Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Writing Just to Write

There is no point to this post.  No larger endgame in mind.  Paragraph structure will be poor and minimal.  Spelling error's will NOT be corrected this time around!  I just need to write.  Write about what exactly?  Nothing in particular.  I am in a strange position where I have the urge to write something yet I have nothing in particular I want to say.  Maybe this is a reverse case of writers block, but the reality is I just can't think of anything in particular to write about.  True writers block would be me starring at a computer screen, with a review or article that needs to be typed out, only to find the words not coming.  Is this the YouTube effect starting to work on me?  It is easier to turn on a camera and just speak my mind.  Awkward moments can be edited out much easier in some cases.  I do admit that part of the reason I am writing to write is to stay awake.

I didn't get much sleep last night.  Feeling a little sick and worried about a friend will do that to you.  I can't sleep from 2:00pm to 10:00pm again because I have things I need to do the following morning.  I have been watching "Bridget Jones's Diary" and have moved onto the sequel "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason." I won't be able to do the third film because that one is still in theaters.  Renée Zellweger is so good in these movies.  See, I'm just typing random nonsense.  Notes for a review really.  If I hadn't already written reviews for all three of these movies, this could have been a weird backdoor look at the thought process that goes into writing a review.  Did I mention these movies are on Hulu?  Why am I watching them on Hulu when I have the first film on BluRay?  Ah the first world problems of a film critic.

I am starting to run out of steam now.  I was very serious when I said I had no purpose behind this.  My fingers just had the urge to type, type, type, and Twitter can be SO annoying!  Now that I have written a substantial amount of words I think it is time for me to wrap this up.  Now that I have iCritic up and running I am not certain if this blog is going to still be it's own thing or a dumping ground for future random ramblings.  Oh, and just like that I've decided on what this blog's next (substantial) post will be about!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Writing for Multiple Publications

The last several days have been spent finding a way to reclaim a few key articles from  I already received an e-mail from AXS that pretty much confirmed they are not going to help me recover any of my old articles.  Thankfully, complete strangers on the internet have given me some good advice on what I could do, and soon I will be sharing those secrets with you.  A thought did race through my mind as I was writing my review for "Star Trek Beyond" though, and that thought was "thank God I write for multiple websites."  So let's discuss writing for multiple publications, because I think it is something that critics need to do more than ever these days.  It used to be that you went to college, got a degree, applied to work for a newspaper, and then wrote exclusively for that newspaper until you either died or moved on to a competing paper.

The times have changed over the years though.  Newspapers are dying.  Journalism degrees are considered the most useless degrees you can get.  The blogosphere has created so much competition that rarely are people aware that there is an actual person writing the articles anymore.  That's why so many articles are click bait titled these days; because the subject is what draws eyeballs to sites these days, not the authors.  What's more, many of these sites close down and people lose their jobs.  The rules have changed.  Unless you get a kushy job that pays very well that requires you to write exclusively for them, you need to be freelancing as much as you can.  You need to have articles appearing on multiple websites, blogs, and (*gasp*) magazines.  You need to do this to get your work out there as much as possible.

You need to do this to insure you have work available.  Most of all, though, you need to be on multiple sites should one of them go bankrupt.  Companies going under is nothing new.  This has been happening for years.  It used to be a lot rarer though.  In the publishing industry, companies going under due to lack of readership is pretty commonplace now.  Long story short, you NEED to have backup places to write!  Even your own personal site can go down for one reason or another.  What happened with Examiner was frustrating because of the lack of backup I had for the site, but I was also relieved that I didn't put all my eggs in one basket.  Sure, it means my reviews I had planned for that site will have to go elsewhere, but at least I have somewhere else to put them.

I wish I had better news for you, but the sad reality is no website, blog, newspaper, or general publication is safe from a public that is becoming increasingly more dumb by the minute.  We have to accept that a Twitter photo of Kim Kardashians ass will get more views in five minutes then your archive might in five years.  There are only two ways to compete with that.  The first thing you can do is dumb yourself (and your content) down to the general publics level.  This means either making Marvel movies or writing top ten lists of conflicts kids today will 'just never understand.'  Or, keep writing the best you can, just make sure you are doing it for multiple avenues.  Since I don't care about the struggles of today's kids as much as others are, I will just continue to try and better my writing.  It just won't be on Examiner anymore.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So Long (And Seven Years Worth of Work)

It has been said time and time again, but it appears we must all learn this difficult lesson multiple times: Always, always, ALWAYS, back up your work!  One of the sites I used to write for was  I was one of their top Examiners and made more money than most on the site.  I say used to because when I went to the site today, I found, much to my dismay, that the site no longer exists.  Now the website URL redirects you to the main page for AXS, a site that is known for giving people the ability to buy tickets for concerts, sporting events, and... well, pretty much anything that can take place in a stadium.  I wasn't given any warning this was happening.  I received no e-mails from Examiner updating me on the status of the site.  I received no newsletter announcing the closure of one of my sources of income.  I received no warning at all that I might want to save any articles I was especially proud of.

I received no warning what so ever.

Now, the site is gone.  I have no way to recover any of my articles I wrote for them.  I wrote hundreds of articles for that site.  Not all of them were gold, but a few of them were.  I should have been saving them all this time, but after seven years of writing for various publications, it's pretty easy to lose track of where you placed what, and for whom it was written for.  Not that I would have wanted to keep everything of course.  In fact, there was probably around 80% of articles that were just news blurbs or something similar.  Those I could live without ever looking over again.  What about those articles on 2D animated films making more money at the box office than 3D films though?  What of my rant on why a "Frozen 2" was (and continues to be) a very, very bad idea?  Some of the reviews that I hadn't converted over to HTML yet?

All of them... gone...

Look, I know that Examiner owed me nothing in the long run.  They paid me for articles that they ran on their site, and I have been in this business long enough that I should have known how important it was to keep copies of these things.  While it would have been nice to have a heads up, I was ultimately owed nothing.  Yet, as I sit here, thinking about all those years of producing content, I feel sad to know that it is all gone.  With just the push of a button a good chunk of my online legacy is gone.  I have learned this lesson before, and now I have to learn it again.  Don't make the same mistake: Keep a copy of everything you write.  Whether it is for a major publication or a blog.  Never trust anyone to house your materials for you.  They don't have to do this forever, and they are under no obligation to warn you of any major changes.

The responsibility to save your work is yours and yours alone.  Never again will I write something without having a backup copy.  This is about as big a wakeup call as a writer can get.  Once I set up a system I may share that system with you, but for now, if nothing else, just keep backups of your writings in a folder on your Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, AND USB backup drive!  The files usually aren't very big and this way they will be out there in case you ever need to access them again.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Where Are All the Reviews for Adult Movies?

I've been receiving a few direct messages from my Facebook followers asking if I've turned into (what is clever term these days) a "fantic." A fantic, for those who are unaware, is a mixture between a fan boy and critic.  This term is used to describe someone who claims to be a critic, but does nothing but discuss fan boy movies like Marvel and Star Wars films, all while ignoring non-franchise movies that may be geared towards people who want to see real movies (and no, I'm not saying Marvel movies aren't real movies, please refrain from correcting me on that).  I understand where the concern is coming from because it's been months since I've posted a written review for something that hasn't been animated or franchise based.  I want to write this update to ease concerns that I have not given up writing reviews for adult movies (and because - in keeping with the theme of this blog - this is just another part of my daily life in this job).  I actually have written reviews for "Money Monster" and "Neighbors 2" sitting on my OneDrive account.

So where are the reviews online?  Well, even though I have been writing the reviews I haven't been publishing them.  Now, I admit that this is typically counter productive and I don't recommend it, but there is a reason I've been doing this: I hate updating the website.  Like, I really, REALLY hate updating the website!  I designed that site over ten years ago and have been manually posting reviews, typing in code for pictures, dealing with self-made invisible tables (people who know HTML know what I'm talking about).  It got to the point where near the end of last year I dreaded having to post reviews.  In January I finally threw my hands in the air and shouted "ENOUGH!" The website might have been my livelihood and main passion but it was becoming downright tedious to work on.

