Monday, June 1, 2015
N.Y. TIMES, CHOOSING NOT TO REVIEW EVERY FILM IN THEATERS ANYMORE... AND THEY SHOULDN'T?! or HOW TO AVOID THE VANITY RELEASES AND LOVE THE MOVIES
As a critic who strives to watch and write on as much as possible film-wise, this article in Variety caught my eye about the New York Times changing it's reviewing policies, the link to the article is below:
Basically, they're not gonna review everything anymore, and that's what it mostly comes down to. This is a bit disturbing coming from the New York Times, of all people saying that they're simply not gonna guarantee to review every release, I mean, isn't that what reviewers are supposed to do, review everything? I mean, this annoys me when I see internet critics only review certain things that they prefer to review of whatnot, or that they'll skip over loads of films that they make up some reason they're not interested in just to revel in their pretentious ignorance. You know, you're a movie critic, these are movies, nothing else should matter, review it, but the New York Times now, is doing this?! How lazy can-,
(Sudden pause. Cut to computer screen where, I'm told that I've reached my Netflix queue limit of 500 movies.)
Oh goddammit. I still have four new releases to put up.
(Goes to My List page, it's filled with over 100+ TV shows, and almost 400 movies and it too, is filled. Frustrated sigh. Microsoft Word document entitled "Add to Library" which documents every film yet to see at his local library. Discounting the separating into groups, and the seemingly random color-coding of the text, he scrolls down the document, realizing that it's now 84 pages long. He clicks on Open, and brings up numerous other lists of films that he has also not yet been able to review, each about the same length as "Add to Library." Long thinking pause)
Actually, they may have a point here this time. If you were to ask me, I probably would've thought that I would've written this piece on how there's way too many TV shows, and, there are btw, way too many to legitimately keep track of, but, there's also an ungodly amount of movies out there too. So much to do and only so many hours in the day as Billy Joel once said.
If you ever really know people who will play with their Roku's or whatever and stream all those obscure movie sites, or even just those lesser-known movies on sites like Netflix or Hulu, you'll often start realizing rather quickly that, most of these movies are unknown for a reason. They're mostly films that played the lesser-known film festivals for awhile, without too much reaction. There's nothing inherently wrong with that btw, the straight-to-DVD and straight-to-streaming businesses are pretty huge in of themselves, and of course, a lot of movies that end up straight-to-television when these films don't get theatrical distribution and that can lead to some interesting films and work and even some of our best filmmakers end up having movies go that route nowadays.
However, there is this other trend going on lately. New York Times has called them "Vanity Releases". This is probably only a term you hear in New York or L.A. but basically, these are films that get released theatrically, for maybe a screening or two, only to get a review in one of the major papers or perhaps due to some contractual obligations so that, someone like me, believe it or not, can read that review or see it posted on Rottentomatoes.com or something and then go and watch that film and then talk about it later. This, has actually happened a few times.
I alluded to this earlier and I have talked about how I make my movie selections, but every week, starting on Sundays, I go on Netflix.com and check out their new releases each week, usually they put them up at 1:00am Pacific Time on Sunday morning, or Saturday nights if you have may sleep schedule, and once I go through all the major releases I have to get through, I start to look at the rest of the titles and that's when you up end seeing some of the stranger oddities. I usually check rottentomatoes.com and then see a movie, get, maybe an okay score, say 60% or something, from all the critics, but then you look closer at the Top Critics, and there's only 2 or 3 major critics that saw the movie, and maybe those reviews are split, and they were in theaters for a very short, time, maybe yesterday before going to streaming or DVD. Here's this week's entry, a documentary called "Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire in the '60s". It doesn't have a score yet, but it has three Top Critic reviews, from the L.A. Times, the New York Times and the Village Voice. Two of them recommend it. Does that mean, I should stream through about five movies in two days on my Netflix and find room for it on my Queue?
A-w'ell-, here's the thing, rottentomatoes and movie reviews themselves are misleading. They're not trying to be, but sometimes the difference between giving a positive movie recommendation and a negative is minuscule. Especially average, decent films. There's a couple reviews I'm outlining right now that I'm still trying to figure out whether to even recommend them or not, and I won't give the titles away just yet, but these were big movies I'm almost obligated to review. These, in-between ones though, eh, it's get tricky.
I gave a negative review recently to "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon", which wasn't a horrible movie by any means, it's by some decent filmmakers and it's about a really cool guy in the entertainment industry, you'd think it would be something that I'd mop up and fascinate me, and I guess it did, but on the other side, but it wasn't particularly special for a documentary, especially if you watch documentaries regularly, it was fine, just nothing more, and I forgot about it the second I saw it. I thought about giving it three stars, but there's so many other interesting documentaries on the similar subjects that are made better, are more interesting and are more memorable. It was a close call, I have nothing against the movie, but I just couldn't find a decent reason to tell others that it was worth their time, eventually that generic 3 STARS positive review, fell to a dreaded 2 1/2 STARS negative reviews. I might have enjoyed it more, if I happened to run into on HBO and was just a TV documentary, but, it did have a limited theatrical release, airing in theaters at the same time that it debuted on the internet, something that's becoming more and more common these days since Steven Soderbergh started this multi-platform simultaneous premieres with his underrated masterpiece, "Bubble". Why? (Shrugs) Might've had something to do with the fact that Mike Myers was a co-directer. Like I said, that's fine, and it wasn't awful, in fact he got critical acclaim and got many honors for the film, one by ironically, the Razzies of all people, who nominated Myers for the "Razzie Redeemer Award" for his transition from bad performances in such films as "The Love Guru" to becoming a critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker.
