1. Jared says:

    Thanks for this! I enjoyed reading it, and I appreciated hearing you elaborate further on what you meant. As always, we agree about many fundamental things . . . for instance:

    “Rather, I hope to articulate at least throughout a full body of work that I’m pursuing happiness by enjoying as many stories as I’m able.”

    Amen to this!

    “This is why I’ve been cutting back on watching acid-tongued movie reviews from YouTube critics. Their cynicism is often paired with some astute observations about story and filmmaking craft.”

    And this! I do highly recommend finding video essays and/or podcasts that celebrate the films they feature. I get so much more of that latter thing you’re looking for out of those. I think I can categorically state that, when it comes to art, people are often more insightful in guiding us through what they’re passionate about than in trashing what they hate. There is an important place for negative film criticism, but the YouTube genre you’re describing often feels more like a bandwagon pile-on (if it’s a recent film), even when the observations are very intelligent (though they often aren’t).

    “By the way, when I say “critic,” I don’t mean some major newspaper movie-watcher in a loft apartment somewhere. I think of anyone who styles him– or herself a critic.”

    This is obviously the biggest source of my misunderstanding . . . I’ve taken film classes at an undergrad and grad level, taught a film class, and I’ve been writing about film for 15 years on my own movie site and other sites. I’ve presented papers about films at academic conferences and even recorded several episodes of a movie podcast. . . . But I’m not “a critic.” And I’m not trying to foster a sense of snobby elitism about film criticism when I say that. I don’t believe that opinions of professional film critics are more valid or important or “legitimate” than my opinion. Nothing like that.

    It’s just that when people make (usually negative) generalizations about “critics,” it’s bad enough that they think they can lump such a diverse, divergent group into something that homogeneous, but at least we know who they mean . . . The relatively small group of people who review films on a professional basis. If by “critic” you mean literally any rando with an opinion and a keyboard, then you’re speaking so broadly about such a vast group that I’m not sure there’s anything meaningful that could be accurately expressed. It’d be like discussing “trends in academia” (already a broad category) and then noting, “and by academia I of course mean anyone who has ever attended a college or university.”

    I would add also that it’s bad enough to say “critic” when you mean “anyone who has an opinion about movies online,” but it’s even worse if you’re also lumping in clickbait entertainment sites like ScreenRant or Comic Book Resources that wallow in irrelevant, silly minutiae and don’t even engage in any real criticism. For example:


    Of course, this is (I think) *exactly* the kind of shallow missing the point that you were decrying in your original post. AND I AGREE. But to me, real critics doing good film criticism are the antidote to this stuff. THOSE people are “critics,” not these other guys. You’re talking like those congressmen in superhero stories who are always trying to regulate all superpowers rather than differentiating between supervillains and superheroes and supporting the latter. “Critics” aren’t the problem, or the cause of it.

    “I’m perplexed by this fierce defense of professional film critics.”

    The fierceness of my reaction is almost certainly more about me than about you . . . I do have a pet peeve about people trashing film critics for, essentially, not fawning on the movies that they love. Of course, in this case that wasn’t what you were doing because you weren’t even talking about critics as I understand the term, but that’s what it looked like!

    That said, certainly there are critics who are terrible. I have no idea which of us reads more film criticism (I read *far* less than I did a few years ago) or who your favorite critics are whose opinions you follow and how that list compares to mine . . . I just feel that in the past you have attributed nefarious ulterior motives to critics without any basis for doing so, or accused them (as a group) of something you grumpily suspected but had no real evidence for, largely because they didn’t praise a movie that you found praiseworthy. This felt like more of that.

    Side note about professional criticism: The critic for the National Review is quite terrible, far more so now than in the past . . . However, I used to read him semi-regularly during his New York Press days because, even though I don’t think I agreed with him even one time, he’s a good writer and he’s smart as heck, and that made his insights worth reading. I feel like we fanboys often don’t have enough appreciation for *smart* criticism of the things we love. I can still remember how offended I was at Roger Ebert’s review of The Return of the King back in 2003. He said:

    “That it falls a little shy of greatness is perhaps inevitable. The story is just a little too silly to carry the emotional weight of a masterpiece. It is a melancholy fact that while the visionaries of a generation ago, like Coppola with “Apocalypse Now,” tried frankly to make films of great consequence, an equally ambitious director like Peter Jackson is aiming more for popular success. The epic fantasy has displaced real contemporary concerns, and audiences are much more interested in Middle Earth than in the world they inhabit.