So it was obvious the website needed to be redesigned.  Despite the fact that I am relatively proud to have one of the few actual websites on the internet that wasn't powered by Blogger, I can't deny that having a blog system would make updating and uploading a lot faster and easier.  So I finally started working on a new design for the website.  Instead of being a website though, it would be a blogger site.  When I decided to go in that direction I actually cried at the loss of tradition at the site.  I cried wondering if this is how newspaper editors felt when they had to admit that the internet was just a more effective way to produce news and switched to the "new format" while leaving old traditions behind.  I calmed down a little bit when I found a way to have the new blog system while maintaining a look for the site that would maintain it's HTML roots.  It does mean it will take a little bit longer to do a proper redesign, but I guess I'm just a sentimentalist at heart (at least updating the dumb thing will be a breeze).

In the meantime though... well, since I am a one man show it's difficult to design the new site while continuing to update the old one.  So while I AM writing reviews for all the movies I've seen these days, you have only been seeing reviews for franchise and animated movies because of my freelance work.  So yes, this might not be the best way to handle the situation.  It does give off the impression that I'm blowing off work.  However, on the plus side I am formatting new reviews for the new site, and since I don't have to manage two sites at once I will have this new one up by fall (winter at the latest) as opposed to early next year when I originally estimated it would be done.  Ultimately I think people will be much more happy when everything is done, but that is why I've given of a fantic feel to my audience.  Oh, and for the record, "Money Monster" IS a good movie and I gave it three stars!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Should Critics Deal with Woody Allen?


Tonight, the Cannes Film Festival kicks off with a new Woody Allen film. There will be press conferences and a red-carpet walk by my father and his wife (my sister). He'll have his stars at his side — Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg. They can trust that the press won't ask them the tough questions. It's not the time, it's not the place, it's just not done. That kind of silence isn't just wrong. It's dangerous. It sends a message to victims that it's not worth the anguish of coming forward. It sends a message about who we are as a society, what we'll overlook, who we'll ignore, who matters and who doesn't.

                                                   - Ronan Farrow, The Hollywood Reporter

The above quote is from a guest article about Academy Award-winning writer and director Woody Allen written for The Hollywood Reporter by guest columnist Ronan Farrow.  The whole article is a well written plea to the public, Hollywood, and journalists everywhere to not stand by and let sex offenders off the hook when it comes to their professional life.  Now, before you continue reading this blog post, I recommend you follow this link and read the whole article before continuing this post.  In fact, I recommend you read this article, let it sink in a bit, read it again if you must, and THEN continue with this blog!  Because while I am about to write an opinion piece that sounds contradictory to Farrow's piece, his concerns are greatly valid and contain a personal touch that makes this situation all the more complicated.  The only way to understand this controversy is to read all points of view, and understand where the disagreements come in.

Read it?  Alright let's continue.

So, to start we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room: That Farrow is not some mere outside observer in this situation.  He is Allen's biological son.  Soon-Yi Previn is Farrow's sister through adoption.  As he has stated in the past (about his relationship with his father) "He's my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression."  This is a situation that many of us have observed from the outside, but few can truly understand.  Those of us who have watched Allen's movies for years knows that this isn't a situation the auteur has any problem with.  He is seen having relationships with underage girls in his movies as early as "Manhattan" (incidentally, one of his best films).  The question has always remained whether or not you can watch a Woody Allen film and be comfortable doing so.  Can the art and the artist ever be truly separated (especially when so much of the artist is in the art itself)?

Ronan's article isn't directed at film critics.  Not really.  He takes issues with actors who not only decide to act in Allen's films, but line up for the privilege to do so.  He feels offended that the Cannes Film Festival rolls out a red carpet for a man that is widely known to be a sex offender and pervert (though it should be noted he hasn't admitted to any wrongdoing).  He calls out journalists who don't grill him about the accusations he feels they should (in all fairness to them, Allen rarely gives interviews in the first place).  The thing about Ronan's complaints that we should acknowledge right now is that he has every right to feel this way.  Whether he is correct in feeling this way is irrelevant; in his mind, being willing to work with the man and praise his work is the same as condoning what the man has done.  He feels that being silent about such issues is the same as telling the victims in the crime that they don't matter.  He takes any praise towards his father personally (and who the heck are we to say he shouldn't... that's my quote by the way, not his).  He feels these are tough questions that should be asked.

And you know what?  He's absolutely right.  Now, again, he doesn't actually call out critics in his piece as being part of the problem, but in a way I think it is worth discussing since critics are (at the very least) a lower form of journalism.  When we give a Woody Allen film a positive review are we endorsing his train of thought?  I've written a few positive reviews for Allen's films before.  Does that make me part of the problem? These are serious questions to ponder, and to be honest I've pondered them before with other controversial film makers before (Roman Polanski, Elias Kazan, Bernardo Bertolucci, etc...).  This piece made me look at what I did under a microscope even further though.  It made me evaluate whether positive reviews for Woody Allen films were a true slap in the face to the victims of a man who is obviously sick in the head.  Let's look at this from a few different angle's.

If we are to take the person behind the camera seriously we need to ask a couple of basic questions: Is the director also writing the movie and does he put much of himself into it?  In the case of Woody Allen, the answer to both these questions are obviously yes.  He rarely acts in a movie that isn't his own, to my knowledge he has not written a screenplay for another director since "What's New Pussycat?," and his personal views are very much ingrained in his movies.  This creates a real moral dilemma if you want to separate the artist from the art.  After all, Warren Beatty is also an Academy Award-winning director who writes most of his own movies.  He was also a notorious womanizer, flirt, and cheater in his personal life before he married Annette Benning.  Yet despite his less than model lifestyle, we rarely saw any of his personal views or lifestyle choices in the movies he directed.  It was a clear case that the art did not reflect the man making it.  The same can be said for Roman Polanski, who never tried to justify the rape he did in real life in his movies.

I should also mention that while I find "JFK" to be great entertainment, it is clearly not supposed to be a history lesson.  Yet director Oliver Stone thinks a good portion of this movie is true, so what does that say about the critic when he endorses such a film?  That leads us to our second question: Can you be entertained by a movie you disagree with?  The answer to this is also yes.  I don't completely agree with all the things Spike Lee has to say in his movies, but I can not deny the power of "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X." So, does that mean that you are a hypocrite if you like a movie that you disagree with?  No, it does not.  There are scholars out there who can read Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" and completely disagree with the politics of the book yet find a lot of worth behind the way those politics are presented in a story.  Again though, what does that say about the position of the critic if he puts a seal of approval on a piece of art he disagrees with, yet one that is obviously the end result of the artists personal beliefs?

I suppose the next question to ask ourselves is whether or not we like the movie with a contradicting opinion because we feel the artist was able to justify his/her opinion.  I'll admit that this is where I got a little tripped up on, because "Crimes and Misdemeanor's" is one of my favorite Woody Allen films, and that is a movie essentially justifying how someone can do something morally wrong and sleep well at night.  Even though Allen gives the "be a good guy" speech himself at the end of the film, one does get the sense he really does believe that morality is subjective depending on the person, and that maybe - just maybe - some people deserve to get away with what they've done.  This is a point of view I do not agree with.  So how can I love the movie so much?  Probably because in this case, I believe the opposing viewpoint is what makes the film great.  It's almost like a peak into the mind of someone who has no shame for immoral behavior.

I have stated many times on this blog that I mainly watch movies to understand people better, and movies like "Crimes and Misdemeanor's" give me a clear picture of how some bad people honestly think.  That fact that it was written and directed by a man I do consider to be morally corrupt myself just makes this all the more perfect a representation I can think of.  On the other hand, I also disagree profoundly with Allen's "Whatever Works," which is as amoralistisc a movie as Allen has ever made, and fails on two levels.  It neither justifies its positions very well, nor does it provide a decent glimpse into people who think the way these characters do.  It's just too goofy and cliché to get anything other than apathy from.  All this leads to the million dollar question: Taking all of this into consideration, are critics part of the problem when they give a positive review to a Woody Allen film?

