Here at Artsweek, we sense your anxiety.
“The Nexus is gone,” you think. “Who’s going to tell me what to think about movies? Should I pay to see Will Smith battle robots? How ’bout Vin Diesel battling aliens? Am I getting tired of Ben Stiller yet? Arrggh!”
There there, dependent readers. A whole slew of other critics are available to shape your opinions while we’re away. Here’s a brief guide to the world of movie reviews.
Some people will go to see a bad movie and later call it “bad.” Others will see a bad movie and call it “a shambles of dud writing and dramatic inconsequence.” For those that prefer this latter approach, the best movie criticism you’ll read this summer comes from NYC.
The critics at the New Yorker and New York Times are like brainy film studies majors. They excel at picking apart movies, sometimes in really interesting ways, but are often too uptight to enjoy stupidity. For example, they trashed “Billy Madison” when it came out. That’s inexcusable. The ostentatious have a way with words, granted, but they’re totally biased toward films that are artsy, independent, old or foreign. I mean, c’mon. Who else likes to watch that junk?
Critics in this category believe movies can alter your mind and possibly damage your soul. This lends them serious enthusiasm. Though most are religious fundamentalists, that doesn’t mean those with different beliefs can’t enjoy their commentary.
They document the exact number of curse words in a movie, the level of alcohol use and the messages certain camera angles convey. They denounced the “South Park” movie with more fury than I thought could be possibly captured in words. They speculate whether some films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Shrek” undermine the idea of what relationships are supposed to be like. They speak out against philosophy. That’s good stuff, regardless of whether you agree with them or not. A good place to start on this type is www.pluggedinonline.com.
You might think movie geeks would fall into the ostentatious category, but you think wrong. The difference lies in enthusiasm. Where professional critics generally keep their cool, even if they strongly like or dislike something, geeks just go off. Some films are like life events to them, and that makes for some zealous reviews. They’ll tell you, without shame, the emotions running through their heads at the prospect of just seeing a certain movie.
Also, the geeky often get their grubby little mitts on advance scripts, screenshots and other movie stuff before anyone. They were circulating the full script to “Kill Bill” months before it came out, and I’ve been seeing pictures from “Spider-Man 2” since November. That’s kind of sweet. The best spot to check these folks out is www.aintitcool.com.
When it comes to having a finger on America’s movie-watching pulse and somehow retaining a sense of taste, it doesn’t get any better than Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. Some would say Roger Ebert is a contender in this category, but that thumbs up rating is a joke these days. Travers is about 65 percent accurate. He’ll sometimes put down a good movie, sometimes promote a bad one, but most of his criticism hits the mark.
I’ll end by offering an opinion, just like a critic would. These are a few good movies: “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Wag the Dog,” “True Lies,” “High Fidelity,” “Catch-22,” “Bottle Rocket,” “Adaptation,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Double Indemnity,” “Batman,” “Heat,” “Enter the Dragon,” “The Ladies Man,” “Groundhog Day” and “Rushmore.”
Have an adequate summer, y’all. Be good.