Why Did You Become a Movie Critic?

I was recently interviewed by a film student at blah, blah, blah about being a film ciritic. Here were the questions and my answers for those so inclined to partake.

Why did you become a movie critic? I like to watch a lot of movies. When people found this out, they would ask for my opinion. After a while it seemed necessary to form a specific opinion since I kept getting asked about the same films over and over, so posting them online as my first web page seemed like a no-brainer.

Do you enjoy being a movie critic? What are the best things about the job? I haven’t lost my love of movies, but being more directly involved as a critic, I’ve learned the difference between the artistic and business sides of movie making. Helping others to find the kind of films they want to spend their money on is great, but getting advanced copies of new and upcoming films is wonderful perk, especially around awards time.

List some of your favorite movies from 2011 (so far). I thought that “The Green Hornet” was surprisingly effective as a buddy film masquerading as a super film, fun and full of action. “The Rite” was also a better film than I would have expected, especially since Sir Anthony Hopkins really isn’t the main character.

Do you feel movie review sites affect the success or the size of the audience of a movie? Only viewers who actively seek opinions reap any benefit, but more are turning to ratings aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes (where I am listed) or MetaCritic. While some films are essentially critic-proof (opinions have little or no effect on whether viewers will see the film or not), it’s the movies that champion new ideas that aren’t based on previous franchises where film critique has the most benefit.

Why is movie reviewing important? It used to be there might be one must-see film a month except in the summer, but nowadays there’s a must-see event film every weekend practically all year ’round and sometimes more than one. Because of the crowding of new movies trying to make money, the opening weekend has become important not only in initial profits but in judging a film’s performance (and hence its perceived worth and longevity.) If you’ve even used Redbox, you’ve seen how many movies come out that never see the screen of theaters that only have life on pay cable channels and rentals, so an informed viewer can knowing what you’re getting from film critique rather than rely on box art. But remember to read the reviews; too often these days, movie makers will use one word out of four hundred to “blurb” their film, and very few films I’ve ever seen are so simple they can be summed up with one word. Ultimately, viewers should find a film critic who’s opinion mirrors their own (or is the polar opposite) so they can choose for themselves what movies might entertain them.

One more question: why do you think some movies that aren’t as well-reviewed still succeed at the box office? (ex. a movie got a rating of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes but is #2 at the box office)

This is why ratings as opposed to words don’t tell the whole story. A critical review is just that: a critique. Sadly, many critics are predisposed towards certain standards and genres (perhaps they shun horror or only enjoy films with a romantic entanglement.) In contrast, sometimes an audience just wants to be entertained. Myself, I try to measure the intent of the film and how well it lives up to what it aspired to.

If a film purports to be a horror film that that turns away before each victim dies, that’s not very horrific, but if instead they show a character’s reaction to what the audience doesn’t see that makes us glad we didn’t see it, this can be just as effective even if the original intent was saving money on gory special effects.

A good story told effectively while working within its budget is always going to get my vote whether it spends a $1 million or a $100 million (example: “Paranormal Activity”), but a poor story told ineffectively while throwing money and A-list actors at the problem won’t earn any love from me (example: “Transformers 2.”) There’s nothing wrong with a good popcorn flick (and audiences tend to flock to them for the escapism) but don’t expect critics hoping for “Casablanca” to show the same love for “Dumb and Dumber.”