While it may come off as a cop out, I believe the answer is a little of both.  Yeah, I know, that's not what anyone really wants to hear, but its true.  The fact of the matter is critics are given the task of judging the art on it's own merit.  If we were to take the personal lives of everyone involved with the film into account, there would probably be nothing to recommend because no one is completely innocent.  True, there are people who do worse things than others, but those personal beliefs rarely affect the movie itself.  On the other hand, I do agree that Woody Allen seems to get a bigger pass than most when he puts some disturbing ideas into his movies.  On the few times he's interviewed he never shows any remorse for what he's done.  The fact that you can't force someone to see what they've done wrong is a frustrating fact of life.  The best you can do is put the person on trial and hope that the justice system prevails.

In a strange way though critics are possibly a problem in this case because when aspects of Woody Allen's opinion show up in his movies we have a tendency to just brush them off as being par the course for his films.  At the end of the day though he is a dirty old man.  He has done some very bad things.  I feel further legal action should have gone against the man.  The reasons for Dylan Farrow not going forward with pressing charges are her own business and I'm certain there were valid reasons for why she didn't.  I can't speak for the actors who want to be in a Woody Allen film (sorry, I can't; it's not my field).  All I can say to Ronan Farrow is that I am personally sorry if my liking a movie by his father is taken as personal.  I don't mean it to be.  I understand where he is coming from, but I can't help it.  The art doesn't excuse the crime, but the crime doesn't diminish the art.  If Farrow ever wants to discuss this with me I will be more than happy to do so.

I do feel victims in these crimes have been given the raw end of the stick at times, but at the end of the day we are just critics reviewing movies.  Liking "JFK" does not mean I believe in the conspiracy.  Loving the characters in "The Godfather" does not mean I feel they are doing good things.  So by that logic, just because I like "Hannah and Her Sisters" does not mean I necessarily condone Woody Allen or his moral guidelines.  All I can do is review movies based on the quality of the films themselves.  Maybe that isn't progress enough, but it's all I know what to do for the time being.  This is certainly a subject that will be revisited many times in the future, and I guess we'll just have to see what I think of it when those times come.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

PewDiePie Reflects on His Career

PewDiePie is one of the biggest examples of a society that is Hell bent on destroying itself and making the people who occupy it as stupid as possible.  While he is not the person who has single handedly destroyed serious video commentary, he has contributed to it's fall more than any other YouTuber I can think of.  I have no love for this talentless hack and believe he is a cancer of the internet.  So why am I embedding one of his videos?  Has he finally said something so stupid that I have no choice but to join in the haters?  No, I am not.  While I do find the man reprehensible, I largely do not hate for hates sake.  He's not hurting me personally and he doesn't appear to be a mean guy or anything like that.

While I am very concerned about how he is affecting the industry I work in, I believe that is another topic for another day (and, again, he's not the sole contributor to the current problem of video criticism).  Yesterday he uploaded a video where he looked back on old videos he uploaded.  He's been doing this for five years (God, has the world been blind to real entertainment that long?), and with anyone that has been doing something for a substantial period of time, he has fans who wish he would be more like his old self.  His videos have apparently changed throughout the years.  I have no idea how true this statement is, but apparently his videos have changed drastically, and people want him to go back to “the good old days.”  So how does the Pewds respond to this?  Why, by watching some of his old videos and commenting on them.  He laments over how young he used to look.  He jokes about how playing certain games helped catapult his career.

Then the video takes an interesting turn as he squirms over old jokes he used to make.  He gets uncomfortable every time he uses the words ‘retarded’ and ‘gay’ in the form of a joke.  He wishes he could go back and edit his videos.  He admits that he had no editing skills and believes it’s a miracle he got famous at all.  The video ends with him thanking people for the support, acknowledging that he understands where the fans are coming from when they want the old stuff back, but he stands firm and says that he has changed, he wants to believe he makes better stuff these days, and he wants to continue to make better videos.  This is not only a self-examination of his career up to this point; it is a bold statement from a man who doesn’t want to rely on his old tricks to make money.  He wants to perfect his craft and grow in this career he’s found himself in.

And you know what?  I 100% agree with him.  Not that his videos are that much better than his old ones (they still aren’t my thing to be honest), but I do agree that just because you find something that works doesn’t mean you have to stand still.  You have to experiment.  You have to grow.  Sometimes you have to look over previous works and groan at the mistakes you’ve made.  I make it a point to re-read old reviews every several months.  I read my old stuff not because I think highly of my writing, but because I want to see if I’m growing as a writer.  I want to go back to my old work, with some distance between myself and the time I wrote it, and see what works and what doesn’t.  Like the Pewds, I laugh at certain things I still like, I cringe at stuff that doesn’t work, and I wish I could do some things differently.

I thankfully don’t have to worry about using words like ‘retard’ and ‘gay’ in the form of jokes because I have always strived to make my sites as family friendly as possible (gets hard when you have to write about “Fifty Shades of Grey”), but there are spelling errors and sentence structures that are just…just embarrassing.  I mean, when I look at some of my older stuff I think “no wonder the Online Film Critics Association hasn’t accepted me as a member yet.”  Looking at the past is painful, but it is nessicary so that you can know where you used to be with your craft and give you ideas of where to go in the future.  So, for once, I think PewDiePie is absolutely right in his commentary.  I also need to mention that this is the first time I’ve watched one of his videos and felt like he was being genuine and sincere.

There was no outrageous commentary to be found, no forced jokes to be heard.  Just a guy looking at his past work frankly and honestly.  Admitting that he understands the appeal but that, ultimately, he has to do the stuff that makes him happy and work to improve on past mistakes.  This is something every critic must do.  Heck, it’s something you must always do regardless what career path you take.  I still don’t like PewDiePie’s videos, but for once I sort of admire the guy, and I’m curious to see where his career goes from here.  If Pewds is reading this blog post (and there’s a good chance he will because one of his fans will probably forward it to him) I want to assure him that I don’t hate him or his fans.  I don’t even hate what he does.  I hate what it has done to a craft and industry I take very seriously, but after this video I know that he is not malicious in his intent, and I look forward to him improving.

That said, I do believe he HAS contributed greatly to devaluation in YouTube commentary, and we’ll discuss why in my next post!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bedridden Critic

Depending on who you speak to, being bedridden is either one of the worst things to happen or one of the best.  Some people don't like that being confined to staying in bed for a day or two because they miss out on work.  Others feel that work (and, by extension, life in general) is so stressful that they welcome any excuse to take a time out and relax.  I am currently in a situation where I can't leave bed.  There is a sharp pain in my right foot (likely caused by extensive driving) and the foot is so tender that it hurts to touch the ground with it (although it isn't swollen surprisingly).  For bathroom breaks and answering the door for the pizza delivery boy I'll just have to limp those few steps, but for the most part there is no walking today.  There may not even be any walking tomorrow.  I am in the very situation that polarizes so many people, but with one twist: Being bedridden doesn't really affect my ability to work.  In fact, if anything, it is a good excuse to watch a couple of classic films and work on some writing.

The Surface RT that I write on is lite and fits comfortably in my lap.  My Xbox One can stream Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll to my hearts content.  After viewing what I need to view I can stream music off Pandora in the background while I work on my writing (much like what I'm doing now).  The only way this job is affected is if I have to attend a screening at the movie theater.  I don't have another theater movie to view for a couple of days, but if I did have one today... eh, maybe it could work.  I mean, all I have to do is sit down and watch a movie.  There's very little walking required.  Sure, I'd have to get a Lyft over to the theater for safety reasons, but otherwise, it would be very doable.  This is an interesting position to be in because as much as people love to dream that this is the greatest job in the world, it's one of the few jobs you really can't escape from.

Outside of having the flu or being in a coma, if you can watch something and comprehend it, you can work.  This is bad if you depend on situations like this to take a much needed break.  On the other hand, it is also kind of liberating because situations like these give you a great opportunity to catch up on work you've put off.  I finally got around to writing my review for "Ex Machina" today and I will continue it by watching that Netflix movie I need to put back in the mail (I'll risk the three steps it takes to put the BluRay in the player).  I've heard people claim that with the advent of smartphones and laptops all jobs require you to be on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  I understand where they're coming from, but this is one of the very few jobs where this isn't just a hypothetical intrusion; it is a cold hard fact.

