How to Read Movie Criticism

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Jenx:
Would you ever take seriously a critic who walks up to an artist and says "Well I've seen a lot of pictures in my life, so that means I can tell you that your picture sucks."?

An important bit is missing from that quotation: because.

If it continues, "because I've seen a lot of pictures in my life" then no, that does not stand. If it continues, "because the corner here is way too bright and it distractingly draws the eye from the action in the center" then that is a valid criticism, regardless of where it came from.

Anyway, I suppose the real point of contention here is what you mean by "practical knowledge". The original post, while not explicit, implied that it involved having to do with creation of, which is what I took exception to.

You did NOT just end your thoughtful deconstruction of movie criticism with a winky smiley face, did you?!

Yep, you totally did.

Anyway, I pretty much agree that you shouldn't dismiss critical analysis's of movies due to the fact that those critical analysis's are the only way we'll be able to learn and appreciate movies and be able to judge not only whether or not they're good or bad, but why they're good or bad and what they could do to improve.

That said, I see no reason not to turn to Rotten Tomatoes before going over to Blockbuster to pick up something cheap because you want a movie tonight and you don't want to waste your time with something bad.

Overall, both the critical writing about movies and the numbers are useful, it's just a matter of not relying on one over the other.

(...) the idea that every reaction to every movie can be summed up as either positive or negative, with no room for nuance, and that's the worst possible way to approach a potential viewing choice.

On the contrary, Metacritic is the solution to this problem. It's well known in statistics that taking an average of a ton of samples gives a result that is far more accurate than any individual sample is likely to be. If 25 people measure my height, each with an accuracy of 5 centimeters, then the average of these measurements gives my height accurate to within 1 centimeter!

You can do better than this of course, if you know a single critic that almost always agrees with your own experience. But since reading through the bibliography of a few dozen critics is far more work than looking at a Metacritic score, it's obvious what's more value for your time.

Of course averaging physical measurements is not completely analogous to critic scores, since the result you're interested in is how much you yourself will enjoy a work, not necessarily how well done it is in general. But since the Metacritic score averages out the biases, you need only add and subtract your own biases to arrive at a reasonable indication of what score you would think the work deserves.

Another reason why I regularly watch MovieBob's reviews, despite frequently disagreeing with his opinions on movies.

Yes! Critics of any artistic medium do not exist to pass judgment on a creative work from on high. They are there to start discussions. You shouldn't read anyone, even Movie Bob, and think "Well, that's the way it is." By thinking about what they say, and agreeing, disagreeing or remaining undecided, you are reflecting on art. And the ability to make and reflect on art is a big part of what makes us human.

I like to think that, if an opinion is validated enough, and if a person is passionate enough to tell their truth, it's an opinion worth taking not of and listening to; subjective or not. If you tell me "auurgh this movie was so terrible!", but you did so in a way that was unique to you - you did as you, in a knowledgeable tone of voice, subjective as it may be, I'm going to trust that the opinion is verified.

Some reviewers are terrible, for one reason or another. This is why Yahtzee, despite rambling incoherently and making a metric fuckton of dick jokes, is worth listening to as a critic - his opinion is just... trustworthy.

So if I'm reading the emphasis correctly, the message is "then practical already then but nuts cherish never a lot loves are enough? everything boring educational". Deep.

RJ Dalton:
Another reason why I regularly watch MovieBob's reviews, despite frequently disagreeing with his opinions on movies.

Same here.

I've always found Chipman's reviews interesting because, in the end, it does not matter whether or not I agree or disagree with his conclusion; instead it is the theatrics which leads to the final deliberation that makes the entire review worth seeing. As time progresses it seems to me that such a notion holds true for all criticism. The goal of the critic is to contextualize the artwork for the viewer, or, to rephrase it, to change the purpose of the work and therefore re-evaluate its success using the newly-conceived relevance as a kind of artistic litmus paper. (I'm staring at that sentence and it makes me blank out, wait a minute) If a critic said of a piece, "I found this piece thoroughly execrable because of the use of lighting," three things were done: the artist's use of color was brought to attention, such a property was deemed crucial to understanding the piece, the use of this property determined whether or not the artist succeeded in portraying what--is assumed--the intent of the piece. Good critics are able to do this at a level where the audience perfectly understands the justification of all three, which is damn difficult considering that the critic has to explain their comprehension of the material to another person. Videogame critics who use a singular method of criticism--the popular notion of objectivity--often fail to do this because they're not translating what they believe is true, they're translating what some invisible objective god believes is true (which I assume is the people, but people have proven that, given a single room and a typewriter, they can't even agree on a book to write; we'd be stuck on whether we'd write fantasy or science fiction when everybody knows that romance is default).

