(Bitter) Notes On Critics and Professional Criticism

8:28 AM – Morning coffee with Lana Del Rey. Raisins aplenty from a 20 ounce bomber. Chicken chewing bones, wife whittling through the wi-fi on her new iPad, my new Old Navy athletic shorts got me feeling more like Mr. Malone than plain old Kiki. It’s a good day, standing on the shore looking out.


“The secret to happiness is low-expectations.” – Barry Schwartz

Yesterday afternoon the wife and I saw The Hangover III. As typical Hangover franchise fans – asked the first into our hearts, begged purging of part two from our eyes – we had low expectations for anything more than an overhyped continuation of the Wolf Pack’s morally questionable antics. And our low expectations delivered: we had a good time. My final mass text review read: “Screw the critics: Hangover III was fun. Wait till disc, lower your part one repeat expectations, and wait for the Ed Helms’ sight gag after the credits. 3/5”

[Cardinal Zen wins best reply: “Odd. That was my word for word review of Les Miserables.” Get this guy a free pickle at the concession.]

Before the film I mass texted my customary “entering the film” announcement/braggery and received three replies reporting what critics said about The Hangover III. As in, three friends, who are brilliant and witty by even more than Facebook standards, might skip The Hangover III because critics panned it. Okay. Fine. Sad, but fine. But this got me thinking (again) about why truly smart people overly trust critics with their time and money and, way most sadly, opinions.

Here’s my thoughts on critics that you totally should trust with your time and opinions:

  1. You don’t know these people! Why are you giving credence to people with whom you’ve never shared a conversation? You don’t know from what angle critics view films or read books or listen to records. So why trust them? I implicitly trust two people with film recommendations. A few more with books. Not many with music because I seem to be the lone, lame shark when it comes to music. But when it comes to film, I only trust two people I know watch and think about films like I do.
  2. You’re an adult! We’re not in junior high or high school anymore! We don’t need the artificially deemed cool kids telling us what to do with ourselves! I’m a grown man, and if I want to sit through a film that might be terrible or uncool then, by God, I’ll do it. I’ve got no reputation worth protecting.
  3. Trust a geek over a “professional” critic every time! I’m sorry, but I can’t fathom what makes Richard Roeper’s opinion of the new Evil Dead more valuable than my horror hound buddy John Barber’s. Is it because Roeper critiques for a paycheck? That automatically makes Roeper suspect. Plus, anyone who gives the new Evil Dead a D- but awards Prometheus an A+ is not to be trusted. He’s full of something that smells like Guy Pearce.
  4. Critics have an image to uphold and a dozen films to watch in the dark this week! I have plans this weekend to see Ethan Hawke’s new thriller The Purge, which so far has a 54% on Rotten Tomatoes. In my mind, that’s a good thing. I’m not sure I want professional critics – hoping to uphold their journalistic integrity – awarding high ratings to a silly home-invasion movie. Plus, I’m reading a common thread in the reviews: the film does not explain itself. This says to me that I have a group of professional critics who have sat through a dozen or more films in a single week and they didn’t “get” The Purge. Incidentally, these are the same critics who will overly praise Asian cinema for trusting its audience by asking unanswered questions and for piquing viewers’ imaginations rather than filling in the gaps. Hypocrites! I may not enjoy The Purge, but it won’t be because these suckers panned it.

However, I still read critics religiously. I even assign a semester long project that requires students to analyze and respond to New York Times film reviews on a weekly basis. It’s a wildly successful project because, even if we don’t trust or agree with them, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis are thoughtful film viewers and good writers. Pulling apart their arguments and responding with our own requires more than a simple multiple choice one-outta-five rating, which makes us better viewers and reviewers as well. This is good for us. Even if it solidifies the notion that Scott and Dargis take all the fun out of film.


