Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Attack of the Zombie Quote Whores! or, Why Certain Movie Critics Aren’t Doing their Damn Jobs

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 21, 2005

I was recently reading yet another article about “quote whores” – those so-called critics who the studios love because they gush over everything! The quote whores can be counted on for an enthusiastic “pull quote” for a movie’s TV and newspaper ads, no matter how lousy or godawful the movie happens to be.

Some quotes, of course, come from legitimate critics; if a movie’s good enough, that is. But if the movie’s a piece of crap, you’ll see the same ridiculous, overblown quotes from the usual suspects: “Magnificent!” (Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine), “A Treasure for the Whole Family!” (Mark S. Allen, UPN-TV), “Better than Sexual Intercourse with a Playboy Playmate!” (Paul Wunder, WBAI Radio). You get the idea.

Is anyone still fooled by this? I guess some people must be. For anyone who hasn’t figured it out by now, this is a ploy the studios use to fool unsuspecting moviegoers into thinking that well-respected critics really love the latest Hilary Duff teen romantic comedy or Michael Bay blockbuster. The quote whores’ names are usually in very small print and, at least on the TV ads, flash by so quickly that most people don’t even notice that they’re not exactly from The New York Times.

Using quotes from these no-names is a desperate attempt to trick Joe Schmo into thinking that the likes of Alone in the Dark and Mindhunters might actually be worth their valuable time and money. It’s sad, really – they might as well be quoting me, for cryin’ out loud. Think about it: has anyone ever actually seen a copy of Wireless Magazine? I’m convinced that it doesn’t exist. Where the hell is WBAI Radio, anyway? Why don’t I ever see Mark S. Allen on my local UPN station? Who are these people?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not necessarily bad to give a glowing review to a movie that no one else on Earth likes. God knows I’ve done it. I think part of being a good critic (even an amateur one) is sticking to your guns and defending your taste. But when you see the same names over and over again, justifying the existence of movies that no one with half a brain could possibly enjoy, you have to wonder. It’s possible that these guys just like everything they see – but what’s the point of reading their reviews? You might as well be reading no reviews at all. “Just see anything, it’s all good” is their message. Even the most undiscriminating movie cheerleader could do better than that.

On the other hand, I’ve grown increasingly tired of the overly self-important and self-serving form of criticism offered up by the “respected” critics, like thumbmasters Ebert and Roeper (though I still watch their damn show every week, so maybe I’m a masochist). Ebert isn’t so bad, though some have accused him of being overly generous lately, I just find him inconsistent at times. His War of the Worlds review, which focused almost solely on the practicality of three-legged attack vessels, made me question his sanity (dude, they’re aliens! Maybe tripods make sense on their world! It’s a small part of the damn movie anyway!). That one element kept him from enjoying the movie? Hey Roger, sharks don’t normally attack people without provocation! I guess that means Jaws sucks too, right?

But no critic annoys me more than the smug, dismissive and pretentious Richard Roeper. The idea that this snotty pseudo-intellectual yuppie was considered the successor to Gene Siskel completely blows my mind. Leonard Maltin looks like Pauline Kael compared to this guy. The sad part is that he apparently thinks he’s smarter than Ebert, yet rarely shows any evidence that he should even be in the same room with him.

My annoyance with Roeper escalated recently with his reviews of Land of the Dead and Undead. His rationale for giving these movies the dreaded “thumbs down” was simply that he’s “tired of zombie movies” (his exact quote was that he’s “all zombied out”). So therefore, because he’s “tired” of seeing movies of a certain genre, that means they must not be any good.

Talk about fucking lazy criticism! Guess what buddy, just because you dislike a certain genre doesn’t mean you get to unfairly dismiss every film within it. Your job is not to decide that you don’t want to see any more zombie movies. Your job is to see each movie and review it based on its own individual merits. That’s what a critic is supposed to do. I don’t see you dismissing Wedding Crashers just because there have been a lot of wedding comedies in the last few years. Why is this any different?

Yes, we all have our own individual tastes and prejudices. But a review shouldn’t be based solely on them. It’s not your job to tell us a movie is “just another zombie movie” (which Land of the Dead most definitely isn’t); it’s your job to tell us whether or not it’s a good zombie movie. If Roeper had legitimate reasons for not liking either of these movies, he failed to articulate them. It’s no different than saying, “I don’t like this movie because I don’t like this kind of movie.” That’s no more reliable a barometer than the likes of Earl Dittman and company.

Has Roeper ever considered that maybe there’s a reason there have been so many apocalyptic horror films in the last few years? That maybe it expresses something in our collective subconscious, that it may mirror what’s going on in the world at large? I guess that would require more thought than he’s willing (or able) to give.

Similarly, Ebert and Roeper both dismissed Dark Water based solely on the fact that it bore certain thematic similarities to The Ring. Their barely-considered explanation was that “we’ve been here before”, which is basically their way of saying they’re “all Asian horror-ed out”. That’s stupid and lazy enough on the surface, but at its essence Dark Water is simply a ghost story, and we’ve seen hundreds of those over the years! Just because you’ve seen a ghost story recently, that means another one can’t be good too? I don’t understand this kind of thinking. I hate to break this to you guys, but there are no original ideas left – everything that comes out is a variation on something that came before it. Does this mean that everything sucks? Or just everything that’s not highbrow enough for your tastes?