There's literally no escaping this job unless you are in a state where you are delusional or can't stay awake.  Even if you sprain your hand there are programs out there that will type what you say for you and you can manually edit them later on to make them read more professional.  Course, I guess this also means there's almost no reason to call in sick... but I digress.  I suppose whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your personality.  When I get down to it I'm sort of in the middle.  I do like resting my brain, but when I do find myself stuck in bed it is nice to know that I can do some work with relative ease.  Your mileage will vary, but it's just another one of the unique aspects of being a film critic.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

When Movies Are Your Salvation (or: Emphasizing with The Wolfpack)

Just a heads up before we start this post: If you are looking for true, eternal salvation, I cannot stress how important it is to receive Jesus Christ in your heart as your Lord and Savior!  I know what the title of this blog is and I don't want to get all religious on my readers, but the following discussion is a different kind of salvation we are discussing, and I have never for a moment believed that anything on this Earth can truly fulfill people the way they want to be filled.  For me Jesus has always been my main salvation over every aspect of my life.  Movies are also my salvation... they just are to a lesser extent.  With that said, on with the show...

I saw a movie last year called "The Wolfpack" which was a documentary about six brothers who spent all day watching movies and recreating them in their apartment.  They did this because they were not allowed to leave and go outside.  The only person who had a key to door was their father.  Not even their mother was allowed to leave the "sanctuary" of the small apartment complex.  These brothers (and their sister who strangely gets sidestepped in this whole story) were essentially prisoners in their own home.  Cut off from the outside world.  The only thing they had unlimited access to were movies.  For these boys, movies became their salvation; their only real window to the outside world.  I did write a review for this movie, but I never published it.  I still have it in a Dropbox folder, but chances are it is one of those reviews that will just never see the light of day.  Mainly because the review isn't good.

I tried over and over to make it worth reading, but it just didn't work at the end of the day.  The strange thing about this is that this seemed like a movie I was born to review.  Because I could relate to the idea of movies being a personal salvation and window to the open world more than most.  Granted, my childhood was very different from these boys.  My parents didn't lock me or my brother up in our house and forbid us to go outside.  Movies weren't unrestricted because I couldn't watch a PG-rated film until I was at least eight.  And unlike these boys, I did have friends growing up.  Yet as I watched this documentary I couldn't help but feel a special connection with their love of movies.  I feel that when they talk about how much movies saved their lives I could nod and think "yeah, they saved my life too." How can this be?  How can someone in my position think such a thing?  Because, whether we want to admit it or not, movies have the power to save anyone.

I even believe that movies have saved everyone to a certain extent.  The best movies are the ones that give the audience a chance to walk in someone else's shoes for a day.  For these brothers, this was a valuable thing as they weren't allowed to leave their own home.  For me, I was also in a prison, but it was more of a prison of the mind.  As someone with Asperger's Syndrome (a mild form of Autism) I view the world with, let's say... filtered lens.  There were a lot of things about people, emotions, and actions that I just did not understand.  To this day there are many things I still don't understand.  My parents (God bless them) did the best they could to teach me how things work, but they didn't think like me.  No one in my life did.  For the first six or seven years of my life I remember waking up just hating my life because I didn't understand people.  Even the people I considered my friends (some of who I consider friends to this day) seemed strangely distant and aloof.

In "The Wolfpack" the brothers comment that movies were like a window to the outside world.  They allowed them to make their own world in their head.  I bring this up because I sort of believe this is what movies were (and are) to me.  A window.  A visual representation of feelings, emotions, and world situations presented to me in a way I could understand in my own head.  Now, I do want to point out that there is a danger in this.  People who are mentally unstable, depressed beyond reason, or have the most shaky of relationships can experience movies in the same way and take away all the wrong things from them.  They aren't able to separate fantasy from reality.  Movies become reality.  And that reality is fractured and damaging, and it leads these people to sometimes do some very scary and dangerous things.  These are the people who go into midnight screenings of Batman and shoot innocent people because they think they are the Joker.  For people who can tell the difference between movies and real life this world within their head can be a gift.

The Wolfpack - for how horrible their childhood was - did provide loving parental figures, strong bonds between the brothers, and a sense to know that movies were fiction.  Those movies still provided a glimpse to the outside world though.  They did give them a chance to understand how life worked a little better.  Movies did that for me as well.  I believe I learned more about how the world works than I ever learned in school.  I learned more about how people feel from movies than any phychologist could tell me.  Some people laugh when I tell them this, but if movies weren't so influential to how people experienced the world, I sense the art would have died off a long time ago.  It is precisely because movies have the ability to teach us, mold us, and help us feel things that it is the biggest form of entertainment in the world today.

For these boys movies were a salvation that few people could possibly understand.  It makes sense that they would like to get involved in the business that gave them their only window to the outside world.  Even though my circumstances are different I largely feel the same way.  That's why I write about film.  I don't have the talent to make movies, but I have the capacity to understand them.  To understand them is to understand life a little better as well.  That is why I do what I do.  You can follow up on where The Wolfpack is now thanks to a "20/20" special on ABC.  Whatever direction theirs lives take I wish them the best of luck.  If any of them are reading this and ever want to discuss movies, my contact information is readily available on this site.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The UBER Film Critic

One of the things that is very important for a critic to maintain is a social life.  This may not sound very difficult, but let me assure you that being a critic full time is one of the loneliest professions on the planet.  It is VERY hard to maintain an active social life!  This is such a huge draw back to the job I write about so much that I'm surprised I haven't tackled it yet.  I will write a future blog post about why this is the case, but for the sake of today's article we need to acknowledge that if you do this job, you are going to need to find something to do that forces you to interact with people.  Going to church certainly helps (but that usually just covers Sunday... maybe Wednesday if you join a small group).  A book club would be nice if you can find people who will dedicate time to reading one book a month (not an easy task I assure you).  Online gaming and Facebook doesn't really count as far as I'm concerned because there is still that digital wall between you and the other person.

Sports is also a great way to socialize with other people... too bad I don't like to play sports.  When I sat down and decided what would be a good way to socialize with other people, a unique opportunity arrived: UBER!  The money you make from UBER is certainly not going to afford you the right to retire anytime soon (something that has been played out in the media for a good portion of the past year), but it does get you out of the house and driving real people around town.  Most of the people you pick up will be friendly and want to talk.  If this person wants to go a long distance it is even better.  One of the most common questions you will get asked is if UBER is something you do full time.  I always tell them "no, I'm a film critic." This is a great line if you want to spark a conversation with a complete stranger in a car.  Most people immediately have questions concerning this new bit of information you have just provided.

How does someone get that job?  Is it cool?  What is the bet movie currently in theaters (for the record, this usually translates to "is the latest superhero movie any good")?  What is your favorite movie?  Can you please turn the A/C up?  The trick to answering all these questions is to answer them in a friendly way that is not confrontation.  If your passenger likes "The Waterboy" (and those people do exist) you politely disagree with them but let them know that you are happy someone enjoyed it.  Rarely will these conversations get testy though, and sometimes the movie conversation will be a segway into another topic.  Sometimes you will have passengers who don't really watch movies.  Ask them what some of their interests are and take it from there.  Feel free to even discuss the lack of a tip feature on UBER (this is something that NEEDS to change).

I picked up a couple tonight who were heading home after catching up with some friends they went on a vacation with.  I can't remember his name, but her name was Lynn (hi Lynn!), and the conversation went from the pictures they looked at, the vacation, to what I do, to her Googling me (and yes, I do come up if you search my full name), to finding out what her son does for a living, to a goodbye that went something along the lines of "we should all have lunch sometimes." Now, most of the time you will never see these people again.  While it would be nice to have the aforementioned lunch I acknowledge the reality of it happening is low.  Most people simply need a ride home and you will never see them again.  This isn't something you do to form new, lasting friendships.  If you want that go to church.

