Movies | In the Theaters

What's wrong with movie reviews?

I'm divided on offering reviews here. I do see quite a few films -- not as many as I like but still more than two a week, in theaters of course -- but lots of other people offer reviews and likely do a better job of it than I'd probably do in the time I'm able to give it. As the rest of the site isn't really up to speed yet, adding new content areas that require a lot of time probably isn't the best idea. (Notice I do it anyway.)

More to the point, I think most print reviews just plain suck. Too many critics give away major plot points seemingly without even thinking about it, and other seem to just miss the boat and misrepresent things. (An point could be made that studio marketing departments do both in their advertising campaigns, but that's another essay.) Even worse, there are critics out there with oodles of personal vendettas and biases (and occasional soft spots) that they don't fess up to in their arrogant attempts to sound objective and/or authorative.

(If you want the exception that proves the rule, check out Andy Klein in the otherwise horrible New Times. He usually uses his space to inform without regurgitating a synopsis, often giving neat little film history lessons without ever sounding boring, dull, academic or dweebish. He recognizes the appeal of different films to different audiences and will share both his opinion [marked as such, thank you] and the probable opinion of who the film was actually made for. This shouldn't be this rare, yet most reviewers don't seem able to recognize there's more than one group of potential filmgoers in the world. Mr. Klein was first up at the Reader; why he's third-string at the crapola New Times instead of first up at the LA Times is beyond me.)

(I wrote that a week ago; his pounding on "Dante's Peak" this week (2/7/97) is darn funny as well as right. You would think it wouldn't be so hard to make films where the audience is maybe a half step ahead at most.)

I'm a big fan of the show Siskel and Ebert, but the other day I came across some of Ebert's print reviews and unexpectedly I wasn't impressed. They shared the same problem of going on too long, trying to sound overly objective, etc. On their television show both Siskel and Ebert must get to the point quickly; time is limited. I think I've learned more about filmmaking from their concise reviews than I did at film school. But on paper, they -- and most other critics -- simply have too many inches to fill and all kinds of stuff that shouldn't be said gets said. I can only see it getting worse on the web, where column space is theoretically infinite.

With that in mind, any reviews I write here in the future will short and to the point.

(The list of films I suggested seeing I have now moved to its own space (called watch this space), where I will try to write short comments on films. If you can avoid the pitfalls listed above, I'll consider adding outside comments or links if you wish. If you still like to read more detailed movie reviews, click on "Links" in the film strip and near the bottom there are some links to film reviews and reviewers.)

Otto Kitsinger, 07 Feb 97, updated 16 Mar 97


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I can remember a time when where we went to the movies was just as important as the movies we went to see .... From the moment moviegoers arrived to buy their tickets, there was a sense of something special, a feeling that to step inside was to enter another time and place. - Gene Kelly