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David Poland

By David Poland

Fill In The Blahs

Looking through The Village Voice in search of Cannes coverage – and they are doing what The Tribune Co can’t seem to get… using all of their assets in one place… albeit at the cost of the jobs of some very good writers – and I ran into Nathan Lee’s “review” of Pirates 3.
And what struck me, even more than the predictability of it, was the feeling that it really could have been written months ago… a year ago… with some Ad-Libs-like spaced for specific details.
Thing is, I don’t really care whether he liked the film or not. I don’t even care that his distaste was so arrogantly dismissive and predictable. But I am not sure this is really a review. It qualifies more as a review of the idea of franchise movies. The very few facts he discusses are either wrong (Davy Jones’ Locker is clearly noted as a purgatory, not death), PC snooty (“Aunt Jemima” and the use of an Asian man to empower a white woman), or rather disingenuous given his distaste for the whole exercise (“Of all movies, this is the last you

15 Responses to “Fill In The Blahs”

  1. anghus says:

    the problem with critics on sequels or big franchise films. They’re boring. Reviewing Summer Blockbusters is a generally thankless task, mainly because people don’t give a damn about critical consensus on these films.
    I say all the time that standards for summer films are perilously low by your average moviegoers standards. Hell, i haven’t read one Pirates review yet. I probably won’t. Who cares? After i see it, i’ll probably read a review or two to see what people i like thought of it. But reviews for summer blockbusters seem less important to box office, and more like a conversation point after the fact.
    I remember reading reviews for the Star Wars prequels. Drivel. All of it. Sychophantic nonsense. The reviews for Phantom Menace were soft, kids gloves kind of stuff. The films got a little better each time, but the reviews got worse. It was as if critics were afraid to rail on a film that was awful on many levels. Then, after film fans took a giant, underwhelming sigh after it was released, they took out all their negative thoughts on the next movie, which was still flawed as hell but a marked improvement over the first.
    So the thing is, i no longer trust most critics. There is a general lack of fearlessness in most critics these days. People are afraid to call it like they see it. Most sites will beat up a film only after the general consensus is that the film is a disaster.
    I review for a regional arts magazine, and i went off on Grindhouse, which i thought was all kinds of awful. Anyone who tells me Death Proof is ‘brilliant’, to me, should have their papers checked. That film sucked. I can’t imagine making it longer will improve it at all. Yet, the critics just gave Tarantino a hand job and threw out 5 star reviews like they were going out of style. 80+ minutes of girls talking about scoring weed, another group of girls talking about finding a car and doing a stunt, and 8 minutes of thrills.
    Did Grindhouse deserve A’s across the board?
    Nope. But the reviews were written ahead of time. No matter what Tarantino puts out, critics are going to praise it.
    But that’s another good example. Aren’t Tarantino reviews pre-written at this point? Is there a person that reviewed Grindhouse that didn’t give it a pass despite the fact that it really was long and generally terrible. Don’t and Machete were the exception.

  2. Direwolf says:

    I agree this a poor review, not of the film itself but as a review. It represents what I believe is a problem with reviews of many films, particularly those of the franchise or pre-planned blockbuster variety: the reviewer has decided before ever seeing the movie that it is no good.
    I understand that critics are looking for something different than the average moveigoer who reads the reviews. The critic wants originality, something better than what has come before in the franchise, the genre, or even the history of moviemaking. But that doesn’t mean that sequels or popcorn movies should be dismissed out of hand.
    P3 is entertaining. It may not be perfect but it is hardly the horrible film that Nathan or many other reviews would have us think. I know we can disagree but the folks who are buying tickets seem to be satisfied and they don’t seem to be complaining about complicated plots, hard to understand characters, or length of the film. I’ve talked to about a dozen people who have seen it, aged 16 to 74, and they all “liked it.” Whatever that means it is certianly a far cry from what Nathan and some of the critics are thinking.

  3. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:

    Mr Lee must be a total bore at parties. Does he refuse to eat at restaurants where non-whites work as kitchen hands as well? Completely agree with you DP, terrible review by some politically charged minor who views inane blockbusters and sees slanted eyes, repressed minorities and injustice everywhere.

  4. Drew says:

    It’s strange, Anghus. You have several different internet personalities. The one you typically affect here is the one that is scornful of pretty much everyone who writes about films, and you are openly dismissive of the concept of different opinions than you’re own.
    You say, “Is there a person that reviewed Grindhouse that didn’t give it a pass despite the fact that it really was long and generally terrible?” That’s not a fact. That’s your opinion. There is a difference. I thought GRINDHOUSE was the most fun I’ve had in a theater this year all three times I saw it. As a reviewer, I’m only obligated to see something once. Anything beyond that is for personal pleasure. And my OPINION is that the film was enormous fun, both halves.
    Your opinion about a movie is not a fact. It’s just your opinion. And slagging others for having a different opinion than you is, in my opinion, the reason that Internet discourse is so often miserable.