Of course, this only applies to art, and book critics, at least none I'm aware of, don't do this. However if we really want movies--well, not movies, they're considered art--or videogames to be recognized as art, we have to elevate our criticism of such to an artform as well.

Anyway I agree with Chipman, unless that was not what was said, in which case it is cold out here and I need some company :(

Can someone please go ahead and spoil this hilarious ending to Water For Elephants? Because I'm never going to see it.

Holy shit, Bob wrote something that wasn't pandering for attention because of his dubiously crappy childhood, or pretending that media he neither likes nor consumes is something he's an expert on... and that said media is responsible for all of society's ills.

...I don't know what to do here.

yes... your'e right moviebob! just cause of you i'm choosing to watch hana!

Nice. Thanks for the fodder, Movie Bob. I just printed this article out and gave it to my rommate. He's forever giving me shit about how much I "rely" on your reviews to decide what I watch. I keep telling him that I watch you because movies are ten frickin' dollars a ticket, not including candy and whatnot, and I want to know if a particular movie is worth taking a chance on. Your reviews don't decide an issue for me, they provide information for me so I can decide for myself. I don't want to hurt your feelings buddy, but I watch several online movie critics, and read a lot of comments before I go see a movie I'm not sold on right out of the gate. *cough* *cough* *Tron Legacy, Scott Pilgrim* *cough* I actually shy away when you directly say "see this movie", because, like you said, the statement lacks a certain objectivity that I like to see a movie critic strive for when they are doing their job. Besides, when you make that statement, I'm usually already sold. (You and I have similar tastes in cinema, methinks.) At any rate, thanks for the review, and another excellent Intermission. You write well, speak intelligently and provide me with good knowledge. I respect you for that, and appreciate your time buddy. :)

My approach to critics and their reviews, be it of games, movies or anything else is to read/watch a number of them and listen for repeating elements. For instance, if a game has bad controls, this will likely be mentioned in a positive review as well as a negative one. If the plot is good, again, most reviews will mention it. I attempt to put together a decent volume of opinion and then try to piece at least a part of the picture from it to determine if that product is something I might be interested in.

A critic who acknowledges that they are not making comments on some objective quality of the film? Gasp! And, additionally, kudos!

MovieBob:
A thoughtful analysis you disagree with can be infinitely more rewarding than a mere review with which you mostly agree,

This is true, but the reason folks (like yours truly) are pointing out shit in Bob's blogs and videos is that there is no thoughtful analysis (unless, and I'm terrified of the thought, Bob thinks that commenting on boobs, explosions and thats-totally-badass-and-cool is some form of thoughtful analysis) in them. While Yahtzee has devolved in his videos to a mostly generic troll-machine, he's improved in his writing to provide actual commentary about level design and game mechanics. The deepest that Bob has gotten in his writing has been quoting wikipedia on Marvel films.

AvsJoe:
So if I'm reading the emphasis correctly, the message is "then practical already then but nuts cherish never a lot loves are enough? everything boring educational". Deep.

. . .

Whut?

Jenx:

Now with that out of the way and for the rest of the article: I personally have a lot of problem with some of the stuff critics say. To me in order for someone to be truly qualified to criticize something, they should have practical knowledge of it. Theoretical knowledge is nice, sure, but until you actually go write a book of fiction or direct a movie I really don't think one should demand that their personal opinions are anything else but just that - personal opinions.

Sorry Bob, but just watching a lot of movies does not make you qualified to dissect them. It makes you more qualified than most people, sure. But just looking a lot at something is not the same as actually making it.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

independent filmmaker.

"Except, of course, in those rare instances where I've actually stepped aside from mere analysis and have openly advocated for attendance (aka: "Go see this.")"

Rare instances, Bob? You've said this for at least 4 movies in the last 12.

Jenx:

Now with that out of the way and for the rest of the article: I personally have a lot of problem with some of the stuff critics say. To me in order for someone to be truly qualified to criticize something, they should have practical knowledge of it. Theoretical knowledge is nice, sure, but until you actually go write a book of fiction or direct a movie I really don't think one should demand that their personal opinions are anything else but just that - personal opinions.

Sorry Bob, but just watching a lot of movies does not make you qualified to dissect them. It makes you more qualified than most people, sure. But just looking a lot at something is not the same as actually making it.

While I see where you are coming from, one does not need to actually be an expert in a field to criticize it. As the TvTropes page I just linked to said, one does not need to be a carpenter to recognize a badly made table. Same principle applies.

MovieBob:
MovieBob: How to Read Movie Criticism

A good movie critic does a lot more than just tell you what to watch.

