Critically Critical

So far this summer and its cinematic offerings have been a very randomly critically received bunch. That too includes the majority of critics thoughts (that echoed my own) on the Arrested Development revival. What'd I think about THAT? Well let's just say I wish I could take a forget-me-now for 85% of the season (like I unfortunately and ironically predicted.) IndieWire summed it up completely and succinctly to my thoughts HERE and Kent at Showtime Showdown was right on as well. You can read his post on the season HERE. I binge watched the whole thing in a day and am now on a second rewatch with my pals. I may write a review for it after the fact, but if not those two articles summed up my thoughts pretty well (so I probably won't haha!) What a role reversal for the critical darling Arrested. Back on its initial release the critics were the ones shouting its brilliance to the rooftops. This time? They like many fans I know expected too much (but really, with the quality of the first 3 seasons how couldn't we??) and were let down. For a creator used to hearing only praise regarding this one certain creation...hearing the opposite was too jarring. Quickly after the release, Mitch Hurwitz tweeted something to the effect that critics were, to paraphrase, resisting change. This reaction to the critics, as well as seeing them recently being pretty harsh on a couple of films that didn't deserve it led me to ponder the role of critics in pop culture, as well as their influence in our own lives. That and I STILL need to do a tribute to Roger Ebert...so I figured I'd try to tackle both. My apologies this post comes a few months late in regards to the Ebert portion.

   Trust me. They're not reading good reviews on that phone!

Going back to Arrested, it seems awfully tacky to attack these people that once rallied for your show. If it weren't for them telling what people they did to watch and writing their constant praise the show might not have survived for as long as it did or gain any cult following at all! To be fair, Mitch sent out another tweet clarifying his stance, but the idea of him refusing criticism bothered me. Mostly because it was all pretty constructive... and it was coming from people who did LOVE the show...they just wanted and expected the best from it. They understood what made the first three seasons brilliant and saw what was lacking from this one. No one should be above criticism, and when you think you are usually your product suffers A LOT. The new season of AD and Hurwitz actually reminded me a lot of George Lucas and the prequels (and this comes from someone who likes the prequels just fine, though yes I can admit their flaws and inferiority.) In every interview, I read of the cast they all just had blind trust in Hurwitz and called him a genius in every step. When you're surrounded by people worshiping you, it is hard to step back and see the full picture...but you've really got to get an outsider opinion otherwise you're not seeing anything how it truly is. Another person whose story this echoes? The man I wrote my last blog post on, M. Night Shyamalan.

Shyamalan followed a nearly identical path, and like Hurwitz did NOT like receiving any sort of negative criticism. So in his first true dud, Lady in the Water, he thought it'd be fun to show critics he didn't care about their opinion whatsoever with the inclusion of a critic character who [SPOILER ALERT- highlight to read] dies a gruesome death. [/SPOILER ALERT] And, to be honest, I don't think critics ever forgave him for that. Yes, his next two films following were completely worthy of all the things said about them. But After Earth? The critics TORE that apart with comparisons to BATTLEFIELD EARTH of all things. Whoa whoa whoa, guys. Vendetta much? The film is perfectly watchable. No, it's not GREAT. But it's not bad! The Worst film ever made? Come on. The reviews would have you believe it's Nicolas Cage quality and I can assure you that is NOT the case. And the level of hate some of them had towards Gatsby? I don't get it. Which brings me to the point that critics aren't always to be trusted. Like anyone else, they're human and they certainly have their fair share of prejudices even if they're supposed to be unbiased...most of the time they're not.

Another critic character in film actually describes the profession the very best. Anton Ego, the snooty food critic of Ratatouille says
 "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends."
Critics, like the things they/we review are a mixed bag. They can serve a great purpose in telling people about the new (as with the original Arrested Development,) or they can give some constructive criticism in things that could and should be better of the "okay" (new AD..) And then of course they can go a little crazy with their power and destroy things that don't really deserve to be destroyed, or the stuff that does deserve it haha. I believe critics serve an important purpose in the media world, and, for the most part, their opinions are well informed and deserving to heard. But other times? We should take them with a grain of salt.

Though no critic is perfect, it must be said the influence Roger Ebert had on the profession and film in general. He was a critic that often defended the new and treated the medium as an art form. His opinion greatly shaped many people's lives whether it was to become a filmmaker or just to see films in a different light than we might have before. Did he rip stuff apart? Haha, all the time! In fact, HERE is a pretty entertaining article with some of his best slams, which includes two films I think he was a wee bit hard on (can you guess which two?) Perhaps one of the reasons he was so hard on some things though is that he really expected a standard of excellence from all of the things he took in. He said once  “Entertainment is about the way things should be. Art is about the way they are." Searching for art in an entertainment obsessed world is almost a nearly impossible thing to do these days, which is why critics can serve such a valuable role in helping to decipher what is what, and which are worth your time. Roger Ebert was one of the best in this regard. His keen intellect was able to see and critique films in the best possible way, and his opinions are already missed. Well, that's about all for now, but for more Ebert goodness, BuzzFeed had some good articles HERE and HERE.


Johanna said...

Ebert is quite quotable. He really loved film and it showed.

I always think the key is finding a critic that you are simpatico with in their tastes. Then you know....he liked it, I will; he dissed it, I'll miss it.

Kenny D said...

Thanks for the link! I always question whether the world needs one more critic. I love to do it because I have the chance to communicate to strangers as if they were my close friends and warn them from spending money on disasters. Love the quote from Ratatouille.