Sure, I’ve got my own prejudices and preferences, just like anyone else. And because I’m not a professional critic, I don’t have to see everything that comes out, which means I don’t see movies that I don’t think I will like. But if someone sent me a copy of The Perfect Man or Rebound or Sisterhood of the Traveling Panties (or whatever it is), I’d give it an honest shot. I really would. And if one of these movies actually entertained me, I’d come out and say so. Any movie can surprise you. And if I like something, I’ll defend it to the end of time. That’s what a critic is supposed to do. It’s not about protecting your image – it’s about being honest and backing that up with an intelligent argument. That’s the whole point. It’s just sad that some critics consider themselves “too good” to bother to tell people whether or not a movie is worth their time and money – isn’t that what we’re here for in the first place?

Having said all that, now it’s time to play “catch-up” on the movies I’ve seen recently but haven’t found the time to write full reviews for:

Batman Begins – yeah, it’s really good. Everybody knows this by now. But am I the only one who was bothered by Katie Holmes? Not because of the whole Cruise-Scientology thing (I find that more amusing than anything), but because she was simply wrong for the part. She seems way too young to be a DA (doesn’t it take several years to work your way up through the ranks?), and she appears to be at least 10 years younger than Bale’s Bruce Wayne, despite the fact that they supposedly grew up together. I know, it’s nitpicking, but when a movie gets so much right, that makes the one thing they screw up that much more hard to take. Then again, I still maintain that Kirsten Dunst (who I don’t mind in other roles) makes a terrible Mary Jane, and no one ever listens to me on that one either. So go figure. Otherwise, pretty awesome movie. *** 1/2

War of the Worlds – wow, are people missing the point on this one or what? This wasn’t meant to be Independence Day 2, OK? It’s obviously a 9/11 allegory (if you missed that, you’re really not paying attention), and it’s a gripping suspense tale in the tradition of Spielberg’s best early work. Of course the alien invasion doesn’t make perfect sense – when you’re in the middle of fucking aliens coming out of the ground and vaporizing people all around you and the shit is hitting the fan, you’re not necessarily going to be clear on why they’re here, what their exact plan is, etc. You’re going to be more concerned with running for your damn life! Besides, since when do alien invasions have to make sense anyway? (Guess what – aliens don’t really exist, you know. Get over it.) Sure, I had my own little nitpicks (why did the van that Cruise stole work when no other vehicles did? And how did he know it would work?), but when a movie is as stunning as this one, you have to let shit like that go. As for the ending – come on, people, it’s Spielberg! Of course the family’s going to be reunited – did you expect it to end with Dakota Fanning getting her head bitten off or something? It would’ve been pretty pointless if Ray had failed to protect his kids, wouldn’t it? You just can’t please some people. Come on, this is classic Spielberg, and that’s never a bad thing in my book. ****

Dark Water – I liked it, dammit! I haven’t seen the original Japanese version, but I thought this was creepy and atmospheric and spooky in all the right ways. Let’s face it, nobody does vulnerable and unstable like the ever-gorgeous Jennifer Connelly, and I thought she kicked ass here. A fine supporting cast (what was up with Tim Roth’s character? I want to see a movie about that guy!), and a smart, subtle story that sneaks up on you when you least expect it rather than hammering every plot point into your head – geez, no wonder people didn’t like it. Not a great film, but certainly one worthy of respect. And it beat the living hell out of The Ring 2, that’s for damn sure. ***

Fantastic Four – eh. I could go either way on this one. It’s more of a missed opportunity than a complete disaster. Some of the decisions were just baffling, but you can’t say that changing things never works either (every superhero movie changes something), so I can live with that. I thought Chiklis rocked (no pun intended), but seriously folks, Jessica Alba cannot act her way out of a paper bag. Yes, she’s incredibly hot. No, she’s not a good actress and she has virtually no screen presence other than said hotness (I still think Kate Bosworth would’ve nailed the part). I could’ve lived without the extreme sports and the shameless product placement and some of the cheesy TV-movie style effects (didn’t they spend any money on this thing?). I do think they somewhat captured the group dynamic, and parts of it were at least superficially fun, so I didn’t hate it as much as I expected to. I wouldn’t say it’s good enough to fully recommend, but it could have come out a lot worse. It could’ve starred Jerry O’Connell as Reed Richards or something equally horrendous. Overall, it’s a “shrug” movie more than a “shake fist in anger” movie. I just can’t get worked up over it, because I’m not 12 years old and have not been for a long time. Sue me. **1/2

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Dahl meets Dali! Is it just me, or was Tim Burton the perfect guy to remake this movie? I can’t think of anyone else who could’ve pulled it off as well as he did. Maybe Abel Ferrara. Seriously though, I wasn’t really crazy about the idea of seeing another version of this, but I enjoyed it immensely. Depp is inspired as always as Wonka, alternately spacey and bizarre and purposely cruel and vindictive. But the kids are the real stars of this thing – they’re hysterical in their exaggerated, cartoonish, stereotypical way. You have to admire a “family movie” that acknowledges that kids can be selfish, annoying little bastards and bitches. And I adored Missi Pyle (hugely underrated comic actress) as Violet’s insanely “perfect” mother – she’s just so hideously wrong, like a monster out of Lovecraft, yet strangely sexy at the same time (it’s not just me, right?). I’ve heard lots of criticism that the remake’s more about Burton than Dahl – well, duh! It’s his adaptation, after all. You want the book, read the damn book. The rest of us will enjoy the movie for what it is – a great return to twisted comedy for Burton, and a knockout visual treat. A world of pure imagination, indeed. ***1/2

Well, that covers it for now. I’ve got a very special review coming up soon, hopefully next week, for something very different than the usual summer fare. See you then!

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