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What a film is about

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 

Okay, is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a certain criticism cropping up a lot in reviews these days? I’ll provide an example.

 

Quote:
But maybe it’s the work that I’ve been doing lately, or maybe I just have a car battery where my heart should be, but I can’t really imagine looking at all of the characters in all of the world who can populate a movie, and settling on eleven young, mostly white college ballplayers as the ones worth centering in an uncomplicated story of friendship, discovery, and the joys of freedom and teamwork.

 

I just don’t hold with the idea of criticizing a movie for what it’s about instead of how it executes its plotBecause there are so many stories these days, in novels, in movies, in TV shows, on Netflix, in comics, in video games, even in fanfic, that if you aren’t interested in something’s subject matter, it takes you literally five seconds to find something else. This isn’t the sixties. There aren’t three channels. The one case you might make is that certain brands, like Marvel movies or Pixar films or two-hundred-million-dollar summer blockbusters in general, are tastemakers and so are obliged to diversify. But Everybody Wants Some!!, the movie being reviewed, is a small independent picture. There are plenty of other small independent movies being made about minorities. So if you’re watching Everybody Wants Some!! and not something else, isn’t that on you?

 

And I guess I’m really confused by the implication that people want every movie to be Precious: Based On The Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire. Like the TV show I’m watching now on Netflix, The Grinder, is about a successful and happily married attorney whose brother is the obnoxious star of a melodramatic lawyer show, who now thinks he can be a real lawyer by applying the tropes of his TV show to real life. And obviously, that’s not a real high-stakes problem. You could say it’s a ‘white people problem’ or a ‘first world problem’ or whatever. But it’s entertainment. 

 

I don’t know about you, but seeing some teenage girl get abused and molested and have three children by the age of thirteen doesn’t entertain me much. But if you want to watch stuff like that, there are plenty of shows that ‘build your awareness’ about how teenage girls who grow up in poverty and have been raped fifteen times aren’t having an easy time of it. I wouldn’t watch those shows and complain that the morbidly obese teen mom should crack more jokes and have a musical number. Why are you watching a movie about teenagers going to a party and complaining that it’s not about the Khmer Rouge?

post #2 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by avian View Post

... I just don’t hold with the idea of criticizing a movie for what it’s about instead of how it executes its plot ...

Doesn't this review do both, rather than one "instead of" the other?

And I guess that’s what’s disappointing about Everybody Wants Some!! The movie doesn’t explore any of its characters as anything other than real good dudes who are just out to have a good time ... Linklater’s last three movies were Boyhood, Before Midnight, and Bernie—all movies that are curious, and do examine their characters and the worlds they live in.

I'm not sure it asks to see "some teenage girl get abused and molested and have three children by the age of thirteen". Or even two children by fifteen. Boyhood, Bernie and Before Midnight aren't that. I think what asks is that Linklater hold to the standards of his prior work when it comes to going beneath the surface. That he executes whatever story he's telling in a way that's more than skin deep.
post #3 of 29

I'm not sure what you are complaining about. 

 

If it's a general observation that many "reviews" nowadays are complaints that the TV show or film isn't one the reviewer had in his/her head, I'm with you. 

 

But hell we're all guilty of that. I've read so many plot suggestions for how the Prequels should have played out her on CHUD, that are all much better than the films we got. 

 

But yeah I'd be annoyed if I read a review of , say, Luke Cage, that complained there weren't any White Weedy Folks Singers in the Harlan Paradise club.

post #4 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by avian View Post
 

Okay, is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a certain criticism cropping up a lot in reviews these days? I’ll provide an example.....

 

 

 

And I guess I’m really confused by the implication that people want every movie to be Precious: Based On The Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire. ...

....

 

I don’t know about you, but seeing some teenage girl get abused and molested and have three children by the age of thirteen doesn’t entertain me much.

 

I don't know if you noticed, but there are threads (probably the film critic catch-all thread) where people have been complaining about the kind of tenor the coverage that the AVClub does for TV these days is always through the lens you're talking about.

 

So it's definitely not just you.

 

Also, I don't think it's that binary a choice between stuff like EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!! and movies about teenage girls getting abused and molested with three children by the age of thirteen.  Obviously, you're simplifying.  But to what end?  

 

I think this is just where general media commentary is at currently, for good and ill.  Lots of substandard writers talking about the current coin of the realm.  Because really... how many times can one passionately talk about the execution of plot with so many of these bland samey movies?  It's just not something most people want to read about in specifics.

