published by the British Film Institute, takes an interesting approach. Their reviews are split into two parts. The first is a complete synopsis of the film, spoilers and all. That’s just to get the audience up to speed. The reviewer then proceeds to completely dissect the thing, using all of the tools associated with academic and literary criticism. If there are appropriate analogies to be drawn to other art forms, previous films, cinematic tradition, etc., they are made. And not necessarily all that delicately. If there’s any real criticism to be had regarding this technique it’s the fact that they really shouldn’t be read if you expect to have any sense of suspense or surprise at what you might be about to see.

As I tried to work out a reasonable method for approaching film criticism, I thought about the things that I look for on the odd occasions that I actually pick up a newspaper. I pretty much gave up on that after too many years of having idiot reviewers (and the editors to which they report) go complaining about something crucial to the plot that might possibly have been a surprise had they not mentioned it. My other chief complaint about popular film criticism is that the authors all seem to approach their work as if each individual film was created in a vacuum, with no regard for inspiration (or downright plagiarism) or genre. And it usually boils down to opinion – “I think this, therefore” – with nothing at all to back up their already flimsy assertions.

Below, you will find a selection of my work over the years. The reviews follow a loose model of discussing the film in terms of what it seems to be attempting, and what it actually succeeds in accomplishing. One thing that is completely irrelevant to me, is any desire to convince the reader to either go to or avoid a particular film. Each reader will have to make up their own mind based on my comments. It should be obvious what I think of a piece, but I’m not willing to grade something in terms of stars, nor will I give something a “thumbs up” – or down, as the case may be. If my argument is compelling, that may sway your decision. Or not. Do with it what you will. Make up your own mind based on the facts and tools you’re given.