Read Full Article

There are several "articles" within this one, really. You might want to pitch a series to The Escapist in which you collaborate with other critics/reviewers on exactly what the deal is with critiques/reviews. And we all know they're not the same thing.

There's a pretty normal phase of human development called "middle school." It's the age in which children become just smart enough to realize that adults aren't magical or perfect, but not quite smart enough to know what to do with that knowledge (or to realize that it also applies to themselves). A lot of a middle schooler's energy goes into complaining about what everyone else is doing wrong, as a way of seeming wiser--the wool is no longer over their eyes, and they want to be sure everyone knows it. (The phase repeats in college, after introductory psychology and/or philosophy classes.)

The world of internet movie/game criticism is going through that phase. Another contributing factor is that hatred is more entertaining than love, and reviewers have a desire to be entertaining. There are a balillion reviewers out there, so simply being informative isn't enough to get noticed.

There's a tendency to harp on bad points in an effort to create those zany, quotable one-liners that everyone talks about the next day. Sometimes, just based on a movie's title, you can identify the snarky little puns that at least a dozen reviewers will use regardless of the movie's quality.

This is why it's important for people to draw the line between reviewers and critics, and the balance of the forces of "inform" and "entertain" in each. Usually, well done reviews are kinda boring, because they focus on the film's art... while critiques focus more on their own "art," and as we all know, only negative emotions are artistically valid, right?

Critics are their to entertain, and that calls for a certain amount of self-promotional showboating. It serves a purpose, as long as that purpose is made clear up front. Reviewers can be a lot more informative, though.

A good reviewer isn't just telling people what to go see or what not to go see. A good reviewer can also teach an audience. They can help people learn what to look for in movies. Hell, before taking a film class, I'd never even thought about lighting or camera angle in any meaningful way. I'd noticed the effect, but only subconsciously. Once I was made aware of what goes into that, watching films became a deeper experience for me. But someone had to point it out first.

MovieBob, I think you're far more a reviewer than a critic. To me, that helps your videos to be more useful--I know you're not trying to be zany or edgy, so the information you present requires substantially fewer grains of salt. As a consequence, people tend to find your reviews less entertaining than something from you-know-who in the Wednesday slot, but I've found you do a good job of fairly qualifying your good and bad opinions, and you tend to deal well with each piece of a movie rather than just skipping to an "overall score."

I do think your irrational hatred of Michael Bay could benefit from a reassessment at some point, though...

I think it silly (though not remotely unexpected) that people who's business is producing criticism and review are so openly hostile to the idea of assigning a score to something. Yes I prefer if such a number is accompanied by a text review giving me the information on why a game got a poor score but that doesn't mean the score itself is devoid of value. If, for example, I'm standing at a store and pass a game I've never heard of before and it seems interesting enough based on the scant information available at the time, I'll pull out my phone and check a few trusted sources. If the score consensus is in the 60 or lower range, I'll generally move right along. Hard lessons have demonstrated that, while there is occasional a gem to be found in this range it is hardly worth sifting through the crap to find them. If a game gets a middling score then I'll read into the details to find out why. I've liked plenty of games in that 70 - 80 range that is (generally) seen as the "probably not worth playing" segment. If a game is consistently getting high marks, I'll generally pick it up.

What the score offers me is simply information at a glance. It might not be enough information some of the time. But if a game is given some miserable score (20/100, 1 star, etc) I don't really need to dig into the details to find out why.

That brings us to the problem of meta critic and similar services. What such sites offer is simply a general opinion of a wide variety of people who might have played a game or watched a movie. Is that always going to be useful? Certainly not. Something that is very niche or experimental or interesting if not entirely enjoyable might not be well received for example and would have an incredibly low score that reflects this. As a general rule however, when something is rated very high (90/100 or so), such consensus is generally enough that, if I have the time, I'll only go so far as checking a single trusted source who's opinion generally aligns with mine to see if it would indeed be something that I'd like to play.

Of course this isn't to say that reviewers and critics even provide a truly valuable service. More than once I've been told by plenty of sources that something would be awful and I decided to ignore them. Sometimes going with my gut proved the right course. Had I listened to the critics who panned Alpha Protocol, I would have avoided a game that was incredible in spite of the presence of deep flaws. And if I would have listened to anyone in the world, I'd never have learned of the joy to be had watching Uwe Boll movies with friends and a ready supply of liquor.

RJ Dalton:

AvsJoe:
So if I'm reading the emphasis correctly, the message is "then practical already then but nuts cherish never a lot loves are enough? everything boring educational". Deep.

. . .

Whut?

Read the bold; ride the walrus.

