Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Late Night Musings on Critics and Review Aggregation

Sitting here, staring at my computer screen while not really watching—off to the side— a movie even I don’t recognize on TCM, I find my mind wandering into the realm of considering the state of film criticism in our media-saturated world—and I’m not all that happy by what I see. But it’s less the criticism that bothers me than the way the moviegoing public seems to be taking it.

I was appalled by a lot of what I read from online posters when Roger Ebert died. What appalled me were the people thanking him for preventing them from seeing “all those bad movies.” I suspect it would have appalled Ebert just as much. I seriously doubt that Ebert was wanting to leave that mindset as his legacy. Rather, I think he’d prefer to be remembered for all the great films he turned people onto, not the films he’d turned them away from. Really, if these folks never saw these pictures for themselves, they don’t actually know they were bad—only that Ebert thought they were. (Reading reviews is not the same as seeing the movie.) And whatever else Ebert was or wasn’t, he wasn’t infallible. No one is or ever was. Not Ebert. Not Andrew Sarris. Not Pauline Kael. And certainly not me.

I’m not attacking Ebert. I probably agreed with him on more movies than not—though often not for the same reasons. What I’m attacking is the idea that a critic—even an intelligent one who can write (the two are not interchangeable)—should actually keep you from seeing a movie. (If you go back far enough, Ebert would have kept you from seeing A Clockwork Orange.) No, I’m not talking about the more obvious movies. You really don’t need an Ebert to make you skeptical of The Country Bears, The Host (the recent one), or White Chicks. I’m talking about movies of some potential worth. If there is a movie you’re interested in seeing, for goodness sake, see it—don’t let a critic or even a group of critics keep you from it. That’s just foolish. I’ve seen a lot of great movies I wouldn’t have otherwise seen because of reviews—sometimes because of bad reviews—but I’ve never let a critic talk me out of seeing one I wanted to see. Neither should you.

That brings me to my main reason for writing this column—the growing reliance of moviegoers on movie review aggregation sites. I’ve been bothered by this for some considerable time—despite the fact that I am on one of those sites (Rotten Tomatoes) myself. My original trepidations were grounded in the inane pursuit by fanboys (there’s really no other term for this group) to see their favorites get 100 percent approval ratings—a childish game at best. It’s also a preoccupation that suggests a basic insecurity in one’s own opinion—“Oh, my God, someone doesn’t like what I like—maybe I’m wrong.” I like to believe this is the exclusive province of adolescents, but I fear it isn’t. What does it even mean? That every critic gave the movie a great review? No, it only means that every critic (and I use the term loosely here) out of a group of varying size didn’t dislike it enough to give it a bad review.

The hundred-percenter nonsense was—and is—just that: nonsense. But there’s something far more troubling I see at work in this aggregation business—people making their viewing choices based entirely on these percentages. It wasn’t as if star ratings (which, by the way, Ebert deplored) and thumbs-up-thumbs-down (which, ironically, Ebert brought into being) weren’t imbecilic enough, now we get this. And this strikes me as the nadir. I guess I knew it was happening, but seeing post after post where people are opting either to “wait for the DVD,” or simply not see The Great Gatsby all because it “only has a 51 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes” really brought this into focus. Folks, this is art, not mathematics.

With this, we have arrived at a point where the moviegoer is deciding on seeing or not seeing a film based on a collection of reviews without even looking at the sources of those reviews. This, to my mind, is as low as it goes. Even if you were making a decision based on somebody’s star rating or somebody’s thumb, at least you knew whose rating or thumb was involved. It was a foolish approach since it didn’t tell you why in either case, but at least some human agency was involved. Now, it’s a faceless number and maybe a condensed blurb from a nameless member of the Rotten Tomato staff that tries to sound decisive, i.e., this is what the movie is. In fact, it is only what one person extrapolated out of a concensus of sometimes dubious opinions. But what it really isn’t is fact. It’s only a distillation of opinions—and though the internet might believe otherwise, not all opinions are created equal.

Sticking with Gatsby we have 185 reviews at this moment—94 of them are positive and 91 are negative. Now, Rotten Tomatoes has arbitrarily set 60 percent as the threshold for a recommendation, so that means that Gatsby is not recommended—or in their terminology, it isn’t “fresh.” I’m not about to get into my opinions of individual reviewers, but I don’t rate them all the same—and some of them (on both sides of the Gatsby argument) I just plain don’t consider credible on any level (and some of those I would name if I thought it germane to my point). But that’s only partly the issue.