If you want social interaction then there are worse ways to get it than driving for UBER.  Again, the amount of income you get isn't going to be very much (although during surge times it can certainly be worth your while and can help pay for a new car).  The idea is that you have something to do to speak to people.  Again, this could be playing sports, a book club... whatever.  For me this is how I get the bulk of my social interaction.  And if you plan to do this for a living you will need to find a social outlet as well.  It's not anyone's fault, but this is one of those professions where talking to human beings is largely not in the cards.  We'll discuss why later this week.  For now though, start exploring your social options.  Oh, and if you DO want to give UBER a try, sign up with it using my referral code!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Are Critics Wrong About "Batman v Superman?"

It's been a few weeks since Warner Bros. unleashed "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" to great critical scorn and big box office.  I've written that sentence more times than I care to, but I must write it once more because we need to tackle the subject of whether or not critics are out of touch with the real world.  I've written about this before (when talking about "Transformers") and I'll likely have to tackle it again (when... well, the next 'Transformers' movie comes out).  I've stressed before that big box office is not an indicator of a quality film (or visa versa).  Yet every time a studio farts out a multi-million dollar film that features beloved characters the critics are the bad guys for wanted to "destroy fans dreams of a massive franchise."  No, we don't want to crush any dreams or crap on your beloved franchises; we just want to watch good movies.

And honestly, if that means being out of touch with the rest of the world than maybe that's a good thing.  I rarely take the time of day to take a shot at my readers, but how many of you went to see this movie despite the negative reviews it got?  How many of you went to see it despite the fact that your friends said it was a waste of time?  Heck, how many of you are STILL planning to see it despite the negative things you've heard from BOTH groups?!  How on Earth is it WE'RE the ones who are out of touch with the real world?!  This is a world where a vast majority of women are feminists yet they make "Fifty Shades of Grey" a worldwide hit.  This is a world where animation is considered "not real film making" even though it's a much more difficult kind of movie to make (and requires far more imagination).  This is a world where everything has to come to a grinding halt because a new Star Wars movie has been released.

Yet somehow the critics are out of touch in this situation... because we want to see a superhero movie that is about something other than two heroes beating the snot out of a giant brown booger for almost a full hour.  Yet the general public will go see a movie they know is terrible - sometimes twice - and they are the ones who are sane?  Remember how as kids we hated school?  We all thought we knew how the world worked and that school wasn't needed.  How wrong we were back then.  We had a lot to learn. We still have a lot to learn.  In fact, I don't know about you, but I hope I'm always learning because learning is fun and keeps my mind working.  That's why as a film critic I want better movies.  Because movies, like most things in life, are experiences.  I want to keep having new experiences because I grow when I have them.

I don't grow when I watch a movie like "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Remember "The Dark Knight" though?  Remember how that movie made you think and feel about the world?!  I remember when my sister-in-law was trying to get out of seeing that movie with my brother several years ago.  She trusted my opinion on movies, and she normally used me as a way to get out of seeing movies with my brother she had a strong feeling were going to be terrible.  After I assured her she would like this one she came back later that night and told me how much she loved Batman.  She never thought that was possible before.  She watched the other Batman movies as well as other superhero movies. And you know what?  While she enjoyed some of them, she was constantly disappointed because she knew how good this genre could be.

She didn't like to settle for less than she deserved.  She knew her value as a human being.  And she projected that knowledge in how she spent her money, what movies she saw, and the family she decided to marry into.  If she could see "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" she would feel insulted by how little this movie thought of her.  Of the characters she had no idea she would eventually come to love.  The strange thing is, people should feel that way now.  The public has seen "The Dark Knight," "Superman: The Movie," "Spider-Man 2," Guardians of the Galaxy," and "Iron Man."  They know what a movie that treats them like thinking human beings looks and sounds like, and this isn't it.  Yet somehow the critics are the bad guys in all this.  Because we clearly just don't understand the world... no, I don't buy that.  In fact, I'm going to say that you need us more than we need you.

Alright, in all fairness we do need you to read our reviews, because that gives us traffic, which shows our sponsors we're worth investing in, which helps us pay out bills... yeah, should probably make that very clear.  That said, because you do pay our bills, we have a responsibility to steer you towards good movies. Towards good experiences.  We're not trying to tell you what to like: We're trying to share what is great with you!  We know you'll see "Captain America: Civil War" because Spider-Man is in it - ah heck, I'm going to see that movie because Spider-Man is in it - but what about those movies you might not see if we didn't push?  What about movies like "Hugo," "Spotlight," "The Iron Giant," or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?"  What about these movies you might never have seen if we didn't push you?  Were those experiences really so bad that you have to dismiss us because we feel the new Batman movie is beneath you?

Listen to me loud and clear: From where I'm sitting, it's not the critics who are out of touch with the world, it's the ticket buying public that is.  And the sooner you all realize that the sooner things like the Rotten Tomatoes scores won't matter as much as you think they do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Writing for YouTube

If you've subscribed to my YouTube channel, you are aware that I've been pretty busy making content for that site.  More so than I have been when it comes to writing print reviews (though I AM redesigning my website in the background, so that takes up a lot of time).  Most of the time I don't write my YouTube rants.  I simple turn on the microphone, say my peace, edit out parts of the argument that don't fit or get too much off topic, and then add some pictures and videos to the audio before posting it for the world to see.  On occasion though I will need to sit down and write a script for a video.  This is when I want to tackle a subject that requires many points to be made and has lots of little details I can't mess up on or else the comment trolls will jump all over you.  These videos I need to write down so I have a frame of reference when I record.  If I'm on camera I need to put them on the computer screen and move my head in a way that doesn't give off the impression I'm reading a script.

Here's the thing though... I'm not a screenplay writer.  For all the skills I have in writing, editing, and forming a proper sentence, screenplays have always given me trouble because they are too vague and brief.  You don't spend a lot of time detailing scenarios because that's what the director will be doing.  Dialog can't go on too long because there are other characters on screen.  I have written screenplays for unproduced shorts, but they were by far the most difficult things I had to write.  Yet I now find myself in a situation where writing scripts are necessary sometimes.  So how do I write them?  How do I recommend you write them?  Honestly, this is the one subject that you are on your own with.  There is no proper way to write a script for a YouTube video.  No one is going to see what you write (unless there is a cast).  The formatting doesn't matter because no one will be able to pick it out when the final video is produced and uploaded.

The way I write my scripts are very much like I would write any other blog post.  This makes sense because I write reviews and columns, and my videos consist mostly of rants and editorials.  With very few exceptions, I am simply writing a blog post that I will be reading out load.  On some pages I will make a note of certain images I need to have on screen at the time or certain sound effects I want to edit in for a humorous effect.  I don't edit them to the extent I do with my print material because I know no one will ever read them.  The thing is, I really don't like writing scripts because they are so much like blog posts that I am usually tempted to just clean them up and upload them as is.  I can sometimes forget the reason these are being written for YouTube is because a visual element is required to really drive the point home.

As much as I love the written word, we live in a generation of people who get their information visually and on little mobile devices.  I don't like to encourage that (which is why The Movie has not been mobile friendly up to this point), but I do have to follow the audience to a certain extent because that's where the money is.  I still update these crusty old blogs and websites because I do believe words have meaning.  Plus, when I have to write a script, I feel bad because I know the thing is just going to get tossed in the garbage once the video has been filmed.  Maybe this is an unjustified phobia, but it almost feels like I'm throwing away hard work when I do that (I wonder if that makes me a writing hoarder...).  Ultimately for me the process of writing a review and a YouTube script isn't much different, but depending on the type of video content you produce, your mileage may vary.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Religion and Reviews

Last night my parents and I went to a private screening of "The Young Messiah." While we all agreed that it was a good movie, there was much debate on the accuracy of the holy text and why certain known facts were changed when they didn't have to be (my mom took particular offense to James being a few years older than Jesus when they were the same age in the Bible).  She also mentioned that in the Bible Jesus didn't perform his first miracle until he was an adult and changed water into wine at a wedding (though, if you REALLY wanted to argue this point, I suppose you could say that was the first RECORDED miracle.... never mind, playing with fire on that one).  I commented that she was correct in this, but to make a movie about a young Jesus who didn't perform miracles wouldn't make for an interesting story.  Besides, the film was based on a novel from atheist-turned-Catholic Anne Rice, who is most famous for writing "The Vampire Chronicles" novels (which in turn inspired the short lived Elton John Broadway musical "Lestat"), so we should consider ourselves lucky it was as blasphemous as it could have been.