 

As for EVERYBODY WANTS SOME?  I think a guy like Linklater has more than 'earned' the benefit of the doubt to make a movie the way he wants to.  And this time he happened to make a movie about a particular time period about a particular type of guy.  They happened to be largely white in this case because that was his experience, I guess.  Still, I think it's a valid response for someone who is a fan of the guy's variety of films to be disappointed when they feel like this film was a step back in terms of his filmography in some ways.  I might not agree with it, but I think it's an understandable reaction to have.

 

I mean... that was what one of the episodes of THE CANON ended up spending a bunch of time on.  Devin loving the film completely and Amy being disappointed/indifferent to it.  And look how THAT ended up!  (ohohoho only kidding)

 

 

 

 

dammit... I leave for a moment to help a customer and I'm beaten to the punch!!!

post #5 of 29
Thread Starter 

For another example of what I'm getting at, the AV Club's review of Divorce.

Quote:

That’s somewhat to the point. There’s no real hook here: These two are a run-of-the-mill couple living in the upper-middle-class New York suburbs. She works as an executive recruiter, while he remodels and resells houses. Their distaste for one another has been festering for a while, but their animosity is manifested in passive-aggressive gestures rather than drag-out fights. Although they’ve both made transgressions—some arguably worse than others—neither is a villainous party: Both sides are justifiable and unreasonable in equal measure. Horgan and her team are mostly interested in how small infractions can shift the path of the divorce proceedings. It seems strange that any plot point from this show could count as a spoiler, but almost every episode has a mini shocker that alters the power dynamic between Frances and Robert. Just when you think their situation is going to be handled one way, it goes another. It’s a small feat.

 

For all of that, process and awkwardness don’t always make for the most interesting television, and Frances and Robert’s travails often amount to “white people problems.” The couple exists in a homogenous world where divorce is a common occurrence: Frances’ friend Dallas (Talia Balsam) has been through it as has Diane’s husband, Nick (Tracy Letts). And while the experience is, yes, made out to be difficult, there’s nothing to indicate that lives will be ruined. A scene wherein Robert turns to his Hispanic employees—laborers on a construction site—for sympathy reads particularly tone deaf. Why do we care about these relatively well-off people, their limited world, and their marital challenges? Divorce struggles to answer that question, even though it’s executed skillfully.

"Why should we care about these people?" seems like a somewhat unfair question. Why should we care about Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia? It's not like there's a real Empire they're fighting against. And on the flipside, haven't there been general complaints about just how many action movies there are in which the fate of the entire world (if not the universe) hangs in the balance? I don't know, it just seems like "are the characters financially well-off? are they white?" and "will these people's lives be ruined if the conflict doesn't go their way?" seem like a weird barometers of a work's quality. A good story can make you care about whether a multimillionaire loses a quarter. A bad story can't make you care about whether the Earth is blown up.

 

And to come around again to the EWS review, the critic seems to be arguing both ways. He complains that the characters aren't likable because they act according to the standards of their time, then complains that they're too likable because they don't act according to the standards of their time. It seems like he's insistent on being unsatisfied because the story is about male jocks.

post #6 of 29

Do you remember how most people reacted to Apatow's THIS IS 40?  I remember most of the criticism of that movie from nearly all sides was that the level of 'silly rich white people problems' was just too high to take the movie seriously and become engrossed in whatever story it was trying to tell.  (I never saw the movie)

 

Now, I suppose there's a way of addressing that in terms of the way the movie didn't (or could have) calibrated its narrative to make it so that we could still care about Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's "more money = more problems" scenario.  But wouldn't that start getting into what one feels the movie should've been instead of what it isn't?  That's in the eye of the beholder.  And then I imagine there would be some who would complain about the critic engaging in sideseat writing or directing.  "Now... THIS is what I would've done to make it better!!!"

 

I think there's been a gradual shift in the amount that people (in this case, critics who's job it is to watch and review these shows/movies) will put up with as we collectively become more aware of disparities between the portrayals of races and classes.  The very fact that there are more choices in terms of what to watch in terms of diverse representations of the stories of 'others' likely hurts these kinds of 'rich white people problems' stories.  When this kind of awareness shifts, there is a sense that we collectively can't go back.  Not really... Not unless that 'rich white people problems' story is REALLY well told.


Edited by mcnooj82 - 10/30/16 at 8:52pm
post #7 of 29
"Why should we care about these people?" is really the question that every filmmaker and showrunner should ask himself or herself. You have to create likeable, identifiable characters that the audience has empathy for. They can be anti-heroes, sure, but you've still got to make us invest ourselves in their struggle somehow.