I love Roger Ebert's sarcasm. He's the Yahtzee of film critics.

Jenx:
To me in order for someone to be truly qualified to criticize something, they should have practical knowledge of it. Theoretical knowledge is nice, sure, but until you actually go write a book of fiction or direct a movie I really don't think one should demand that their personal opinions are anything else but just that - personal opinions.

This is a common opinion, but not one I share. I understand the reasoning behind it ("If you can't do it, how can you criticize someone who can?"), but the reasoning is flawed in that it assumes accomplishment equals understanding. It also implies that being able to do something qualifies you to talk about how to do it: this is not the case.

Personal anecdote for purposes of example, not evidence: I am a medicore Starcraft 2 player. I play slow and build slow and am just slow in general. I have, however, watched the game played at a high level quite often and studied various strategic and tactical options in the game. Does this make me an expert? Hell no, but it means I recognize and can correctly break down situations in ongoing games to explain how and why the state of the game is at the point it is at that time - a state I would never be able to reach myself with my weak play mechanics. I have greater ability as an observer and "critic" than I have as a player.

Live audio performance, on the other hand, is my job, yet I would be at a loss if asked to critique a concert performance with respect to its audio enhancement. I could address the foundational elements if there were obvious failures (feedback, missing cues, that sort of thing), but commentary on excessive reverb? Comparing dead spots in the room? Frequency issues? I'd probably notice these problems, but I'd never be able to communicate them effectively - I just don't have the understanding I'd need to express the problems and the peaks. Practical knowledge, but lacking greater understanding of the concepts at work.

What you need to be an effective critic is understanding of your topic and the ability to communicate that understanding. Whether your comprehension is derived from personal "practical" experience with the material directly or from study and "theoretical" experience is immaterial. The understanding is what matters, not how you reach it.

I usually follow your advice because there's a good pattern to it. For instance, I liked Sucker Punch and Black Swan, but I hated Transformers 2 and Jennifer's Body. Since your tastes are a bit similar to mine, I imagine I will love most of the movies you do.

Hey, I thought I'd ask this just so I won't have to ask it ever again.
How do you get that different title, the one that says "Gaming Connoisseur"?
Just curious.

EDIT: Sorry about that, I thought 'reply' meant that I wouldn't actually post it in the forum. I'm learning more about this website all the time.

Actually, since I've already posted and everyone can see what an idiot I am, I might as well ask this too. When someone quotes somebody and just puts 'snip' on the quote, what does that mean?

Jenx:
Sorry Bob, but just watching a lot of movies does not make you qualified to dissect them. It makes you more qualified than most people, sure. But just looking a lot at something is not the same as actually making it.

Bob's an independent filmmaker, but I disagree that he's required to be one to be a film critic. It surely helps, but an understanding of the art and history of the form is more important. If you've heard Bob on other film podcasts and websites, he knows all about auteur theory, Cahiers des Cinema, neo-Realism, and all the other cultural movements and schools of filmmaking, discusses them intelligently, and brings them into a critical discussion where appropriate. Bob definitely comes across as more qualified in this respect than most other internet critics.

Ashoten:
In Battle L.A. I thought the explanation of why the aliens were attacking earth was great. Because even if you just casually watch shows about astronomy you may know that liquid water is hard to find in the universe (as far as we know). There is tons of frozen water but not many planets with huge bodies of it in liquid form covering a planets surface.

Really, because that revelation almost ruined the movie for me. It makes no sense for an intelligent species capable of interstellar travel to invade a planet inhabited by heavily armed intelligent natives just to get liquid water, when there's ample amounts of frozen water all over the galaxy, in comets and on uninhabited worlds. Frozen water is easier to transport and is easily melted down once you get home.

re objectivity:
I think our dear friend Ebert sums it up again.

For purposes of reference, I'll replace a movie he's talking about with one this community might be a little more familiar with:

"If you say you dislike "The Godfather" or "Shawshank," I can't say you're wrong. The one thing you can never be wrong about is your own opinion. It's when you start giving your reasons that you lay yourself open. Many years ago there was a critic in Chicago who said [Transformers 2] was a better film than "The Godfather." "Phil," I told him, "film criticism is a matter of subjective opinion. Only rarely does it stray into objective fact. When you said [Transformers 2] was better than 'The Godfather,' that was an error of objective fact."

What I find interesting is that people let critics do the thinking for them, not go venture out and make the attempt to watch a movie they're even remotely interested in, just to turn it down completely just because a critic says not to. I usually watch/read critiques on a movie after watching it, or if I'm inclined to, I just go to Wikipedia (not the greatest for information, I know)and just look at the plot, even if it's completed.