  5. palmtree says:

    Mr. Poland, I agree 100%.
    The problem that I’ve been having lately with reviewers is that they almost seem to be reviewing the hype and the marketing blitzes and the movie tie-in merchandise rather than what’s on the screen. I don’t mind getting some criticism of commercialization, but it’s not something new and it’s here to stay…and most importantly, it’s irrelevant to a review of a movie, which often times is quite different in content from the way it’s being marketed.

  6. David Poland says:

    And I have to say, I am guilty of some of that myself, Palmy. It’s a real challenge to get to the movie and not everything around it. I try hard to separate them, but I have to think about it more every year and even more so as studios are more cautious with showing the product.
    This is, as I have always maintained, why seeing movies early most matters to me. Embargo or no embargo, I would like to have an opinion in a vacuum before I start dealing with the opinions of others.
    As hard as I try not to respond to what Variety or whomever writes, if I have read a review (or someone forced it down my throat) before seeing a film (once I’ve seen it, I really don’t care what is in the zeitgeist), I can never know how much is action and how much is reaction. (Hopefully, I keep reaction to under 10%.)
    The biggest challenge is anticipation. Going in expecting anything in particular can be brutal. And I think that people who go positive because something “wasn’t as bad as expected” are even worse than people who write against something because they expected too much. Standards being too high are better, in my opinion, than standards being too low… so long as there actually is a standard, which is why I took umbrage to Nathan Lee, who is surely capable of better serving his reader. He ain’t Manohla or Armond (at least yet) and hasn’t earn the right to riff off of his rep as part of the review.
    I don’t care about the Happy Meal or the marketing dollars being spent or any of that stuff.

  7. PastePotPete says:

    I know Anghus several places online and his persona seems rather consistent, imo.

  8. anghus says:

    um. i think i made the exact same comment about grindhouse and death proof in your chat room drew.
    as for these ‘different personalities i affect’, you only named one, so i’m not sure what you’re talking about.
    i do have a negative opinion about a lot of people writing about film, because i think it’s gotten safe. I think tabloid style journalism has permeated the industry and that many critics give passes to films that don’t deserve it. To me, Death Proof feels like a good example. I think the internet started out fearlessly, and is now as safe as a junket interview with Byron Allen.

  9. LYT says:

    hasn’t earn the right to riff off of his rep as part of the review.
    I wonder if you can expand a bit on this, DP? What is riffing on the rep? Is it that he uses first-person more than he should, or something else?

  10. Joe Leydon says:

    Palmy and David: Ignoring the hype and tie-ins has been a challenge for more than three decades now. Go back to The Great Gatsby — the movie with Robert Redford, not the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald; even I am not that old –and see how many critics couldn’t resist mentioning the tie-in ads for clothes, gin (no kidding), etc.

  11. LYT says:

    Harder still not to mention tie-ins when the movie itself is a tie-in of sorts.
    We are talking about a movie based on a theme park ride, after all.
    I wonder, will anyone review Transformers and not mention toys somehow?

  12. David Poland says:

    To me, Luke, it’s about somoene like Manohla who has earned the freedom to just jazz riff a movie she doesn’t like in the New York Times. It’s the senior circuit and when you read her or Rosenbaum or White or The Old Men Of Time, it happens. (Roger E. almost never goes that way.) What were apparently reviews slide into being essays.
    As anyone who is really paying attention to what I write knows, I believe in traditions. And it’s not that the established critics are older or that there is some line of experience someone has to achieve. What struck me about this piece was that it was both fish and fowl… and thus foul.
    The modern tradition of the web is full of self-indulgence… but when it works well, in my opinion, is when the writer (like a filmmaker) has a clear idea of how he or she is looking to express their self and delivers on that.

  13. Amblinman says:

    Two things, one about this review and the other about reviews in general:
    1.)Reading any Voice review for a mainstream film is a waste of time. Their readership would revolt if one their critics praised anything more than five people out side of downtown Manhattan want to see. The Voice is a brand as much as anything else, and they know how to cater to their audience.
    2.)I agree with some of the others here – by and large, too many critics review their own distaste for a type of film rather than the film itself. I remember when the first Pirates came out critics were dumbstruck – they couldn’t imagine a decent film was made from a “theme park ride”. I fully appreciate the cynicism involved with films like Transformers,but still at the end of the day the job is to review the movie itself. Not take capitalism to task.

  14. jeffmcm says:

    Limiting oneself to reviewing ‘the movie itself’ is often the same thing as minimizing one’s context and perspective. Too many reviews are just thumbs-up/thumbs-down and a plot synopsis stolen out of the press kit.

  15. LYT says:

    1.)Reading any Voice review for a mainstream film is a waste of time. Their readership would revolt if one their critics praised anything more than five people out side of downtown Manhattan want to see. The Voice is a brand as much as anything else, and they know how to cater to their audience.
    That might have been true pre-merger…but consider that on their main roster now, they have Dallas-based Robert Wilonsky, Minneapolis-based Rob Nelson, and Nashville-based Jim Ridley.

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