This week on Cinemaholics, Will and I review Logan, the latest “X-Man” movie starring Hugh Jackman. Don’t worry, no spoilers here. We also reviewed The Great Wall and Fist Fight, along with some new TV shows like Crashing on HBO and The Good Fight on CBS. Finally, we covered some of the latest movie news this week, and this episode features special guest Matt Donato.
Be sure to email cinemaholicspodcast [at] gmail.com to submit any and all feedback. You might hear your email read on next week’s show!
…Warner Bros. deceived customers by paying thousands of dollars to social media “influencers,” including YouTube megastar PewDiePie, to cover Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor without announcing that money had changed hands.
Warner Bros.’ deal with the influencers involved stated that they had to make at least one tweet or Facebook post about the game, as well as produce videos with a string of caveats to avoid showing it in a negative light. Those videos could not express negative opinions about the game or Warner Bros. itself, could not show any glitches or bugs, and must include “a strong verbal call-to-action to click the link in the description box for the viewer to go to the [game’s] website to learn more about the [game], to learn how they can register, and to learn how to play the game,” according to Ars Technica.
I don’t want to focus on the YouTubers being at fault here, even though they are. Just reread that second paragraph because the key point here is that this is happening all the time, and for the most part, people are getting away with it.
Getting paid for positive/negative reviews is an insult that gets thrown around a lot, especially at critics who disagree with the majority of fans over something. Just take the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice backlash directed at just about anyone who hated the film, like me. But you can’t argue that the practice is some conspiracy. The studios are doing this every day.
Not to be confused with the more common practice of luring influencers to exclusive “events” in order to extract a positive sentiment from the person or persons. It’s hard to criticize a game, TV show, or movie when the makers of said property have put you in an environment where it’s incredibly easy to get swept up in the day. I know this from firsthand experience, and it’s a bitter thing to overcome.
You’ll never read a paid review or “sponsored article” on this website. I get the requests on an almost daily basis, and it’s not happening. Not because I’m above it all or that I’m scared I’ll get caught (even though that’s a fair consideration). But because you’re reading my opinions, presented by me and no one else. That’s what you’re here for, and it would be useless, even moronic, for me to give you anything else.
Being a film critic is a tough job, mostly because you have to watch an endless amount of mediocre movies on top of all the ones you actually want to see. But we keep doing it for our own reasons; some critics enjoy the pure art of filmmaking and find greatness in even terrible stories.
Other critics, like me, care mostly about narrative, characterization, and cohesion. So you can read my reviews and get a sense for how I’m critiquing a film, and I even like bad movies from time to time when the story grabs me.
But then some critics seem to find zero value in anything that doesn’t align perfectly with a standard that’s alien to almost everyone reading the review. Hence, they write terrible reviews that leave us scratching our heads and missing the musings of Roger Ebert.
One such review is a write-up about Captain America: Civil War by Matthew Lickona on San Diego Reader. In it, he proves that less is not always more, like an entree salad without dressing or a review on Entertainment Weekly.
Lickona starts with a dependent clause (obviously):
A comic-book movie in the pejorative sense of the term
So right off the bat, he’s criticizing the genre itself. If he’s not a fan of comic-book movies, why be paid to review them, or want to be paid to review them? So people who were already uninterested have something to thumb through while NPR is reporting something interesting?
starting with the bizarre moral acrobatics required to set up the internal strife mentioned in the title.
Except the strife between Captain America and Iron Man has been building since they first met, and even before they met. It’s not “bizarre” or out of place because we’ve watched each of these character form the worldviews they espouse in this film in their previous movies.
Captain America is a skeptic of government intervention because of what happened with Hydra in Winter Soldier. Tony Stark is feeling guilty for causing the catastrophe that was Ultron in Age of You Know What. The only acrobatics that went on here were in the fight scenes, so can we talk about those?
Sure, members of the Avengers saved the world a few times over, but innocents died in the process, and so someone’s got to take the blame. Or at least accept a government collar.
Human computer The Vision must have fried a circuit explaining it thus: “strength invites challenge; challenge creates conflict; conflict breeds catastrophe.”
The Vision is neither a human or a computer. And he seemed pretty calm while explaining this, “circuits” and all.
Never mind that the Avengers were gathered in response to a threat, not vise versa.