I'd rather see what the movie's about before watching it, just so I know what to expect, and THEN make an effort to see what a critic says about a film. If I don't agree with said critic, then I don't agree. I don't let the critic decide for me. Sorry, Bob, but there are some things we disagree on here.

Even though I love your shows, I disagree with you so many times on movies. But what's really weird about, well, the Nostalgia Critic (who I'm sure you know) when he's out-of-character and just playing himself, I've disagreed with a few times, but then he actually changed my opinion to fit his. He's done that to me several times. You... maybe once or twice.

And then we get to James Rolfe. I've never disagreed with him. Ever. On any movie, or any game or anything else in the world for that matter. Not one single time. I want to know how that's possible. Maybe we're the only two people who are objectively right. Yeah, that's probably it!

teknoarcanist:
re objectivity:
I think our dear friend Ebert sums it up again.
For purposes of reference, I'll replace a movie he's talking about with one this community might be a little more familiar with:
"If you say you dislike "The Godfather" or "Shawshank," I can't say you're wrong. The one thing you can never be wrong about is your own opinion. It's when you start giving your reasons that you lay yourself open. Many years ago there was a critic in Chicago who said [Transformers 2] was a better film than "The Godfather." "Phil," I told him, "film criticism is a matter of subjective opinion. Only rarely does it stray into objective fact. When you said [Transformers 2] was better than 'The Godfather,' that was an error of objective fact."

Since when did 2009 count as 'many years ago'?

Probably one of your finest articles, Bob.

Honestly, this issue is a HUGE bugbear of mine. You expressed it far better than I could, and I have to say it's something that makes me so bloody angry that I honestly cannot battle through the frustration to be able to enunciate why something like Rotten Tomatoes is absolute trash and so horrifyingly simplistic.

I don't think I agree with you all the time, but I do know that a nuanced, considered critical analysis of something like a film is the only way to approach the medium fairly.
That said, I don't mind critics panning a movie in two lines if it'll save me a wasted journey, either.

Keep up fighting the good fight, Bob!

Oh, and I am counting the days till Hannah comes out in Ireland.
Admittedly, I am biased towards Saoirse Ronan, but then again, I could say the same about Cate Blanchett.

Cannot wait!

Falseprophet:

Jenx:
Sorry Bob, but just watching a lot of movies does not make you qualified to dissect them. It makes you more qualified than most people, sure. But just looking a lot at something is not the same as actually making it.

Bob's an independent filmmaker, but I disagree that he's required to be one to be a film critic. It surely helps, but an understanding of the art and history of the form is more important. If you've heard Bob on other film podcasts and websites, he knows all about auteur theory, Cahiers des Cinema, neo-Realism, and all the other cultural movements and schools of filmmaking, discusses them intelligently, and brings them into a critical discussion where appropriate. Bob definitely comes across as more qualified in this respect than most other internet critics.

Falseprophet:
[quote="Jenx" post="6.278817.10883640"]Sorry Bob, but just watching a lot of movies does not make you qualified to dissect them. It makes you more qualified than most people, sure. But just looking a lot at something is not the same as actually making it.

Bob's an independent filmmaker, but I disagree that he's required to be one to be a film critic. It surely helps, but an understanding of the art and history of the form is more important. If you've heard Bob on other film podcasts and websites, he knows all about auteur theory, Cahiers des Cinema, neo-Realism, and all the other cultural movements and schools of filmmaking, discusses them intelligently, and brings them into a critical discussion where appropriate. Bob definitely comes across as more qualified in this respect than most other internet critics.

I agree- in fact the best example of that is Uwe Bolle.

He's technically a film maker as he has, sadly, actually made films.
Would you read his reviews?

EDIT:

Blast, double posted...

This piece pretty much exemplifies why I like Bob in the first place. He can be a little opinionated, sure, but overall he does have a good understanding of what it means to be a critic and I usually find what he has to say interesting if not insightful.

Boba Frag:

Would you read his reviews?

You damn right I would! You read some of the nonsense he's written? It's comedy gold!

As for the whole debate started from my opinion - I do agree that to be a good critic you need to be well versed and educated in whatever it is you're criticizing. I just think practical knowledge is a required part of that education.

As for MovieBob specifically, I'm afraid I wasn't quite clear in my wording. I wasn't referring to Bob himself in that, I just referred to him since it's his article I'm replying too. It's kind of a bothersome habit I have when I discuss something with someone.
(But for my money, Bob is as qualified as you need to be - he knows his stuff AND, if that quip at the end of it is true, he has also actually made a few movies so he knows what's it's like down on the battlefield, so to speak.)

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