It’s not simply the (to me) demonstrable fact that averaging a bunch of unweighted, unassesed reviews is of little more than curio value. No. It’s that it has encouraged a seemingly increasing number of the moviegoing public to lazily accept a percentage as a barometer for seeing a movie. I suppose in a world where the attention span has been reduced to what can be assessed in 140 characters, it’s reasonable to suspect that this shorthand would become acceptable. But—just as I remain of the opinion that nothing typed with your thumbs is that important—I’m not buying it. (And if you’ve read this far, you probably aren’t.) I mean, how can you not be curious about those 94 reviewers who didn’t give the film a bad review? And don’t you want to know why on both sides? I do.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

76 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Late Night Musings on Critics and Review Aggregation

  1. Dionysis

    I think it would be difficult to refute your argument. For me, film critics can be quite helpful, especially those who, over time, reflect reviews that track closely with my own opinion, although I’ve found that reviews of non-critics can often be just as helpful as critics’ reviews (maybe even more so at times).

    It may be just perception, but it seems there are a lot more movies produced and released these days than in times past. It is a fact, however, that a trip to the movies is not an inexpensive venture as it ways in days gone by (yes, everything is more, I know).

    With so many films to consider, and the cost of going to the theater to boot, I do wonder if relying on critics (setting the ‘fanboy’ phenomenon aside) is a logical result.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ve found that reviews of non-critics can often be just as helpful as critics’ reviews (maybe even more so at times).

    Those are difficult to know how to take. If you go to the IMDb and find “user reviews” enthusing all over the place about some new movie, check to see the poster’s reviewing history. If what you’ve read is the only review they’ve ever written, then be skeptical of it, because there’s a good chance it’s a shill. Also, be wary of an account where the person hasn’t posted a review in years and then suddenly does.

    It may be just perception, but it seems there are a lot more movies produced and released these days than in times past.

    I think, if anything, there are less. Fifty years ago, movies often didn’t even play for an entire week because of the volume. (Of course, there were also fewer screens.) There is, however, more media coverage of what comes out and more places to look for it.

    With so many films to consider, and the cost of going to the theater to boot, I do wonder if relying on critics (setting the ‘fanboy’ phenomenon aside) is a logical result.

    I wouldn’t argue that as such, but it’s one thing to rely on critics and quite another to rely on a percentage.

    • Dionysis

      Oh, I definitely check out the reviewers, just as you suggest, and have for some time now.

      I am a bit surpised that there are few fims now, but you’d know better than me. Maybe media coverage and more venues are why; it would be mildly interesting to seem statistics on it.

      As for relying on percentages for anything, I can’t count the movies I’ve seen and liked (in some cases, liked a lot) that were critical bombs, and vice versa.

      I admit that I might be influenced to see a movie (upon its initial release) by reviews if I am only somewhat interested in it to begin with, but I’ll usually catch it, regardless of reviews, at some point.

  3. Steven

    A good deal of the reviews from “critics” on Rotten Tomatoes read more like a synopsis and snap judgement (“this film is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen”) without zero insight. There’s really nothing analytical to them, and I’m continually baffled at how these reviews get the go-ahead in the first place. I stopped paying attention to them long ago.

    There are only a few critics that I check out for recommendations nowadays: A.O. Scott, Michael Phillips, and you.

  4. Ken Hanke

    A good deal of the reviews from “critics” on Rotten Tomatoes read more like a synopsis and snap judgement (“this film is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen”) without zero insight.

    There’s a lot of that going around. You want a real treat? Read Victoria Alexander’s “reviews” of Gatsby and Iron Man 3. Wow!

  5. Steven

    One more thing I forgot to mention: What in the world is their criteria for being a “top critic?” Richard Roeper is one of our top film critics? Puh-lease.

    [b]There’s a lot of that going around. You want a real treat? Read Victoria Alexander’s “reviews” of Gatsby and Iron Man 3. Wow![/b]

    Yikes. First time hearing of this woman.. thanks.

  6. Ken Hanke

    One more thing I forgot to mention: What in the world is their criteria for being a “top critic?” Richard Roeper is one of our top film critics? Puh-lease.

    The criteria seems to mostly be level of fame — either the critic, or the publication. Among other things, this means a stringer you never heard of gets labeled “top critic” because no one else at the NY Times or Chicago Sun-Times wanted to review something.

    First time hearing of this woman.. thanks.

    Astonishing, huh?

  7. Jeremy Dylan

    I find anything but the content of a review totally unhelpful in helping me decide whether to see a movie.

    If I’ve decided to see a film, a negative review from Ken or Justin isn’t going to turn me away. But in the many cases when I’m ambivalent, reading Ken or Justin’s reviews can push toward or away from a movie.