In almost every cases, these threats were direct results of the Avengers’ actions, hence the whole point of this conversation in Civil War. Tony Stark becoming Iron Man kicked it all off, inviting the strength of Loki and his alien overlords who invaded New York. Then the creation of Ultron brought on another crisis, proving Vision’s point that catastrophic events have exploded (no pun intended) since the Avengers first assembled.
Oh sorry, was I supposed to never mind?
The red-blooded patriot Captain America holds to principle, but former arms dealer Iron Man’s bad conscience gets the better of him, and the conflict is, as they say, created.
So the plot being artificial is his point (I guess, because lord knows he won’t be going into depth about this). Except, like I said, this conflict was born out of previous threads in other movies, making it feel like an expected debate after the tension that began between Rogers and Stark back in Ultron.
(Just try not to giggle at the notion of the US Government gravely fretting over collateral damage.)
Whoa there, Huffington Post, no need to get political on us.
First of all, no. You don’t think that the death of innocent people at the hands of reckless metahumans in our own country (and New York City no less) wouldn’t sound the alarm for the government, let alone the UN? They wouldn’t “fret” as you say? That’s too much of a suspension of disbelief for you, what with their dropping a city from the sky a few years later?
If anything, it’s harder to believe that the world governments didn’t do anything sooner.
Anyway, let’s get back to this sunburn-inducing hot take.
Moving on to the tension-free spectacle of heroes punching heroes — lots of flying bodies, minimal damage done
It’s legitimate to point out that the hero vs. hero scenes have less tension early on because you can even tell that they don’t really want to hurt each other, which makes sense within the context of the story. But that’s discounting a wide swath of action in this movie that isn’t hero vs. hero or done with lighthearted intention.
(Spoilers for Civil War from here on out)
Black Panther really wants to kill Bucky. Those FBI agents really want to kill Bucky, and Cap has to work harder to make sure Bucky doesn’t hurt them too much. And at one point late in the movie, even Tony Stark and Steve Rogers look ready to kill each other. You really think there was no tension when Cap was about to bash the shield into Tony’s face after disabling his arc reactor? You got nothing from that?
And finishing with the final reveal of the evil mastermind’s absurdly convoluted plot.
We can definitely complain about how strangely detailed it is, but it’s still on par with other convoluted master plans like the Joker’s in The Dark Knight. Though Lickona probably hated that too.
While it’s a peculiar plan to wrap your head around, it’s at least worth mentioning that the ending subverts your expectations of the villain, his motivations, and how the movie plays out. You think it’s going to end with the heroes uniting to stop a bigger threat, but instead, the villain wins and divides them.
But no, the plot is somewhat convoluted, so the whole thing is worthless.
The jokey super-banter remains to provide comic relief, and there are one or two moments that really stick (Cap vs. a helicopter, Iron Man vs. his own rage, and hey look, Spider-Man!).
“I like some stuff in this movie. 1/5 stars.”
No seriously, that’s his rating.
But mostly, this one registers as sound and fury, signifying sequels.
Just like Empire Strikes Back, which ended on a cliffhanger. Obviously, a movie that spends too much time setting up for future installments, rather than providing a great story, deserves the criticism. But Civil War was far more payoff than buildup to something else, and the fact that it does at times lay seeds for future films doesn’t suddenly poison the entire picture, unless you let it.
Look, I get that Civil War is a flawed movie and it certainly isn’t for everyone. And I totally buy that Lickona thought it was a bore of a movie, and that’s fine. My issue is that his review completely ignores his readership, or an understanding of why people love movies. He’s actively misleading people by dishing out crude marks based on glorified nitpicks.
By all means, break the movie down and explain what the instruments are that delude you. Don’t just slap a 1/5 stars on your paragraph of copy and then make sarcastic comments on repeat.
So I’m left wondering why Lickona even reviews movies at all, based on the clear evidence that he seems to hate the vast majority of them.
What, don’t believe me? Here are some other films Matthew Lickona has rated 2/5 stars or lower:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Big Hero 6
The Good Dinosaur
Guardians of the Galaxy
How to Train Your Dragon 2
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Captain America: The First Avenger
Bridge of Spies
The Fault in Our Stars
The Imitation Game
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Edge of Tomorrow
Kingsman: The Secret Service
The Dark Knight Rises
And many, many more.
Guess how many movies he’s rated 5/5.
Right! The answer is 0. And this guy expects you to believe him when he says that Captain America: Civil War is a bad movie because something something pejorative.
Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the Snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni
The moon hits the sky. In wanders a skirt with mean eyes and a nastier grin. But this is no ordinary dame. This is a mankiller in search of one thing. A man. The Now Conspirer.
But he’s not at the drive-in. He’s not sulking about the local picture show. This mysterious minister of mystery is guest hosting a podcast in an undisclosed location, known only as…the Internet, California.
He enters the Now Conspiring studios and overturns a picture of regular podcast host, Jon Negroni.
Snark + Sarcasm = what’s you’re about to read. This week: It turns out no one should be a film critic unless they’re like every other critic.
This is a tough Snarcasm to write because I agree with a lot of what Will Mann has to say about how film criticism has changed over the last decade. We just arrive at completely different conclusions because…well, you’ll see.
Writing for Medium, which was made to be longform Twitter, Will Mann writes:
But the song is “Video Killed the Radio Star.” So shouldn’t “Film Criticism” at least be outside its parentheses? I don’t understand this reference, but that’s OK.
Will Mann begins his piece with a loving look back at Roger Ebert, one of the greatest film critics of all time, who sadly passed away in 2013.
Ebert was the gatekeeper when it came to my interest in cinema. His reviews were easily accessible on the Internet, and I had done my fair share of both Google searches to find out exactly what he said about all of my favorite movies and late-night Youtube binging of old episodes of Siskel and Ebert.
Keep in mind that Mann discovered Roger Ebert’s film criticism via YouTube. That might become irony, soon.
I think if I could explain why I felt such grief at Ebert’s death, it would be because I felt like there was an emptiness, a hole that didn’t used to be there before.
Who would, or even could, replace Ebert?
No one, probably .One of the great things about Ebert was how personal his critiques were. You can’t replicate that experience. This isn’t The Daily Show, after all.
Was film criticism destined to decline in the absence of such an influential figure?
Roger Ebert was influential, but there are many other still-living critics who are just as good. Some could be better, depending on who you ask. And as long as films are still being made, good film critics will be around to talk about them.
Now, some two and a half years after his death, it looks increasingly like film criticism as we know it, and as Ebert knew it, will change forever.
Well, yeah. Film criticism changes all the time. You know why? Because films change. And the people who watch them change. This shouldn’t be surprising.
Suddenly, with the rise of social media, the old expression “everyone’s a critic” is more truth than fiction at this point.
Everyone has always been a critic. Because everyone who watches a movie is a critic. They may not be a professional film critic or even a particularly influential one, but everyone does, in fact, have an opinion.
Youtube critics, or non-professional film reviewers, have risen to prominence, and with that comes some problems that are worth discussing.
So I’m probably lumped into this category since film criticism isn’t my main profession. I do get paid for it, and I see enough movies a year to be taken seriously, but my medium (get it?) is solely online.
Hyperbole and a certain ineloquence that would make Ebert himself cringe define these online critics.
“A certain ineloquence” should be a safe word. Also, Ebert cringed at many critics, all the time. Including his longtime frenemy, Gene Siskel.
While there are online critics doing some great things in terms of film criticism (there’s even an Online Film Critics Society which hold awards every year), most of the critics I’ll be referring to are not members of the OFCS, nor are their reviews tallied on either Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic.
This makes sense because applying to be a part of OFCS, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic is a very difficult process. Even great critics get rejected for the sake of keeping numbers down, and Rotten Tomatoes in particular requires a high average of users visiting your site to justify your inclusion. As they should.
In fact, you can’t even apply for OFCS whenever you want (they only accept applications five months out of the year). So many online film critics don’t bother because they don’t need to, anyway.
They mostly exclusively review genre movies, and turn a blind eye to independent or other smaller, non-genre fare.
I agree with Mann, here. But at the same time, I’d prefer an online critic be honest about the movies they’re knowledgeable about. There’s room in the world for “genre critics” who only focus on movies they have a passion for.
In this era of “clickbait” and easiness of accessibility, there is a feeling like we’re losing something when these online personalities talk about film.
Working for websites who deal with entertainment news, I’ve noticed time and again that reviews almost never bring about “clickbait.” In that the headline promoting the article is misleading or written in a way to create shock value. Because reviews don’t bring about clicks quite as much as celebrity gossip, so they’re typically left to the machinations of SEO.