So there's something to be said for getting the publicity of a theatrical release, but if it is just an arbitrary theatrical release for a film to qualify for awards or whatever, should the critics review it, especially if there's a decent enough chance that the film, probably is just, something average or decent at best and in every other sense would probably not be a theatrical release? Hell, I stopped reviewing everything I see recently and took the "Random" part of my "Random Weekly Movie Reviews" out and am now somewhat more selective of what films I write reviews on, but usually I'm skipping over, like, the second 70-year-old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie I saw that week, films that are relatively newly released I make a point to write a review on still. And the New York Times, and keep in mind, this is in a day and age where the newspaper industry in general, is a dying relic of it's former self, and many printed publications don't even have regular local film critics, they have three major named film critics, on top of hiring occasional freelancers, in order to try and cover everything, and if they're saying that this is too much for them to keep up with, than maybe we need to look closer at some of these smaller releases and see, why exactly they're getting a theatrical release.
I know, we can say that about most of the crap that Hollywood produces too and talk about some of the shadier business practices between the major studios and distributors that way, but let's make it a given that there's always gonna be crap that makes it to theaters that we're all gonna be wondering how it was ever made to begin with, and besides we aren't talking about them this time anyway, plus more than that audiences go to see those films, most of the time anyway, so there's good reasons for them to be released. These films, they have to depend on word of mouth. In a way, it's understandable on their part to try to go after the big names that can be somewhat influential in possibly giving life to their lesser-known films, but even then, usually if the movie is good enough it will find an audience through word of mouth at film festivals, or some other outlets that would make it not have to rent out a theater for a couple hours to get an arbitrary review. At that point, you gotta ask yourself if this film is even worth going the theatrical release route, and it's fine if it's not, there's plenty of films that don't make it that way but can find an audience some other way. It's just that, there's a lot of these films. And only so many can really get large releases in a year practically and for the sake of the critics who have to review them. Hell, I don't even have to, and I'm feeling it. And when you do 2,3, 400 films a year maybe, and you have to go see this thing that nobody else will ever see in the theater, literally 'cause nobody else will ever screen it, and then have to write an arbitrary review of it, and to have to do that, over and over again, on a regular basis, to the point it's overworking the professionals at this, then, even if it's a decent or good film, why should they bother reviewing it? We may be critics, but frankly, were also messengers, it's worth it to tell you if something's good or bad and to get some to go see a film and others not to, but if nobody's gonna see it in the theater anyway, then what the hell? I mean, stop the bait-and-switch, and just hire somebody to review straight-to-streaming releases, then. (Oy, good luck whoever has that job, but still...)
Manohla Dargis, one of the New York Times critics, and one I consider one of the best movie critics around today I might add, also wrote an article about this, there's a link to it here:
She makes a point too, that this is actually overflooding theaters where the more deserving and quality independent films can't make the money or get the theatrical attention that they could get either, because now, there's dozens of them opening at once, in a screen or two for a day, instead of one or two of the very best ones, getting picked up by a major distributor and sending it out to reach that further audience. Having to deal with these distributors who are just renting out theater screening time to make sure they don't get sued, means it's actually getting harder to find these diamonds among the roughs, 'cause too many roughs are getting blink-of-an-eye-length theatrical runs. When you do find one, like Clark Gregg's latest directorial effort "Trust Me" for instance, a film that I think could've earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination if somebody had actually seen it, it's a great thing but what you really end up with most of the time is a lot of "Mexican Sunrise"'s.
What's "Mexican Sunrise"? I reviewed it last week, thanks for noticing. Yeah, I graciously spent three or four sentences more than it's worth talking about this film that I saw when a friend of mine streamed it on Hulu. It was shown at a film festival in 2007, one film festival in '07, and then was released to a limited theatrical run, five years later and is now available for streaming, if that's how you want to waste your HuluPlus account. It's a film that should never have been released to theaters therefore making it eligible for me to review. These are the kind of movies that, as Manohla Dargis puts it better than I could,:
"... reviewing movies, particularly in the independent sector , that once upon a VHS time would have been relegated to the bottom shelves of my local video stores, the kind that were straight-to-video. I've always expected that a percentage of the big-studio releases will be bilge, but for years, partly because of the limited number of distributors, I also expected indie releases to be at least competent, watchable, in focus and good enough to be in theaters. That's no longer true."
She's right. And it's worst for documentaries by the way, who have the added bonus of getting a New York screening because New York Times reviews make them Oscar eligible, for some reason. I didn't go into that as much as I wanted to, but frankly that just requires a minor rule change for the next years, this is a bigger issue across the board. An arbitrary theatrical release, (Which is what I prefer to call these "vanity releases"), is just that, arbitrary, and if the New York Times isn't gonna go out of their way to justify these releases with a review, than perhaps others shouldn't either. I would advise you the readers, to boycott these films that practice these techniques, but frankly nobody sees them anyway and most of the time you regret it when you do.
You know, I'm not crazy about Spielberg's theory about movies theaters eventually turning into a similar structure as Broadway shows, big budget, overpriced spectacles that run for long engagements 'cause studios only make four or five a year, but hell, it's gotta be better than literally thousands of bad-to-forgettable indy releases playing once, often made by people for whom it's questionable whether they should've actually been allowed near a camera to begin with, much less operating one. Keep those films on the bottom shelves, of streaming, whatever the hell the modern equivalent is to the video store. Those Roku channels you have but don't watch or bother moving up so that they're easier to find 'cause you know you'll never use them. I guess? (Shrugs) I don't know. Pay attention to the new releases the rottentomatoes, the trades, etc. and if you still see a movie in a Redbox that you or I have never heard of then stay away from it, just to be safe, how about that? That's about the best you can really do.