There are lots of tricks to pull this off. One of my film professors had a list of character traits that make a character sympathetic. I still try to employ those gimmicks in my characters.
post #8 of 29

Also, the DIVORCE review you quoted sounded fine to me.  It asks "Why should I care about these people?" because their response to the way the story was told (no good or bad, small infractions, power dynamics, awkward process) didn't evoke much connection for the critic.  But at the same time, they considered those very things to be worthy approaches to attempt from the show's creators.  But in the end, it still seems to struggle to make this story compelling.

 

Why do we care about Luke and Leia?  Because we just do.  The storytelling works in the most basic way that the question of WHY DO WE CARE doesn't even come up.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bradito View Post

"Why should we care about these people?" is really the question that every filmmaker and showrunner should ask himself or herself. You have to create likeable, identifiable characters that the audience has empathy for. They can be anti-heroes, sure, but you've still got to make us invest ourselves in their struggle somehow.

There are lots of tricks to pull this off. One of my film professors had a list of character traits that make a character sympathetic. I still try to employ those gimmicks in my characters.
 

GIMMICKS!

 

I don't even have to like a character.  They just have to be compelling enough to want to care and follow their story.  Though...likability is an important element depending on the type of story being told.

post #9 of 29
I think there's more to Luke and Leia than we like them just because. Here's why we care about them:

They're brave, they're obsessed with defeating the Empire, they're good at what they do, they're in danger, they're up against a ticking clock, they're nice, other people like them, they've suffered an undeserved misfortune, etc.

All those traits make people connect with your heroes. The trick is to make as many of those traits apply to your villain as well.
post #10 of 29

Obligatory quoting of Roger Ebert: "A film is not what it is about, but how it is about it." 
 

There's a fine line to this when reviewing, though - appraising a film with "how it is about" its subject matter and not saying "this material would have been much better served if it approached it from this perspective." 

post #11 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnooj82 View Post
 

Do you remember how most people reacted to Apatow's THIS IS 40?  I remember most of the criticism of that movie from nearly all sides was that the level of 'silly rich white people problems' was just too high to take the movie seriously and become engrossed in whatever story it was trying to tell.  (I never saw the movie)

My problem with This is 40 was less "why should I care about these people" than "do these people even care about each other?" That and it felt about three days long.

 

The AV Club's recent "white people UGGGGH" approach is so grating, especially when backed up with specious writing straight out of The Well-Meaning Liberal Arts Student's Book of Cliches. I think it's borne out of the AVC's now-limited intellectual range more than anything else. I frankly feel it's less AVC standing by their progressive principles and more the fact that they've recently hired a lot of mediocre writers.

post #12 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangy View Post
 

My problem with This is 40 was less "why should I care about these people" than "do these people even care about each other?" That and it felt about three days long.

 

 

That was my reaction as well.  That film was a death march.

post #13 of 29
I've said this elsewhere, but in the process of film evaluation, there are three major questions to answer:

1) What is this film doing?
2) How well is it doing it?
3) To what degree is what this film is doing worthwhile or admirable?

It's not wrong to focus on any one of those particular questions, provided the commentator does a good job of working toward an answer.

In this thread, the examples provided mostly seem to suffer from an application of shallow "progressive" thought to largely uninteresting projects.
post #14 of 29
Are we talking evaluating a film's "worth" or our personal feelings about it? Those two things don't always intersect.

Lol I could see them being one and the same to you though, Agentsands wink.gif
post #15 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fraid uh noman View Post

Are we talking evaluating a film's "worth" or our personal feelings about it? Those two things don't always intersect.
It could be either. There's typically going to be significant overlap in how you evaluate an experience as it relates to you and in how you evaluate an experience as it relates to humanity in general.

You can try to tease those things out separately, but it requires a lot of effort and some unique contextual features for it to work out well.
post #16 of 29
I don't think I ever get seriously critical in the way that a lot of you do..
post #17 of 29

I think when appraising a film's worth, you also have to take into consideration the "not for me" factor. Obviously, the debate about whether all art should strive for at least some semblance of universality is its own thing, but you also have to recognize that what a film is doing might have greater thematic resonance for a specific "target audience," so to speak. I see this a lot in film criticism of romantic comedies or films directed by women and minorities - which, of course, is the key problem with the sort of bro-y, alpha nerd nature of film criticism right now. I thought Chris Rock, while I disagree, spoke to this when discussing his feelings on Sam Bee's show, which he didn't quite find funny: 