    But even then, it’s not just whether they gave the film a positive or negative review*. Unless you know a critic’s taste and read their reviews in full, how can they possibly be helpful? One man’s powerful, gritty drama is another man’s amateurish indie pile of pretension.

    Because I know Ken’s taste and have read enough of his reviews to know where it diverges from my own, I know that his reasons for disliking a film might sometime be reasons I would enjoy it.

    But if I’m reading a critic for the first time, how do I know that what they’re calling “self-indulgent over-direction” isn’t something I’d find stylish and captivating?

    *Can we collectively agree as a society to stop calling negative reviews bad reviews? These are two different concepts. To illustrate from another medium:
    – “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan is a negative song.
    – “Let the Eagle Soar” by former Attorney General John Ashcroft is a bad song.

  8. jdawg

    When I pick up an Express I immediately flip to the back looking for the movie reviews. It’s about the insight and perspective. I can watch the movie with a deeper appreciation or at the very least allow my brain to absorb some intelligent and often times entertaining write up.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Because I know Ken’s taste and have read enough of his reviews to know where it diverges from my own, I know that his reasons for disliking a film might sometime be reasons I would enjoy it.

    I should think you know my taste by now. How long have you been reading me? But you raise a good point about reasons for disliking a film sometimes cluing you in on why you would like it. Nearly every negative review I read on Cloud Atlas made me think it would appeal to me.

    Can we collectively agree as a society to stop calling negative reviews bad reviews? These are two different concepts.

    Good luck on getting this to fly, but your point is certainly correct.

  10. Ken Hanke

    When I pick up an Express I immediately flip to the back looking for the movie reviews. It’s about the insight and perspective. I can watch the movie with a deeper appreciation or at the very least allow my brain to absorb some intelligent and often times entertaining write up.

    Well, that’s as nice a comment as one could hope for. Thank you.

  11. Me

    I was talking about this very same thing with someone on the filmspotting forum. I couldn’t believe it when they said “they didn’t need to watch a film because they read the review”. I can’t remember the film specifically but it was a pretty well known and classic film.

  12. Me

    There are also those people out there who go by theory – no trailers and no reviews before watching a film. I would love to be able to do this just so I could be knocked out by a film and be less critical of it , but I just don’t have the will power.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I couldn’t believe it when they said “they didn’t need to watch a film because they read the review”.

    The internet is full of them.

  14. Jeremy Dylan

    I should think you know my taste by now. How long have you been reading me?

    Since I was thirteen, so a decade this year.

  15. Jeremy Dylan

    There are also those people out there who go by theory – no trailers and no reviews before watching a film.

    I try my level best to do this if I’ve already decided to see a film. All they could do is spoil plot developments or gags that should be enjoyable surprises within the context of the film.

    But this can be difficult because they screen trailers before other movies. I’ve taken to bringing my iPod into the cinema and if a trailer comes on for something I want to see, I shut my eyes and listen to Led Zeppelin for three minutes.

  16. DrSerizawa

    I only have a handful of critics I pay any attention to. And only because they generally like the same movies I do. It’s worked pretty well. For example I would never have seen BLACK SWAN with your rec and I would have been poorer for it. On the other hand I ignored you and saw A GOOD DAY TO DIEHARD to my chagrin. Still I pretty watch what I want and look to critics to find something I might otherwise miss. 13 ASSASSINS was another.

    As far as rotten tomatoes goes I never look at it. I used to but found it completely unreliable. Considering my own tastes in movies I would expect that a majority of critics would not like the films I do.

    But really, 99% for any movie is plain ridiculous. I expect that too many “critics” are just cheerleaders.

    • DrSerizawa

      Oops I meant to say I would never have seen BLACK SWAN without your rec.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Since I was thirteen, so a decade this year.

    No wonder we call you Young Jeremy.

  18. Ken Hanke

    I try my level best to do this if I’ve already decided to see a film. All they could do is spoil plot developments or gags that should be enjoyable surprises within the context of the film.

    I find this impossible for obvious reasons, but then I’ve never found it especially appealing. That may be because plot is generally the least interesting aspect of a movie to me. But it may also be the result of growing up with an interest in classic cinema in an era when the closest you could get to so many movies was to read about them. I knew the plots and most of the gags and dialogue to the majority of Marx Bros. and W.C. Fields movies long before I saw them. Didn’t diminish my enjoyment of them in the least.

  19. Ken Hanke

    But really, 99% for any movie is plain ridiculous. I expect that too many “critics” are just cheerleaders.