    “[…] one feels at the end that nothing actual and human has been at stake; cartoon characters in a fantasy world have been brought along about as far as it is possible for them to come, and while we applaud the achievement, the trilogy is more a work for adolescents (of all ages) than for those hungering for truthful emotion thoughtfully paid for. Of all the heroes and villains in the trilogy, and all the thousands or hundreds of thousands of deaths, I felt such emotion only twice, with the ends of Faramir and Gollum. They did what they did because of their natures and their free will, which were explained to us and known to them. Well, yes, and I felt something for Frodo, who has matured and grown on his long journey, although as we last see him it is hard to be sure he will remember what he has learned. Life is so pleasant in Middle Earth, in peacetime.”

    And yet he gave the movie 3.5 stars out of 4 and he said many wonderful things about it as well. And certainly Ebert was one of the all-time great critics, a warm and wonderful writer and thinker, and I learned so much about film and about writing about film from reading his work. Imagine if I’d stopped engaging with him simply because he didn’t connect with one film in the same way I did. And I think he’s completely wrong about the depth of the story in this instance . . . but I also think there’s something valuable in his observations about escapism and ignoring the concerns of the world we inhabit. It’s something to be mindful about.

    I’m in a chat group with the other contributors to Grindhouse Theology, which I occasionally write for, and someone will frequently throw out a film title as something they either like or dislike, and it is rare indeed that there isn’t at least one person who strongly loved the film and one who deeply hated it. I’ve been on both sides of that fence myself, and those differences are usually the basis for a fun discussion. Stick any dozen film buffs in a room, and that’s what you’ll get . . . which is also why it’s silly to make categorical pronouncements about “critics” as a group. /End of very long side-note.

    “Nor would I claim that folks who like hearing a nostalgic song are “enjoying the movie wrong.” In fact, that’s a sort of binary “fresh/rotten [for everyone?]” approach to movies that I want to oppose in anything I write about human stories.”

    This checks out with what you’ve espoused many times in the past, I’m just having a hard time making it jibe with your last piece. If “critics” means “all of the people talking about movies online” and they’re all wrong to appreciate that aspect of a film “too much” . . . aren’t they enjoying the movie wrong?

    “I’ve read fans who said that, thanks to the marketing, the Justin Bieber song was all they knew about this movie (which did not do well in theaters).”

    I saw this movie in theaters (!), and I’d completely forgotten about that music video until you mentioned it. *shudders* You won’t hear any argument from me about the many sins of contemporary film marketing . . . except to draw a sharp distinction between that department of any major studio and the moviemakers themselves. But, then, if the point your making is that film marketing is obsessed with chasing shallow popular trends in pursuit of lukewarm mass appeal, often at the expense of quality . . . Um. Yeah. That’s . . . pretty obvious, isn’t it?

    “This villainous entry simply pasted pop hits, from multiple genres, over top of an already fragmented and near-nihilistic story.”

    I never got around to seeing it, but didn’t critics (and/or “critics”) also pan it as a result of that, among other things? If the people we’re talking about were really guilty of what you’re complaining about, wouldn’t they have undiscerningly heaped just as much praise on “Suicide Squad” because “Yay! Pop songs that I recognize and love! Best movie ever!”

    “Others prefer music you can party to.”

    As a final thought, I would caution against assuming that people only appreciate this music on a shallow “I like to jam to this” level just because they’re “only” pop songs. Music has a lot of power to stir deep emotions, and lyrics and a catchy beat don’t necessarily detract from that. People take ownership of certain songs in a very personal way, forming powerful associations between them and events and times in their own lives. The music a person loves is often literally the soundtrack of their life . . . whatever the genre, it IS the music that they story to. When you say you prefer music you can story to . . . they do to. Y’all just story to different music. My criticism that you appeared to be accusing people of “enjoying movies wrong” was based on the extent that your last piece seemed unaware of that.

    . . . I won’t apologize for the length of this comment, lest it be regarded as a challenge. ?

  2. Tony Breeden says:

    This entire post was cringeworthy. It comes across as a whining justification for being out of touch with the genres you comment on. It’s kind of why I’ve mostly stopped reading Lorehaven or Spec Faith or whatever it is you guys are calling yourselves anymore.

    That sounds mean now that I read it back, but it is genuinely how I feel. (Maybe we need a safe word in our exchanges. How about Martha?) You literally complained about an overemphasis on what you think of as a TREND of irrelevant music in movies and were unable to cite a single relevant example to back that assertion!

    And now you’re admitting that but still not really making your point. (I hated Arthur Christmas and its very premise as much as I loathe that weaponized Canadian export Beiber, btw), especially not with ONE example. One example does not establish a trend. It’s like you expect us to take your criticism uncritically.

    In any case, music is a huge part of movies and even video games for some of us. If you didn’t like how I characterized you in this comment, think of how much we appreciated being mischaracterized as shallow party animals with no appreciation for storytelling or comprehension of the roles music plays in it by someone basing his assessment of the whole matter on how those songs are used to MARKET the movies (an entirely different matter altogether).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.