About Kiki Malone

Girding till the break of dawn.
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15 Responses to (Bitter) Notes On Critics and Professional Criticism

  1. kelly r says:

    I, on occasion, will go to Entertainment Weekly’s website and read their review of whatever movie I’m interested in at the time and it usually comes with two outcomes: I’m looking for validation of the movie I just KNOW will be great and get it, or I quickly deem the EW reviewer a know-nothing asshat and who cares what he/she has to say anyway. Critics will not keep me from seeing a movie; they MIGHT keep me from paying to see a movie in a movie theater. Like you, I have a couple of people who I trust to tell me what movie is worth spending time on and some who I know whatever they say is good, will be crap (I’m looking at you LES MIS and SKYFALL!) But I think my decision ultimately does not depend on any critic or review, but whether I can wait until it comes out on On Demand.

    • Kiki Malone says:

      The back of my American Standard toilet holds a small Entertainment Weekly library. Got a free subscription via airline miles, and I will never allow it to expire. Page for page, I enjoy vastly more than my subscription to the New Yorker, which I will totally allow to expire whenever it decides.

      I’m sorry you thought LES MIS and SKYFALL were crap. You must have watched them both with your eyes closed.

      Good call on whether a film feels wait-able or not.

      • kelly r says:

        I actually did watch both of those films with my eyes closed because I fell asleep twice during SKYFALL and once during LES MIS, after which upon waking, I just muttered to myself, “Screw the six dollars” and turned it off. I LOVE Aaron Tveit and LOVE the music from LES MIS so it was disappointing, but the actors extreme OVER-emoting during the songs left a bad taste in my mouth very quickly. But to each their own, right?

      • Kiki Malone says:

        I wrote a birthday song for Hugh Jackman. There’s some emoting in it. And you’ll never hear it!

  2. Tanya Marlow says:

    I’m with you on this. And thanks for the permission to enjoy those rom coms that critics have panned, without having to call them a ‘guilty pleasure’. The critics raved about Blue Valentine. We stopped watching it halfway through, because it was just too, too bleak and unredemptive. I paused the video and read the plot summary on Wikipedia, and was so thankful that we had stopped it when we did. Revolutionary Road? Dull. I will never get those hours back.

    The Hangover (1) was panned by the critics, as I recall. We watched it in the cinema, and people spontaneously applauded at the end.

    The people rule. Power to the cinematic proletariat, I say.

    • Kiki Malone says:

      Tanya – Funny that you should mention the concept of “guilty pleasures.” I’ll be writing about “guilty pleasures” tomorrow. Please return!

      Also, the wife and I saw BLUE VALENTINE at the Alamo Drafthouse on Sixth Street in Austin the day of our sixth wedding anniversary. We loved it. Gave it perfect review scores. But, you’re right, it’s bleak and dark and unredemptive, and we left the theater celebrating our undramatic union.

      I love your closing commentary line. Jotting it into my “quote book.” How nerdy is that?

  3. John Barber says:

    I tend to eschew specific critics (mainly for the reasons you cited here), but I do like to check Metacritic to get an overall idea – are the reviews universally bad? Are they all over the spectrum (PROMETHEUS is a good example of this)? Are they universally good? The only critic I regularly read (past-tense) was Ebert. Even if I disagreed with him, I still liked his point of view. Tanya’s example of THE HANGOVER is a good one. It got a 73 on Metacritic, while III got a 30.

    The critical viewpoint is never enough to dissuade me from seeing something, but it can help make a tie-breaking decision. I don’t get to go to the theater very often, and I have to pick and choose. That Metacritic score helps. Certainly, it’s not the only factor, but it is one. Now, if it’s a movie that I’m really excited about, I won’t even look, because I don’t want to know.

    Speaking of Richard Roeper, if you haven’t listened to his turn on Aisha Tyler’s podcast, shame on you. They talk at length about what those LOOOOONG film sessions are like (special mention is made of Veggietales in that segment).

    • Kiki Malone says:

      The Guy-On-Girl with Roeper gave shape to item number four above. That’s how I know they watch about a dozen or more films in a single week. Roeper even admitted in that interview that it’s difficult for all those films not to mesh and bleed into one another. And it’s difficult not to feel just done with it. And when Aisha Tyler asked him what films he didn’t like, he went on a tirade against gory-horror, which you and I both tend to enjoy when it’s not totally stupid. So, right there, he proves he’s not one of us.