Once in a while, a movie like Fantastic Four will bring about some clickbait headlines catering to the “fanboys” who obsess over studio rights like it’s celebrity gossip. But most of the time, reviews survive because the critic slowly builds a dedicated following.
Critics used to be gatekeepers, an indicator, a gauge as to whether or not a movie was worth investing time and money into.
Good thing they still are.
Now, with fervent fanbases that resemble cults and a relative inexperience in the field of film criticism, these online critics are changing the way movies are reviewed, and not in a way that’s positive, nor in a way Ebert would’ve wanted.
The premise is the problem, here. Mann is arguing that because some bad film critics give bad reviews, it’s negating any of the good reviews that come out all the time. He even manages to lump “fanboys” into a cult to get his emotional point across, then pretends to know what Ebert would have wanted.
This is a weak argument. Relative inexperience is natural, as everyone has to start somewhere. Snarcasm has certainly taught me that, as I mainly read through scores of reviews that are painful to read. But I don’t call them out just because a review is bad. I only review a review if they truly deserve it (i.e. when they attack other critics for having a different opinion).
Also, it’s important to mention that yes, online critics are changing the way movies are reviewed for some. But to say that’s it not positive because it’s different is certainly troubling. Critics before Ebert lambasted him for having a TV show and hated his review style. I’m sure someone back then said he was changing the way movies were reviewed, and not in a positive way.
Take, for example the case of Boyhood. In summer of 2014, Richard Linklater Boyhood came out, earning a 98% Rotten Tomatoes score and many critics from all across the country proclaiming it to be a landmark, groundbreaking film.
A lot of online critics loved it, too. Myself included. I even included it in my Top 10 of 2014 list.
But as you no doubt guessed, Mann cherry picked one of the few “online personalities” who didn’t like it to prove his point.
Shortly after the film debuted, Half in the Bag, an online movie-review-show from RedLetterMedia, reviewed Boyhood, with both hosts, Jay Bauman and Mike Stoklasa coming out overwhelming against the film. They said things like, and I am quoting directly from their review, that Boyhood “sucked,” “sucked so bad,”
What’s interesting is that Mann is citing a comedy website as a representation for all online critics, here. If you’ve watched any of the RedLetterMedia videos, you know that most of what they do is satire laced with their true opinions. Yeah, they didn’t like it. But their show isn’t about artful critiques.
Rather than admitting they might have gone overboard in their dislike, they followed up with a video where they made fun of what they viewed as the overwhelmingly positive reception of the film
Because they’re a comedy…ah, never mind.
It used to be that the purpose of having two critics discuss movies is that they could disagree with one another,
I’ve seen my fair share of Half in the Bag, and I can assure you that they don’t always agree (Jurassic World, for example). But since you’re treating this one review like their gospel…
Debate between two movie critics can be informative, for them and for us, the viewer. In contrast, Stoklasa and Bauman only reinforce each other’s worldview.
Yes, for this one movie you picked. Why are we still talking about this?
Moreover, all the attention they gave towards what I’m calling a “hate campaign” against a film that is so well respected by industry insiders, critics, and seemingly the general public (with the exception of RedLetterMedia’s fans, apparently) over actually-bad films that deserve scrutiny is truly baffling.
That’s the point. They don’t think the movie deserves the praise it’s getting because it doesn’t stand on its own (in their opinion) when the gimmick is removed.
Mann goes on to compare this Half in the Bag review with a review by Ebert, who also hated a film once. The point is that Ebert is a better critic…and?
Again, we’re still fixating on this one review. Proving that one critic is better than another doesn’t shed light on anything besides itself.
Compare Ebert’s exquisite insight on Contact to popular Youtube film-reviewer Jeremy Jahn’s perspective on a film he was very fond of, 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road:
Seriously? You’re going to compare a 1997 review about a science fiction drama with a George Miller action movie from this year? This doesn’t prove anything except that Mann is impatient when it comes to Google results.
I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of Jeremy Jahns, probably for the same reasons as Mann. The difference is that I don’t blame him for the decline of an entire industry. Or even the medium he’s delivering on.
Jahns, on top of other prominent critics like RedLetterMedia, YourMovieSucks, Chris Stuckman, etc. utilize simplistic language and quick edits to get their point across.
First of all, no.
Chris Stuckmann in particular is a fantastic film critic, certainly more credible than anyone else on that list. And the guy is only in his mid-20s. Lumping him in with YourMovieSucks is almost criminal in my opinion.