My family has civil conversations about these sort of things, but the bottom line is that when you go to see a religious movie - or, at the very least, a movie that uses religious writings as the foundation of the story - there is a good chance something is going to come into conflict with personal beliefs you may have.  As a Christian I am asked frequently (mostly by other church goers) whether or not I'm "writing reviews from a Christian standpoint or a secularist standpoint?" I admit to a certain extent I have no idea why this is even a question sometimes.  Critics are writing from their own standpoint.  They are writing the reviews how they view them, how the films affect them, and how they would discuss the film to the world.  Reviews are one of the most personal forms of journalism on the market.  Next to columnists, critics are the most personal writers in an industry that (in theory) largely distances personal feelings from the story at hand.

Critics have the wonderful freedom to say things like "I feel" and "this bothers me" and not get in trouble with the editors for using such terms.  If the critic is Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Atheist, or Jedi (a real religion by the way), then chances are their views will affect how they approach the film and what they take away from it.  If you need an example of this, look no further than the reviews for "The Passion of the Christ." Most people who had some belief or personal connection to the story found the movie to be deeply moving and spiritual.  Most people who had no personal connection with the story found the film to be nothing more than two hours of Jesus being tortured.  In some rare cases the feelings were reversed.  It was a great movie in my opinion, but one that was going to have to go through a filter between the person watching the film and what they believed or didn't believe.  Likewise, a movie like "American Beauty" was praised much more by people who weren't religious than by people who were.

Most of the time a critic will mention his religion (or lack therefor) when the time is appropriate.  Yes, you CAN put aside your beliefs and watch a movie about a religious subject as a way to be objective (and in cases like "Noah" it might be required), but most of the time the subject needs to be brought up so that the readers have an understanding of where you're coming from.  Obviously this doesn't mean that you need to be religious to enjoy a movie about Jesus or non-religious to enjoy a movie that is against the idea.  Certainly "Spotlight" proved that the believers and unbelievers can come together and agree that a good movie is a good movie regardless how sensitive the subject matter is.  As a critic it is best to bring up your personal views when it is appropriate.  Roger Ebert won the Pulitzer Prize but only brought it up in his reviews when the subject called for it.  Likewise, if you are reviewing a movie like "The Young Messiah," then chances are you will at least note your belief system just so that your readers have a better idea of where you are coming from.

To answer the original question that was posed though, if you are a Christian or Atheist writing reviews, then yes, you will automatically be writing reviews from those perspectives.  Those beliefs have helped mold and define your points of view over the years on every facet of your life, and that includes what you take away from film.  To emphasize your beliefs occasionally will be helpful to the reader, but if you write your reviews with enough skill, bringing this information up on a daily basis will not be necessary.  Your readers will get a sense of who you are based on what you write, how you word things, and even be able to measure who you are based on how much or how little you curse.  Reviews are a personally reflection of yourself, and that includes any religious belief you may or may not have.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Is Watching the Oscars Pointless?

I read all the time that the Oscars are pointless.  That all award shows are pointless.  That no group can safely tell people what is and isn’t the best film of the year (that’s certainly true; one year one of my cousins felt “Joe Dirt” was the best film he saw that year).  They wonder why people watch a show that is boring on so many different levels (and more often than not nominate films you have never even heard of [much less seen]).  I understand where these people are coming from on some level, but not completely.  I understand that the show is a little tedious and rarely does it make for great entertainment.  On the other hand, aren’t there other events that are just as pointless?  Events that, despite not amounting to much of anything in the long term of things, get just as much (if not more) attention as the Oscars do?  I believe there is.
It’s called the Super Bowl.
I know, I know, many of you are screaming at you’re screens right now, ready to tear me a new one and tell me why the Super Bowl matters.  I’m sure you are all thinking of making points like football is fun to watch, it’s the most important sporting event of the year (except during years where the Olympics take over the tube), and that it gets far more viewers to tune in.  I understand all of these points…and yet I don’t understand any of them at the same time.  I want to say upfront that I find no fault in you if you like sports.  At the end of the day we all have passions that are little more than glorious time wasters, and in that regard there is really no difference from movies, to sports, to video games, to sewing.  We just pick what we enjoy most and run with it.
For me, the Super Bowl is no big deal.  I don’t see how a sports team winning contributes to the world’s problems.  It certainly won’t solve any major humanity problem if your favorite team wins.  It doesn’t help you to see year favorite team winning a statue that you will likely never win yourself.  In fact, just like the Oscars, the Super Bowl isn’t important one bit when you put them up to your life.  Your marriage, religion, and career choices will affect your life much more than either of these two television events ever will.  I know it, you know it, and I’m sure deep down the people who sell the shows know it.  The only people who walk away with their life changed are the people who win, and even then they just gain some additional financial support.

In the end all games and trophies are self-worshiping things made by man.  They won’t do any good to you.  Yet people watch football because they find it fun.  I watch the Oscars because I find them fun.  Alright, the show itself is kind of boring, but it is exciting to see a movie you think genuinely deserves to be honored win an award.  The Oscars have never changed my life any more than the Super Bowl has changed yours.  Life isn’t simple enough for that to happen.  I will watch the shows that entertain me just like you will watch the shows that entertain you.  I think that is once stance we can all agree on in this crazy world.  Personally, I’m glad these things don’t depress me, as I met a Panthers fan shortly after the Big Game ended, and it didn’t look like taking these things so seriously was any fun.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What's the Deal with Shorts in Theaters?

I have had yet another sleepiness night.  I should be trying to at least sleep during the day, but the last round of Oscar nominated shorts are showing today, and I need to do my civic duty as a critic to go see them.  I was in this situation last week when my mom pointed out that many of the shorts could be streamed online for free, so why bother going to the theaters to see them.  My response is the same one I have for feature length films: Because they look better in theaters.  Look, I know shorts aren't the big deal they used to be, so let me clue you all in on why they were a mainstay in cinemas in the Golden Age of Hollywood.  See, shorts, despite their lack of big budgets, served several very practical functions.  It was a good way to discover potential stars in the making.  You could test out new directors and get an idea of how they managed a small project before putting them to work on a bigger project (AKA: Movie).

They were a great way to test new visual techniques and figure out how they could work before using them in a feature film.  In the case of animation, shorts was a way to create new cartoon characters that could be spun off into TV and merchandise later on down the road.  In some cases, certain characters were so poplar, that putting the right short before an uncertain movie could help raise the interest of it to millions of people who otherwise wouldn't have paid to see it.  There are probably a few other advantages to shorts, but I think you get my point.  So the first question that is raised is why discontinue the shorts?  Well, shorts have never had a way to be financially successful on their own terms, so there was always a question mark attached to whether or not these things were financially stable.  Also the more popular TV got, the more companies realized that making shorts for compilation programs would be much cheaper on a TV budget than a theater budget.

So then the second question that this brings up is why do you need to see them in theaters?  Again, I like to point to theatrical movies as a prime example.  You can see "The Departed," "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," "Frozen," and... alright, to be frank you can see anything that comes to theaters on home video (with the exception of "Song of the South").  Yes, these movies can be entertaining on a small screen, but they were made for the big screen and lose something when you take that away.  The same can be said for shorts.  While some are being made for the internet, the vast majority of them are still made with a big screen in mind.  The creators know that they won't spread very far in terms of how many people they will reach, but for the people who do see them they want an impression to be made.

Again, shorts are largely elaborate resumes for studios.  They are being made to prove that they have visual, acting, or writing talents to offer the big studios.  They may not be able to afford a feature film, but they may just be able to make a short.  Studio executives screen everything on a theater screen.  EVERYTHING!  If the short looks terrible on a blown up screen, the purpose behind it is completely meaningless.  So they make them with the big screen in mind.  Now that they are making these for a big screen, they figure they may as well go all out with them.  So they start to film/animate the short to be most effective when seen on the big screen.  Soon little details that are difficult to spot on a regular TV get put into the picture.  There may not be any money to be had in these things, but they are given the same amount of care and attention that the more profitable feature films receive.