  4. Chad says:

    “You’ve got that medicine I need: fame, liquor, love. Give it to me slowly…”

    The critics? I like to approach ’em as I think Lana would, viz. with lustful innocence. “Oh, really, is that what you think? How fascinating?! Check out the big brains on Roeper?!” Flatter them, give them what they want, use them however you can, but when you want to get head fucked by an Evil Dead movie, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. My brain, my choice.

    The one thing I like about the professional critics is that they ensure there is, at least, a minimum of critical dialogue going on. Do you think in this digital age the professionals are feeling threatened? The Siskel and Ebert I remember from childhood always seemed cranky and opinionated but perhaps more balanced. They were two out of a small handful of professional movie critics (they practically created the discipline). Could they afford to be more thoughtful and less sensational than critics today. The thumbs up thumbs down approach never felt like they were saying, “don’t go see this” or “see this immediately.” It felt more like they were offering ‘just like their opinion, man.’ By contrast, most of my interaction with the professional critics today is a paragraph or two I read when I’m looking for a movie to watch and some type of internet “rank-o-meter” that tries to aggregate all the professional’s (and sometimes non professional’s) opinions into a bar graph that may or may not include an emoticon.

    Agreed that maturity is forming your own opinion apart from and interaction with the critics.

    I give today’s post a thumbs up.

    • Kiki Malone says:

      This dialogue is precisely why I assign film reviews to my students. I want them to learn how to do far more than give a title an FB “Thumbs Up / Like” or not. And, since we’ve all but deleted such discussion from our written correspondences, my student’s truly are LEARNING how to have and express such opinions. I’m as grateful for the critics as I mistrust them.

  5. Otha says:

    Movie critics are like NFL scouts. They take all these measurements and project what a movie/athlete is capable of, but until the movie/athlete is put in front of you to perform, who knows how good they are going to be. Now, if the movie/athlete is 5’6″ 270 pounds, has two left feet, and can’t touch their toes, I’m not going to waste my time. In those situations, I’m thankful that critics can help me to avoid the obviously bad movie. Now I agree that once in a while I love a movie that the critics lambast, but in comparison to you, Kiki “I love Brittany Spears” Malone, I am more of the audience critics write to. You Sir, are more of an outlier and I can completely see how movie critics’ opinions mean very little to you. I also want to say that I agree that if a friend who I believe has credible movie taste recommends something I previously thought was a pile of garbage, I’ll give it a try (i.e. “Jennifer’s Body).

    • Kiki Malone says:

      I named my office plants after Britney Spears. And her CIRCUS record is currently in rotation on my five-disc player. Beautiful record.

      And, yes, JENNIFER’S BODY received a perfect score from me. 5 Chris Pratt cameos out of 5. Amanda Seyfried stole that one.

  6. jthankins says:

    Hey wait… I like Guy Pearce (” He’s the best there is. But he’s a loose cannon” – Lockout trailer) While I disagree with blindly following reviews, the truth is they have been right many times for me. For me the issue has less to do with following reviews and more with once you form your opinion, the movie is no longer the object under judgment (it’s you.) We will weigh your value as a deserving voice in opinionated media based on what movies/books/games you like or dislike. We will be ranked like stock pigs based on those “likes” and the clippings on our pig ears will reveal how valuable our opinions are. This judgment will find us during discussions about said media or any discussion that directly or indirectly conflicts with the compromising movie consumption choices we’ve made. That is why it is better to make the “cool” kids feel dumb for taking media entertainment too seriously and/or stand in confident humility that you will make the best choices for YOU even if that means liking Killers (Ashton K, Katherine H, and the always amazing Thomas Selleck) (Rotten Tomatoes 11%) and in the end saying “I was entrained.”

  7. Pingback: Doing What Audiences Are Meant To Do : A Film Review of The Purge | For The Most Kiki In The Morning

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