Second of all, what?
Since when was simplistic language a bad thing? Or quick edits? Would you rather bore people and make your reviews less accessible? Why is it wrong to add entertainment value to a video review? It’s essentially the same as Siskel and Ebert using their friction to drum up some dramatic passion that kept people returning.
Most of the time, the reviews of these Youtube critics boil down to the most basic levels of “this was good, this was bad, this could’ve been better” rather than tackling the film as a whole the way Ebert used to.
So because they don’t review like Ebert, they’re…basic? I find this weird because a good review should essentially boil down to talking about what you like. There are other ways to do it, but many professional critics do the same thing you’re criticizing online film critics of doing.
Youtube critics almost always use a mix of hyperbole and language intentionally dumbed down for your everyday layman in order to get their points across.
In a way, Mann is correct. I would add that professional critics are also guilty of doing this in order to draw in readers.
But he doesn’t seem to understand that this isn’t inherently bad. He seems to think that everyone is looking for the same type of film review backed up by the same type of people who run organizations that promote a certain type of review.
He, and other critics, understand that many people simply want to view an emotional response to a movie. They don’t want to know all of the nuts and bolts in the same way other critics like Ebert liked to talk about. They just want to know if these critics liked the movie.
YouTube reviews have skyrocketed in popularity for the same reason we loved Siskel and Ebert. Because we were able to visibly see the emotional reactions displayed by these film critics. Their emotional responses were much more memorable than some of the smaller details these guys would talk about, not that one thing is better than the other.
The beauty is that you can watch these reviews and go deeper if you choose to. You can hear some of Stuckmann’s rants about how excellent Deakins’ cinematography is, realize you love learning about that aspect of filmmaking, and then seek out other critics who note these nuances.
And I haven’t even mentioned Nostalgia Critic, arguably the best online video critic, who received praise from Roger Ebert himself for his show.
So, no, YouTube isn’t killing film criticism. It’s enabling more people to dive deeper into the medium. You’ll come across inexperienced film critics all the time, but your reaction shouldn’t be to silence them because they aren’t as good as the legends. Someday, they might be ready to take on that level of influence.
But, with Ebert gone, who would the young me choose to listen to if he was coming of age today?
The first step is accepting that Ebert can’t be replicated, much like I’ll never get to watch Movie Mob again. You can only connect with something new. It doesn’t have to be a YouTube film critic you can’t relate to. But it can certainly be someone more aligned with your tastes.
I, for example, get my fix from a recent show called “Film Club” on AV Club. In this video series, A.A. Dowd and Ignatity Vishnevetsky critique films in a format similar to Siskel and Ebert, and their condensed half-hour conversations can be just as insightful. I won’t try to convince anyone it’s better, but it’s certainly worthwhile.
Remember, all these Youtube film critics are just as, if not more, accessible to young viewers as those Ebert reviews were to me. Young viewers, who are just coming into their own cinematic tastes. They, like I was towards Ebert, might be susceptible to older, more experiences voices, and align their tastes with these tastemakers. Does that mean that there are young film fans out there today who will never see a Richard Linklater film because RedLetterMedia told them to? Or that there is a young fan who will avoid anything out of the hyper-masculine genres of superhero films, action films, and horror films simply because Jeremy Jahns doesn’t look as excited when he reviews a drama than when he reviews the latest Marvel movie?
These are questions we need to ask ourselves.
And here’s the answer. The person who won’t watch Boyhood because one comedy website told him not to probably isn’t the type of person who’d find value from an Ebert review. The person who watches Jeremy Jahns to enjoy someone else’s opinion on a genre he loves isn’t there for an insightful critique. He just wants to find out what his friend thinks about the latest Marvel movie.
But the people who love all types of film have little to worry about. Because we have more choices than ever, and a lot of them are worth our time.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni
Turan: Well, there’s a lot of stuff to like here. Just this morning, “Inside Out” played. This is the new film from Pixar. It’s by Pete Docter, who directed “Up.” It’s a really fascinating, unusual, computer-animated film about what goes on inside the mind of a young girl, the different emotions that hide in her mind, each emotion played by a different actor. It’s very funny. It’s very inventive. And it’s really moving, kind of in the way “Up” was.
Inskeep: And so you came out of that movie with a smile on your face?