    Well, yes, some clearly are. And some are hoping to see their names in newspaper ads or on DVD cases. I suspect there is another category, too — critics who don’t want to be seen as out of step with the general line of thought.

    Oops I meant to say I would never have seen BLACK SWAN without your rec.

    Yes, I thought that was what you meant.

  20. Big Al

    Are there really THAT many people who decide on seeing a film based on aggregated web reviews. I for one pay them little or no attention, and I don’t think I am atypical.

    Or maybe I am?

    I find traditional reviews much more helpful, even if/when I end up disagreeing with the critics (there are some who I know are just so opposite from me in taste that their bad review is like catnip for me!)

  21. Me

    I was wondering when you were going to bring back your “Saturday Evening Post’s”.

  22. Xanadon't

    Rotten Tomatoes holds precious little use for me, unless I’m actively seeking to read a full text review for a specific movie from a critic whose home website isn’t one stored in my address bar search history. But I puzzle at how and why the Rotten Tomatoes numbers game is of much use to anyone else either.

    Most people I know are one of two types. The first love cinema, have some self-awareness when it comes to what they like and what they don’t, and actively keep themselves up date on what’s being released and what’s going on in the movie world. The second group likes movies fine (I guess) but not in the way that enthusiasts do. They go to the movies only when there’s not much else “better to do” or when they just positively have to see the new Marvel Movie/Nicholas Sparks Movie/Jason Stratham movie or what-have-you.

    The first group, so far as I can tell, sees what they want to see and regularly read movie reviews, whether before or after seeing a film. It seems that most people in the second group have likely never read a full length movie review in their lives, but also it doesn’t occur to me that they’ve spent any real amount of time on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDb. I’d wager that for most of these people, movies (and conversations about movies) simply aren’t a big enough part of their lives for these aggregation sites to be something they bother to check in with at any level.

    I’m sure that there is a middle ground out there that I’m simply not seeing. Hell, I still don’t own a Smart Phone, so for all I know it could be that millions of people out there have a Rotten Tomatoes app and do in fact blindly allow Fresh and Rotten percentages to dictate their viewing choices. I guess maybe it’s just that the idea of being “half serious” about movies strikes me as odd– odder than simply not being serious about movies at all. I mean, if you’re really into cinema, well, I dunno, just read the entire review damn it! Isn’t that what makes sense?!

  23. Ken Hanke

    Are there really THAT many people who decide on seeing a film based on aggregated web reviews.

    Well, I’m basing this on seeing an increasing number of people on websites dismiss a film because of its approval rating. I grant you this is not a scientific sampling by any means, but it’s not something I used to see at all.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I was wondering when you were going to bring back your “Saturday Evening Post’s”.

    Well, it went up on Friday, and I’m not guaranteeing their frequency.

  25. Big Al

    So the REAL question that needs an answer (or just more study) is: What effect, if any, are these aggregation websites having on the actual attendance of movies?

    I don’t see any relation. Lots of people are going to movies that most critics and viewers agree are good, while stinkers are leaving town early with few takers. (The exceptions being the “stuff blows up real good” stinkers that best appeal to the less cerebral among us, like “Transformers”)

    I don’t see a review for “Star Trek Into Darkness” yet. I loved it, but then I am a Trekkie, albeit not a purist.

  26. Ken Hanke

    Rotten Tomatoes holds precious little use for me, unless I’m actively seeking to read a full text review for a specific movie from a critic whose home website isn’t one stored in my address bar search history.

    Oh, I find it useful enough — and I should be clear that I am not against it per se. It’s convenient for looking over the field of critics. I don’t follow that many critics — unless we’re talking people I know personally — but I like to keep an eye on them. (Plus, going in through an intermediate site keeps a visit to the NY Times from counting against your five free visits per month.) It has nothing to do with making decisions (well, that’s kind of obvious), but only with a certain curiosity about what they’re thinking and why.

    Most people I know are one of two types. The first love cinema, have some self-awareness when it comes to what they like and what they don’t, and actively keep themselves up date on what’s being released and what’s going on in the movie world.

    You do realize that there are people out there who think of themselves in this fashion whose tastes and interests have nothing to do with yours? There are people for whom the big question of the day is whether James Cameron or Christopher Nolan is the end-all be-all of film and are prepared to argue this endlessly.

    The second group likes movies fine (I guess) but not in the way that enthusiasts do. They go to the movies only when there’s not much else “better to do” or when they just positively have to see the new Marvel Movie/Nicholas Sparks Movie/Jason Stratham movie or what-have-you.

    Some of those — especially in the Marvel group — probably consider themselves enthusiasts. I can at least understand them better than the folks who drive up to theaters to rubberneck at the posters by way of deciding what to see.

