Critically critiquing the critics

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Since the reviews have been coming out for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I have seen people fall very hard on both sides of how the critics have perceived the film.

Is a critic “right” or “wrong?” That’s like asking if a cup of coffee is strong enough. Depends on how you like it.

Lest we forget, everyone, be they critic or moviegoer, fan or hater, is entitled to their opinion.

But a professional critic employed by a major publication, network, radio or TV station or a major entertainment website will tend to break down a detailed assessment of the work based on a number of factors; not least of which is the direction, writing, story structure, editing, soundtrack, etc.

A true professional knows how to leave their personal preferences at the door.

With the studios and fans alike, film critics are always dancing on the razor thin edge between being loved or being loathed.  If you personally agree with a critic’s high praise of one of your favorite films, he’s a genius! If you disagree, he is an idiot!

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Naturally, the studios are the same way. When the critics poo-poo a movie like Batman v Superman, of course the studio says that there is a “disconnect,” the critics are imbeciles and don’t “get” the director’s cinematic vision.

On the other hand, if a critic likes the movie, guess who’s one-word review and name is going to be splashed all over the advertising? Dirty little secret … there are a few film critics who are well known throughout their peers as someone who has sold out. They will always give a positive spin and a high five to any film with the hopes of seeing their names on the Blu-ray box or newspaper ads.

And here’s something that should come as no surprise. We are all constantly surrounded by film reviewers. Your Aunt Sally, your brother-in-law, the dude in the cubicle across from yours, they all have an opinion about the movies they have seen. So do you. Welcome to the club.old3d

These reviews shared among your peers are usually based solely on their perception of the film. Simply put, did they like it or did they hate it? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

A professional who critiques films is often starting a conversation. The person who says any movie is the “Best superhero movie ever and if you don’t think so, you’re not a real fan,” is just looking to end the conversation before it begins.

And this is where the difference between a professional critic and a blogging movie fan is most perceptible. Hundreds of people make their own websites and write reviews of films and share their impressions with the everyone on the Internets, and yes, many of these people make compelling, legitimate observations. However, just as many put the “fan” back in fanatic and look at a movie like Batman v Superman as the Second Coming just because there’s a buff dude with an \S/ on his chest and there’s a big BSU (Blow Shit Up) Factor.

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You know what? I’m happy for them. Truly and without any sense of critical superiority or condescension, I am happy for them. If a movie gives you what you want, and you walk away happy, that’s awesome, and I will never tell you otherwise.

Sadly, many of these people don’t offer up the same courtesy. Many of these “fans” will spend untold hours explaining why they are right … and you are wrong … that you are not a true believer, that you’re a fool for not believing what they see.

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This mentality changes nothing and is as effective in discussing film as it is discussing politics or religion. A critic doesn’t try to change your mind, they just tell you what’s on theirs.

And despite what you read on Facebook, a professional critic holds no grudges, doesn’t unfairly target a film or an actor or a studio. To do so would be career suicide. They’d stop getting invited to screenings and junkets and lose the access that elevates them above your Aunt Sally.

The critic doesn’t write their review until they’ve seen the film. The fan, on the other hand, has already decided they’re going to see the movie 10 times and plead with the other true fans to join them multiple times just to prove the critics wrong.

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Boy, does the studios love them.

The critic doesn’t lambaste an actor, nor bow on bended knee, until they see the final film. Conversely, the fan knows Ben Affleck is going to suck and destroy the film … that is, until they see the film and proclaim him the Best Batman Ever!

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The film critic also knows that the actor’s performance on screen is sculpted not just by the actor, but the screenwriter who literally put the words in his mouth, the director who tells him where to stand, where to look and when to say the lines, the cinematographer who sets up the shot with the most visual impact, the costume and makeup artists, the composer whose music tells your emotions how to feel, and the editor who decides which of the 20 or so takes of exactly the same line best get the point of the scene across.

An actor like Ben Affleck is there because of his marquee status. Not to say he isn’t talented, but in the hands of everyone behind the camera, he is a lump of clay to be molded by the filmmakers into their version of Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Now, after all is said and done, a film critic’s review should be used as a tool, along with the trailers and interviews and social media, and your friend’s opinions. Is the movie good or bad? Ultimately, it’s your decision … and your Aunt Sally’s.

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Author: Steven Kirk

Steven Kirk has enjoyed a long history in the performing arts (film, television, theater, commercials, music video, voice over & celebrity look-a-like).He is also an award-winning actor, producer and director in the theatre and has had a long and varied career on the air as an announcer for radio stations in New York and California.

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