For these reasons I am going to take every chance I get to see shorts on the big screen.  I would much rather lose half the previews we get for a short before every movie.  I think studios do themselves no favors by largely ignoring these (you'd think the success Pixar has had with shorts would prove just how valuable they can be).  And in a way, shorts CAN make big money!  In 1990 Disney released a movie called "Dick Tracy," which become a $100 million dollar grossing film (a much more impressive cum in those days).  The movie (which I want to mention I like) fell out of peoples memories pretty fast.  With mixed reviews the movie was targeted to lose a lot of money.  However...

...thanks to a Roger Rabbit short that was placed before the film, some industry experts believed a lot of people went to see the movie just because of the short before the feature film, and without it the movie might have struggled much more at the box office.  There are other examples like this.  Maybe we'll discuss them in a future article.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How MoviePass Can Help the Aspiring Film Critic

A note about the following post before we being: This is a post where I will be extensively discussing a product/service.  While at times it may seem like a paid advertisement, I don't believe in writing articles that are bought and paid for.  If you are a film critic for a living it is against your interest to do commercials, shopping network programs, or paid advertisements,  I may elaborate more in a future post, but the key thing to take away from this is that by doing this it undermines not only the reviews you write, but of any recommendation you might have for anything.  So while a post of the ethics of writing articles that are really product placement is likely needed somewhere down the line, I wanted to write about this product first, so just be assured that I'm writing this of my own free will and not being paid by the company who makes the product/service in any way.

Alright, let's get on with the show.

One of the questions I get a lot is how does one become a film critic.  Honestly, the answer is WAY too complex for just one post (that's why we have this blog here)!  Obviously to become one involves lots of writing, time, and usually more than one rejection letter to join the Online Film Critics Association (or whatever guild you attempt to join).  Graduating from college is a bonus, but speaking as a college dropout I can assure you it's not the end of the world if you don't.  One thing that is pretty obvious though is that if you are going to do this job you need to see a LOT of movie!  Not only that, you have to see as much as you can.  There is no picking and choosing specific genres to only review (unless your site is dedicated to that genre), you have to see a little bit of everything.  Another thing that is pretty obvious is that this is going to cost money, as you don't just break onto the movie scene being invited to critics screenings.

No, you have to pay for the movies yourselves.  This is where the whole "self made writer" thing becomes tricky, as it becomes much harder to justify paying for bad movies when you are doing this for free and trying to make a name for yourself.  Tickets are expensive and there are more movies than ever being released each week.  What is the solution?  Well aspiring critics, I have found a service that may not solve all your problems, but it will help with this dilemma a lot.  It's called MoviePass, and it is pretty much the Netflix for movie theaters.  It's not available everywhere, but for those who live in areas it is I can assure you it is will worth the investment.  The cost of the monthly membership varies from city to city, so we're going to use my $45 a month cost as the starting point.

While have been gifted in the sense that I do get invited to many critics screenings, there are times movies aren't screened, or I simply want to see the movie again with some friends, and thus buying a movie ticket in both these situations becomes a requirement.  In the past month I had to actually buy tickets for the following films for one of these two reasons:

Kung fu Panda 3 - $11.99
Youth - $7.50
Son of Saul - $12.99
Norm of the North - $12.99
The Forest - $6.50
45 Years - $7.99
The Hateful Eight - $13.99
The Repentant - $12.99
The Danish Girl - $7.50

Altogether it would have cost me $94.44 to see all these movies, but thanks to MoviePass it only cost me $45 to see them and I saved $49.44.  Some months I save more, others I save less.  Some months all the movies are free for me through screenings, and MoviePass finally makes some money off me. It should be noted the service does not grant you access to 3D, IMAX, XD, RPX, or D-BOX screenings, so for those you are on your own.  As you can see, if you want to be a film critic this is a logical service to sign up for.  You will need to see lots of movies.  You will have to see movies you don't want to see.  You have to put yourself in front of things you never dreamed you would ever watch, and while you can't be expected to see everything at first, eventually the public will expect that of you if you are to make a dent in this business.

I get invited to so many free screenings that sometimes I can't even remember when the last time I paid for a ticket was.  I hold onto my MoviePass though because it provides a great service for me, and if you are just getting started this is a great idea for you too.  Now, that said, I do want to mention that if you do decide to get it, you are hooked for the long term.  While I haven't heard of too many people canceling their subscription due to dissatisfaction, it should be noted that once you've been subscribed for a couple of months, you are on the hook for a whole year whether you realize it or not.  In the user agreement you will find that if you terminate the subscription before the year is up, you will pay some hearty cancellation fees, so find out what those fees are before you sign up and decide if this is something you really want to be committing to for the next year.

Even so, for me this would be a pretty easy choice if given the option years ago.  If you want to do this for a living its most likely because you love movies.  You'd probably be going to the movies once or twice a week even if you weren't thinking of getting into this business.  So on a personal level this would be a great deal since you only need to see four prime time films to break even.  If you want to do this professionally and are starting out with a personal blog or website (ha!), this may be one of the most important tools you'll have to getting your career off the ground in a stress free way!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Has "The Big Short" Already Been Crowned the Next Academy Award Winner?

There has been a rule in the last several years that the Producers Guild of America chooses the winner of the eventual winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.  This is not because the PGA award is the most prestigious award on the planet, it is because that is usually the first claim by a movie that ends up sweeping all the major guild awards.  The Screen Actors Guild gives out their highest honor a couple weeks later, and then a week later the Directors Guild of America hands out their award to the best achievement in directing.  In the past the DGA has most matched up with the eventual Academy Award winners, but it was also during a time when the three guilds largely did their own thing.  These days with voting so close together and many members who overlap in membership, all the guilds tend to award the same film.

It was especially evident that the guilds just followed one another the year "Argo" ran away with all the awards, including the SAG award for Best Ensemble Cast, which should have logically gone to "Silver Linings Playbook" which had three acting nominations compared to "Argo's" one (which wasn't even in a lead category).  If you want more details on stats and how they match up with Oscar I (reluctantly) recommend you check out Awards Daily, as blogger Sasha Stone has become somewhat of a master at awards statistics.  My more reserved observation is that whatever has won the PGA in the past seven years has gone on to win Best Picture when Oscar time rolled around.  This weekend the PGA awarded "The Big Short" their highest honor, which officially makes that the movie to beat.

The thing about this year though is that this is the first time in a long time things don't seem so certain.  While "The Big Short" could theoretically go on to win SAG and DGA, SAG might heavily favor the acting friendly "Spotlight," while DGA is likely to honor George Miller for his crack-filled visionary masterpiece "Mad Max: Fury Road." "The Big Short" could snag the SAG award as it has a great ensemble cast, but would it really walk away with DGA?  It could, but that would be pretty disappointing when you have the aforementioned "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "The Revenant" in competition.  At the moment the race still feels very much wide open despite what the last several years have proven to be certain.  I kind of hope none of the guilds match up, because it makes for a more exciting Oscar race.

Each movie has it's supporters at the Academy.  "The Big Short" and "Spotlight" are loved by the actors.  "Mad Max: Fury Road" seems to be loved by the directors and visual artists.  Everyone seems to love "The Revenant," but with Alejandro González Iñárritu having swept up all the awards last year for "Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" it seems to be at a huge disadvantage in terms of voters feeling compelled to vote for him again.  Then we have "Room," which could be a sleeping tiger waiting to pounce.  I mean, how else can you explain Lenny Abrahamson's Best Director nomination despite not getting any predecessor support?  I mean, he even took the nomination away from Ridley Scott for his direction in "The Martian," and this was a guy who was poised to win before the nominations were even announced.