    I mean, if you’re really into cinema, well, I dunno, just read the entire review damn it! Isn’t that what makes sense?!

    It’s what makes sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s what’s being done. I see too much evidence of people who want things reduced to as few words as possible — not to mention too much evidence of faulty reading comprehension — to believe it’s always being done.

  27. Ken Hanke

    I don’t see any relation. Lots of people are going to movies that most critics and viewers agree are good, while stinkers are leaving town early with few takers.

    But that is not very far afield from saying that movies with high percentage ratings are doing well, is it? The question is how sure are you that all the “stinkers” are stinkers? (No, I’m not talking about things like Peeples or The Big Wedding.)

    I don’t see a review for “Star Trek Into Darkness” yet. I loved it, but then I am a Trekkie, albeit not a purist.

    Because we’re a weekly and because we’re in the provinces (as far as the studios are concerned), we only get to see the “big” titles early enough to make it into the paper before the films open during award season. In other words, you’ll see the review on Tuesday afternoon.

  28. Xanadon't

    I don’t follow that many critics — unless we’re talking people I know personally — but I like to keep an eye on them.

    I probably couldn’t list more than a handful or so of professional critics by name and routinely read less than that. Often I’m as likely to read a review from whichever staff writer from a website that I happen to be in the habit of frequenting. The A.V. Club for instance. Or Tiny Mix Tapes if I feel like rolling my eyes at the mirthless, uber-pretentious, “indie cred” set.

    You do realize that there are people out there who think of themselves in this fashion whose tastes and interests have nothing to do with yours? There are people for whom the big question of the day is whether James Cameron or Christopher Nolan is the end-all be-all of film and are prepared to argue this endlessly.

    Oh certainly. Nolan vs. Fincher seems to be the most heated debate of the day in plenty of quarters. But every now and then some of these same folk will turn their attention to arguing about Takashi Miike vs. Chan-Wook Park, what it would take for Tarantino to meet or eclipse Scorsese’s level of greatness, whether or not David Lynch will ever direct another feature film, or what’s the Coen Brothers most overrated or underrated film. Whether or not the enthusiasm is geared toward anything I have much interest in, at least the capacity to be enthused is there–and that’s a good thing. Or becomes a good thing, eventually. Hopefully.

    I can at least understand them better than the folks who drive up to theaters to rubberneck at the posters by way of deciding what to see.

    That ‘7-year old at the video store’ phase can be tougher to shake for some than others.

  29. Fran

    Thanks for this engaging Screening Room. The Mountain Express reviews are the only ones I read…largely due to Cranky Hanke. So I don’t know about others. But I have learned for the most part to figure out what I will still see even though… and what I won’t see no matter what.

    I certainly wouldn’t have missed seeing Les Mis, which I liked a lot, regardless of the negative review. I went to see Iron Man this weekend and enjoyed it as some fun on a Sunday. Now I do have a broken arm, so my options of activities were limited. And I would have seen Gatsby no matter what, but am happy to see Ken’s take on it and trust it.

    But…the place where Ken’s reviews make the main difference for me are in movies that I might not have thought to see, during a busy time, like Moulin Rouge!, but which his recommendations made a “must see” for me. Probably only one in fifty do I find that I was disappointed…or confused.

    The percentages are of little concern to me. I don’t trust statistics or pretty much any terms that have an “outcome oriented” focus! In reviews, process over product every time!

  30. Me

    I usually like to read the reviews after i see a film, just to get a different perspective.

  31. Ken Hanke

    Whether or not the enthusiasm is geared toward anything I have much interest in, at least the capacity to be enthused is there–and that’s a good thing. Or becomes a good thing, eventually.

    The capacity always seems pretty narrowly focused and too much like listening to the Little Rascals fight over whether Flash Gordon could beat Tarzan or vice-versa for my taste. I tire of it very quickly and end up thinking they could all do with a grounding in the roots of cinema, which they mostly seem to think begins about 1980.

  32. Ken Hanke

    I certainly wouldn’t have missed seeing Les Mis, which I liked a lot, regardless of the negative review.

    Yes, well…leave us face it, you are far fonder of show tunes than I am in general. And more apt to forgive films of stage shows.

    Probably only one in fifty do I find that I was disappointed…or confused.

    I don’t like disappointing you, but I don’t mind occasionally confusing you. Confounding is good, too.

    I don’t trust statistics or pretty much any terms that have an “outcome oriented” focus!

    Suits me.

  33. Ken Hanke

    That’s what these guys are for.

    Sweet merciful king of glory, what twaddle.

  34. Ken Hanke

    Lots of people are going to movies that most critics and viewers agree are good, while stinkers are leaving town early with few takers.

    Al, back to this for a moment. I seem to recall you liked Beautiful Creatures — a film with a 45% approval rating that left town pretty darn fast.

  35. Ken Hanke

    Although, I’ll bet that GATSBY does have some insight into America. Just not the “approved” insight. But these guys should know that it’s no longer insight if it’s been done to death.

    That’s an insight they’ve likely never considered. There’s a certain type of critical mindset that immediately recoils from hyper-stylized movies that are in search of a greater reality by being deliberately unrealistic. These folks seem very much a part of that — and very much a part of the critical view that they are immediately smarter than the film they’re reviewing. I see no evidence of this in anything I’ve read.

  36. Ken Hanke

    Their write-up for Anna Karenina as one of the worst films of the year is what really made me roll my eyes.

    More twaddle. I don’t think I will be visiting the site in question again.

  37. Big Al

    “Al, back to this for a moment. I seem to recall you liked Beautiful Creatures — a film with a 45% approval rating that left town pretty darn fast.”

    Yes, it was a hidden gem, and I was one of a tiny handfull watching it, so that sounds about right.

    Well, then, maybe you are right and all we can do is gnash our teeth. I still ignore the % on RT and other sites, so I guess I am less typical than I thought. I will confess that prior to moving to Asheville 5 years ago, I had seen exactly ONE art-house/independant movie, and now about 3/4 of the movies I choose are indies. Does that make me more “sophisticated”, or maybe out of touch with the mainstream? Maybe so, and that is why I draw inaccurate conclusions about the relevance of review aggregation. I am OK with that possibility. If the masses need their RT % to decide on a film, then they are welcome to them. It just makes more room in the sofa cinema for me and the hidden gems. I recall one particularly magic afternoon there watching “Cairo Time”, which mesmerized me but probably got pretty low ratings.

  38. Ken Hanke

    I’m going to start using the word “twaddle” more often.

    It’s an insufficiently appreciated word. A withering look and “twaddle” can leave your opponent without a counter argument.

  39. Ken Hanke

    I recall one particularly magic afternoon there watching “Cairo Time”, which mesmerized me but probably got pretty low ratings.

    I looked and it got a respectable 81%, but it still didn’t make a nickel. Art titles work differently — there are fewer reviews and an already smaller audience. And they present a new challenge. We have a healthy art film crowd here, but when you have Mud, Renoir, No, Gimme the Loot, The Place Beyond the Pines and The Company You Keep playing at the same time and throw in a crossover picture like Gatsby, it tests the limits of how much can be supported at one time.

    The Reluctant Fundamentalist is currently down for June 7.

  40. Big Al

    OK, so we are back to two possibilities:

    1) Low ratings on aggregate review sites like RT drive people away from films that would have done better;

    or

    2) Films that had low attendance anyway got predictably low ratings on RT, making RT irrelevant as a form of film criticism.

    It really is a chicken vs egg kind of debate.

    I believe #2 is more accurate, and the fact that I (almost alone in a vast, empty theatre) loved a film that RT gave 45% just shows that I am often out of line with the mainstream, not that RT has any real influence on their viewing habits, which was my point earlier.

    And I agree with you about art films, which I actually think “Beautiful Creatures” had more in common with than the “Twilight” genre whose coat-tails it seemed to be trying to ride.

    BTW, as with “..Fundamentalist”, my reading list lately has been largely driven by announcements of impending film adaptations, specifically “The Terror” and “The Historian” (local author alert!)

    Also, as with “..Fundamentalist”, both books were worth reading but kinda dragged on and will hopefully serve much better as more rapid-paced screenplays.

  41. Ken Hanke

    I believe #2 is more accurate, and the fact that I (almost alone in a vast, empty theatre) loved a film that RT gave 45% just shows that I am often out of line with the mainstream, not that RT has any real influence on their viewing habits, which was my point earlier.

    I don’t see how you conclude that. Can you really conclude that Beautiful Creatures wasn’t impacted by that 45% approval rating — and that it failed at the box office because your tastes are out of the mainstream?

    Plus, you overlook part of my central issue — the growing number of people posting on various websites that they’re not bothering to see a movie because its percentage is too low to bother with. I never used to see this at all, but I’m seeing it more all the time.

    And I agree with you about art films, which I actually think “Beautiful Creatures” had more in common with than the “Twilight” genre whose coat-tails it seemed to be trying to ride.

    Well, it was adapted from a popular YA novel.

  42. DrSerizawa

    I don’t get it at all. It’s not like movies are super expensive. Don’t buy concessions and a movie is $8-$9. So, go see it anyhow, regardless of the reviews. Most people waste more $ than that on bad pizzas every week.

    What a bunch of sheeple, if they won’t see a movie because 55% of reviewers didn’t like it. Most politicians win on around 55% of the vote. And 99% of them stink.

    75% of this opinion is approved of by 32% of people who buy Alpo.

    • jdawg

      $10 should come back to you when you walk into a mess like IM3. I wasted a date night on fire breathing super villains that I had never heard of. That’s when I think tickets are overpriced.

  43. Ken Hanke

    75% of this opinion is approved of by 32% of people who buy Alpo.

    Then it must be valid.

  44. Justin Souther

    It’s worth noting that the poster for The Sapphires has a “Certified Fresh” RT logo on it, which is the first time I feel I’ve seen that.

    It also has breakout quotes from Peter Travers and Entertainment Weekly, which tells you where Rotten Tomatoes falls within the world of criticism.

  45. Ken Hanke

    It’s worth noting that the poster for The Sapphires has a “Certified Fresh” RT logo on it

    It was probably inevitable.

  46. Jeremy Dylan

    Don’t buy concessions and a movie is $8-$9.

    Or $18.50 if you live in Australia.

    Although for me, it’s not a question of money, it’s risk of wasting the time I could’ve spent with a better movie. I usually manage to get to the cinema once a week, but that’s it.

    With the frequency of new releases, that’s a lot of movies I’m interested in that I never get to see on the big screen. What if I’d passed over DJANGO UNCHAINED for some mediocre crap and missed seeing that in a cinema?

  47. Ken Hanke

    What if I’d passed over DJANGO UNCHAINED for some mediocre crap and missed seeing that in a cinema?

    I’d have laughed at you at the very least.

  48. Jeremy Dylan

    I’d have laughed at you at the very least.

    You got a lot of nerve, to say you are my friend.

  49. Big Al

    ” Can you really conclude that Beautiful Creatures wasn’t impacted by that 45% approval rating — and that it failed at the box office because your tastes are out of the mainstream?”

    No, I think BC failed at the box office for lack of promotion. Other than your review, I saw no ads, no interviews, and its’ biggest star, Jeremy Irons, was in a supportive role. The stars were almost unheard of. I also think the dialogue was too smart for the teenagers it was meant for, and the subject matter of little interest to adult viewers.

    I never made any connection between the film’s success/failure and my own taste, only that I loved the film while most (judging by revenues and RT ratings) hated it, which just shows my tastes are outside of the mainstream, and thus I was part of the minority who could appreciate it.

    Again, I think this is a chicken vs egg arguement, and I think RT ratings are low because films are bad (or, in the case of BC, of limited appeal), NOT that films are suffering because RT ratings drive sales down.

    In other words, RT ratings are an effect, not a cause.

  50. DrSerizawa

    Although for me, it’s not a question of money, it’s risk of wasting the time I could’ve spent with a better movie. I usually manage to get to the cinema once a week, but that’s it.

    Point taken.

    Or $18.50 if you live in Australia.

    Yikes. I guess free healthcare isn’t free after all.

  51. Ken Hanke

    $10 should come back to you when you walk into a mess like IM3.

    It’s not like I encouraged this.

  52. Ken Hanke

    I guess free healthcare isn’t free after all.

    What I pay in insurance, co-pays, deductibles, and things the insurance company decides cost too much would buy a boatload of $18.50 movie tickets.

  53. Ken Hanke

    In other words, RT ratings are an effect, not a cause.

    And how does that explain people citing a lower than fresh RT rating as a reason not to see a film? And why — if it means nothing to the public’s attendance — slap a “Cerified Fresh by RT” claim on your poster?

  54. Big Al

    “And how does that explain people citing a lower than fresh RT rating as a reason not to see a film?”

    It is the internet, where anybody can say anything. Doesn’t make them right.

    “And why — if it means nothing to the public’s attendance — slap a “Cerified Fresh by RT” claim on your poster?”

    Wishful thinking.

    I guess my botton line in all of this is that internet aggregation wbbsites are only as powerful as we let them be, and based on my personal experience and that of moviegoers around me, RT and other sites have not had any greater effect on movie attendance than cheap DVD rentals, movies-on-demand, and other trends that have moved folks out of the theatres and into their home entertainment centers.

    They have also only replaced film criticism only in the minds of the participants, most of whom never respected professional film criticism anyway (I once numbered myself in that catagory), so no real loss there.

    I do agree with you that it is rediculous to go onto RT and criticize a film that they had already decided not to see, but, hey, that happens on this forum too, doesn’t it? Do you think that kind of tactic here is any more effective than on RT?

  55. Ken Hanke

    It is the internet, where anybody can say anything. Doesn’t make them right.

    I’m not saying it makes them right — far from it. I’m saying it seems to be becoming an increasing trend. There are lots of trends that become the norm without being right.

    This isn’t a question of film criticism being replaced — there’s more of it than ever (not entirely a good thing). And it’s not a question of people going to RT and talking shit about a movie they haven’t seen. It’s a question of the eventual impact of this visibly increasing tendency of people not on RT to cite the RT percentage elsewhere as a reason to see or not see a movie.

    And it’s not a question of “wishful thinking” to slap that “certified fresh” label on a poster. It’s an attempt to establish that certification as a reliable barometer. No, no one in my particular circle of friends and acquaintances is likely to buy into it, but that has no meaning in the broader picture.

  56. Jessamyn

    I am very seldom able to get to movies in the theater, so reviews are important to me. But the thing is, unless you’ve found a reviewer whose taste chimes perfectly with your own (which I certainly haven’t), then the only way to make any sense of reviews is with a lot of spadework. You have to read a reviewer often enough to understand their viewpoint and how it correlates with yours, so that you can translate what they say about the film into something meaningful for your own tastes.

    Personally I find this process interesting, and also I am interested in what intelligent, informed people think about something even if I have no interest in seeing the thing myself. But to a lot of people that just looks way too much like work. Not to mention that it is continually staggering how BAD people are at thoroughly reading and comprehending a written text longer than one sentence – so I think half the time they misconstrue the reviewer’s intentions, anyway.

    So they say, “Well, even if I bothered to read the whole review it wouldn’t guarantee that I’ll like the recommended film, so I’m better off going with the Cliffs Notes of reviews, which will only waste one minute of my life to read instead of fifteen.”

    Sigh.

  57. Ken Hanke

    But the thing is, unless you’ve found a reviewer whose taste chimes perfectly with your own (which I certainly haven’t)

    Neither have I, so if you find one, let me know. I tried taking the “Find your critic” test on Rotten Tomatoes (the questions seemed pretty dumb to me) and all it did was suggest that I read me.

    Not to mention that it is continually staggering how BAD people are at thoroughly reading and comprehending a written text longer than one sentence

    I’ve actually had people who have read a review ask me, “So is it worth seeing?”

  58. Jeremy Dylan

    all it did was suggest that I read me.

    It obviously works then.

  59. Jeremy Dylan

    I just took this ‘Find Your Critic’ test and wound up with these as my best matches.

    In order, from most compatible:

    Nathaniel Rogers / CineScene.com
    Leonard Maltin / indieWIRE
    Thomas Caldwell / Cinema Autopsy
    Christopher Orr / LA Weekly
    Caryn James / James on screenS
    Anders Wotzke / Moviedex
    Jordan Hoffman / about.com
    Stephen Silver / American Dreamer
    Geoff Berkshire / Chicago Tribune
    Peter Sobczynski / Critic Doctor
    Ken Hanke / Mountain Xpress

  60. Ken Hanke

    They’ve changed it since I took it. Last time I was my only match. Now I get a list of perplexing proportions, since they’re based on varying numbers of reviews — and there’s only one critic I would consider myself in any kind of line with. But then again, this is based entirely on how high you rate only the biggest tentpole movies.

  61. DrSerizawa

    Find your critic? Ha! It’s on RT. It might have had some value a long time ago, but like anything on a commercial site it had to be tweaked until it now comes up with a lot of (surprise surprise) RT critics. Like the star ratings/reviews on amazon or netflix or any big website it’s designed to increase it’s own traffic and nothing else. Tying it to facebook only makes it more odious.

    Everything mopes on along to the lowest common denominator. Soon cableTV will be nothing but reality shows and reruns of cop/lawyer/csi shows.

  62. Ken Hanke

    I am so angry at the Facebook right now.

    I had to keep fighting the goddamn “Find Your Critic” thing for wanting to post my ratings to Farcebook.

  63. Ken Hanke

    Find your critic? Ha! It’s on RT. It might have had some value a long time ago, but like anything on a commercial site it had to be tweaked until it now comes up with a lot of (surprise surprise) RT critics.

    While it’s clearly useless, there’s really no such thing as “RT critics.” I’m certainly not an RT critic, but I’m on there (when I remember to add reviews). And it’s only drawing from critics who are on RT anyway, though that’s a lot of critics (too many, perhaps).

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