“Some people aren’t making comedy for me,” Rock said, recalling his experience watching the TBS late-night show. “Okay, this is not for me particularly. This is for a certain group of women, and I gotta kind of defer. I think people should be funny to the people who look like them first. If you can’t be funny to the people who look like you, something’s wrong.” 

post #18 of 29
Well...just speaking for myself but...that "not for me" thing is only relevant when talking about what I actually enjoy watching. It has no bearing on quality. For example, there's not one single Woody Allen movie that's "for me." I don't enjoy any of them. But I can recognize that his good films are still good films..
post #19 of 29

The thing about the 'not for me' argument is that a movie of quality that you normally would write off as being 'not for me' might surprise you if you end up watching it.  My wife, for instance, really isn't into science fiction all that much...that's definitely a 'not for me' area for her and she tends to avoid watching things of the genre.  I ended up showing her CLOUD ATLAS and she really, really enjoyed it.  We both had the same nitpicks with the story, but she was genuinely involved in the story and loved the intelligence behind it.

 

So yeah, it really is about HOW the film is told.  If it's done well, then it has the possibility of transcending its target audience.  That, at least to me, is a sign of quality.

post #20 of 29
Yeah, I won't declare something not for me until after actually seeing it. So when I said that about Woody Allen it only applied to the ones that I've watched. I've watched quite a few...and none of them ever did anything for me. But if somebody's saying that and I know they haven't actually watched it, I'll do my best to get em to at least give whatever it is a shot..
post #21 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fraid uh noman View Post

Yeah, I won't declare something not for me until after actually seeing it. So when I said that about Woody Allen it only applied to the ones that I've watched. I've watched quite a few...and none of them ever did anything for me. But if somebody's saying that and I know they haven't actually watched it, I'll do my best to get em to at least give whatever it is a shot..

 

I'm hit or miss on Woody Allen.  Because I've had some 'hits', I will generally give him the benefit of the doubt and watch any of his films at least once.  If I'd just written him off, I'd have missed out on BLUE JASMINE, ANNIE HALL, and SLEEPER.  If I've given a director/writer a number of chances and nothing has clicked, I'll generally write him/her off as being 'not for me', regardless of genre.  Antoine Fuqua is one of those that comes to mind for me; I liked (but didn't love) TRAINING DAY, and nothing else that he's done has done anything for me, so I feel reasonably safe in skipping any of his films.

post #22 of 29

Oh, I'm not saying you should use "not for me" to dismiss seeing a film outright. I'm saying when considering your opinion of a film, think about how maybe you're not the target audience for it. 

post #23 of 29
Antoine Fuqua is such a middle of the road blah director. He's never don't anything that wowed me. But for some reason, the more I think about The Magnificent Seven, the more I wanna see it. Maybe I'm just starved to death for any new westerns..
post #24 of 29
There are lots of westerns to pick from these days.

Magnificent Seven is a blah movie.
post #25 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fraid uh noman View Post

Antoine Fuqua is such a middle of the road blah director. He's never don't anything that wowed me. But for some reason, the more I think about The Magnificent Seven, the more I wanna see it. Maybe I'm just starved to death for any new westerns..

 

I'm a big fan of Westerns.  I just love 'em in general.  I passed on THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN just because it was directed by Fuqua.  By all accounts, I made a good decision.

post #26 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnooj82 View Post

There are lots of westerns to pick from these days.

Magnificent Seven is a blah movie.
Never enough westerns though. NEVER enough.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Judas Booth View Post

I'm a big fan of Westerns.  I just love 'em in general.  I passed on THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN just because it was directed by Fuqua.  By all accounts, I made a good decision.
I have a very odd western as a favorite. Death Rides a Horse. Have you ever seen that one?
post #27 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnooj82 View Post

There are lots of westerns to pick from these days.
Very few good ones.
post #28 of 29

The fact that the review mentioned the "white" thing, makes it a political zealot agenda piece, and not an example of general "why should we care about these ones / this movie shouldn't be about that" - in fact, its kind of passive-aggressive tone of saying "come on, do we really need another movie about well-off rich white guys" warrants an instant dismissal.

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by avian View Post

The one case you might make is that certain brands, like Marvel movies or Pixar films or two-hundred-million-dollar summer blockbusters in general, are tastemakers and so are obliged to diversify. 

Well... strong emphasis on "might". I don't think they should be obliged to do anything, including being "tastemakers" - unless the creators themselves claimed that to be a goal, then of course they ought to live up to their own claims.

post #29 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Agentsands77 View Post

Very few good ones.

There's generally very few good of anything.

But if you want westerns, it's not some dead genre as it was once thought as anymore.
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