At the moment the race is still wide open and I like it best that way.  It makes the race more interesting and it gives everyone a chance to win at the Oscar pool at the Academy Award parties I throw.  However if "The Big Short" wins SAG then I think it winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards is all but a done deal (even if Miller walks away with his much deserved DGA).  We either know everything at the moment or we know nothing at all.  Sort of exciting isn't it?  For the record, here is my review for "The Big Short." As you can see I liked it, but I wasn't floored by it.  That could potentially change with future viewings, but for the time being that would be a fairly disappointing winner compared to some of the other films nominated.  Also my favorite film of last year - "Inside Out" - wasn't even nominated for Best Picture.  Since they have a Best Animated Feature award though, I guess they can just award it there and move on with their day.

Do Critics Care When a Movie Gets Delayed?

So news broke last week that "Star Wars: Episode VIII" has been delayed.  Originally scheduled for May of 2016, the film will now bow in theaters somewhere in December of 2016.  This means that Star Wars fans will have to wait several additional months for the next installment.  This led to some people asking me if I was upset by the delay.  The honest answer is no I was not.  And this isn't because I'm NOT looking forward to the next Star Wars.  It may sound hard to believe, but I am actually very much looking forward to the next Star Wars film. Yes, I wasn't blown away by the new movie, but (if you've read my review) you'll know that I did enjoy it, and I do believe the next one will be better.  I am not disappointed by this movie being delayed any more than I was disappointed when "Kung fu Panda 3" got delayed: There are always movies to watch,

I've written about this in the past, but apparently it bears repeating.  Folks, when you do this for a living you see at LEAST a few movies a week!  Sometimes you'll see a few movies a DAY!  If a movie - ANY movie - gets delayed, you're honestly not going to notice!  Yes, there are films you look forward to seeing more than others, but you see so many movies that it's pretty easy to lose track of what is being released and when.  Also, on a personal level, I want to point out that I don't watch previews.  I've written a few posts on the subject and why I don't, but when you don't watch previews you do lose out on the all important date that movie studios want you to remember.  It gets to the point where I completely forgot that "Inside Out" existed until the week before when I saw it at a critics screening (I also want to point out I didn't know what the movie was about, which added to the surprise).

So that's one reason critics don't get too upset that movies get delayed.  A second reason I'm not particularly upset about the new Star Wars being delayed is that it was only delayed by a few months.  This isn't like when Warner Bros. delayed "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince" by a whole year.  In that situation there were no movie problems, nothing to hold up fact, the movie was in the can when it was supposed to be released in 2008.  However, that year Warner Bros. released a little film called "The Dark Knight," which made so much money it made more sense to delay a sure fire hit into the next year to help insure great profits the next year.  During that year I was still making a name for myself in my journalistic field (a website I ran about comic books got more traffic at the time), so I wasn't seeing as many movies as I see now.  That delay was honestly felt, and it did upset me.

However, I survived, and so did all the other Harry Potter fans survived as well (even though they claimed they would boycott the film unless the release date was moved back up).  The final reason I'm not too upset by this (and this is where you readers should take note) is that it's not like you're going to be without your Star Wars fix.  Disney XD is airing a new Star Wars cartoon that is - to be perfectly honest - pretty darn good.  Also coming out later this year is "Star Wars: Rouge One," one of the many spin-off films Disney has in the pipeline.  In fact, there is going to be a new Star Wars film every year at least until 2019.  So to all you Star Wars fans who are disappointed by the delay, please calm down and look at yourself.  Putting all this into perspective, there is really nothing to be upset about.  The delay wasn't very long and there will be more than enough supply of this franchise to meet the demand.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Do I Hate "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Because It's Successful (Or: Does Box Office Reflect Quality)

At a New Years Eve party I attended several friends all wanted to know what I thought of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Of course I was happy to discuss with them my thoughts, my feelings, and what I felt were genuine shortcomings of the film itself.  I spoke so much about this movie to so many different people that night that you'd honestly think there was absolutely nothing else playing in theaters that month.  Most of what I had to say about the movie did not come off as kind that night.  I mentioned that this was a movie where nothing happened. I lamented on the fact that it was essentially the first movie remade.  I stood my ground that the movie was no where near the best as there was no reason for Disney to make it great, they just had to make sure it wasn't terrible (though, let's be honest, it would have still made money even if it was).

At one point someone asked me if I didn't like it.  I laughed and said "of course I like it... it's just the praise for this thing is making it harder to defend." I was wrong in this answer and I'm here to explain why.  One of my biggest problems is when I ask someone if they like a movie and someone says "it's not as good as everyone says/thinks it is." I get annoyed and I tell them that that is not a good answer.  That is not sharing an opinion of the movie, that is sharing an opinion of other peoples opinion of the movie.  I constantly tell people that how other people feel about the movie should not play a factor when it comes time to critique the film.  A movie can't help it if everyone loves it.  I understand why this is annoying.  I lived through the year of "Titanic," and while I thought it was a great movie (one of my favorites at the end of the day), it got so intrusive I was starting to hate it a bit.

This is what we all cleverly call 'the backlash,' and it happens with pretty much everything that gets popular.  When "Frozen" was released it was hailed as a masterpiece and Disney's best film since "The Lion King" (on a side note I want to mention this is a false compliment because it suggests Disney hadn't been making good movies since 1995; it was really their best film since "Wreck-It-Ralph").  Once people started seeing it in droves, throwing a lot of money at it, and ensuring that the box office exploded it was time to turn around and hate it.  The merchandise overflowed the theme parks to a great extent, and people felt like Disneyland has unofficially become Frozenland (on an additional side note I want to mention that if you thought this was a problem with "Frozen," just wait until Star Wars gets ahold of Disneyland and you see how bad THAT gets).  So yes, "Titanic" and "Frozen" overstayed their welcome and got people to hate them for a little while.

Did that mean these were bad movies?  No, not by a long shot.  They were still good movies and if the public were discussing them on that level alone, the movies were still good.  The same needs to be said for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." At the end of the day it is a good movie.  I never once felt it was a great movie, but it was good.  The only reason I bother to take a moment to mention I don't think it's a great movie is because the blogosphere and box office would have you believe otherwise.  But the fact that it tears up both like a chain saw through tissue paper does not diminish or elevate the product itself.  It is still the same film.  Unless the movie provided something new to discover the second time around this does not make it better upon the second viewing (my personal opinion is that it was less exciting the second time around, but not enough to dock it any stars).

The thing about all this is that the only time this sort of discussion comes up is when the movie becomes successful and starts breaking records.  To my knowledge no one ever questioned if "The Iron Giant" or "The Hurt Locker" were bad movies because they did poorly at the box office, nor did they pressure me with the question if I think highly of those films specifically because they failed financially.  And the answer is obviously no.  I like those movies because they were good movies, not because they didn't get the love I thought they deserved (though that is certainly the case).  Likewise the huge success of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" didn't make me have more problems with the movie itself, as the problems I have with it were there the whole time.  I do know people who have taken the box office results into account with their opinion, and have use those results in their arguments both for and against the film.

This is where a true critic has to step in and be the mediator in all this: Box office is nothing more or less than how financially successful something is.  McDonald's has been the most successful seller of burgers for years, but I don't think that fact has affected anyone's feelings towards the burgers themselves.  No one is eating there thinking "you know... this burger is good, but it's not THAT good!"  They aren't thinking this because they don't care how many have sold, they just want edible food.  Yet when it comes to movies the public likes to play this game that the box office means something when it doesn't.  The box office doesn't make a bad movie good. It doesn't make a good movie bad.  It doesn't mean a movie is good until it crosses a certain financial point at which the product is now sullied.  Heck, with inflation, 3D, and IMAX surcharges, it doesn't even mean this installment is much better than any of the other installments because it made more money.

It just means the movie is financially successful.

So to answer the question this topic poses, no, I don't hate "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" because it's successful.  I am disappointed that people are passing up seeing much better movies because it's in theaters, but that has no bearing on the movie itself, which I am perfectly fine with.  Now, some people that night asked me if the public responded well to the film because it was Star Wars film... that is a completely different subject that is worth addressing in the near future, because I do believe that claim might have some legitimate points behind it.

My review for "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens"