Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Todd in the Shadows did a joke once about how hating Styx was on the Music Critics Entrance Exam, which I found very funny, especially since Styx is notorious for being hated by critics. (And I'm not a big Styx fan either) Mostly though, I like the idea that there’s an exam for people to become art critics, which of course there isn’t. Anybody can become a critic, especially these days. Hell, I did.

Maybe I shouldn’t have though. I’ve been very critical in the past of certain film and entertainment critics, some of them are people who names you’d know (Or should know), others, perhaps not so much. There's a couple links below of me doing that.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t think “agreeing with me”, makes somebody a good critic; some of the most interesting critics I seek out I find myself vehemently disagreeing with quite often. But I do differentiate between people who are true critics, and people who have an opinion. They say everyone’s a critic, but that’s not true; everyone has an opinion, that’s true, but not everyone who has an opinion, is a critic. At least to me. I know some who disagree with that…- perhaps a more proper term instead of critic, would be pundit. I am not a “Film Critic”, I am a “Film Pundit”? (Shrugs) Eh, that’s sounds too weird. Yeah though, in a world where it’s actually quite easy to, well, do what I did, get a blog, or a Youtube channel or whatever and regurgitate your thoughts on the films you’ve just seen, perhaps it shouldn’t be that easy.

Besides, I have nothing better to talk about anyway, but, let’s do a little thought exercise, shall we? What if we actually did form an Entertainment Critics Entrants Exam? What makes a critic good or bad? Especially if it’s not, “I Agree with se critic”, which, believe me, nobody agrees with a critic 100% of the time. Should it be, somewhat arbitrary, like being listed on Rotten Tomatoes? I agree that gives you credential as a critics, despite what some idiots think, but I don’t think that’s a top standard; there are plenty of great critics who aren’t on there for one reason or another. (And no, I’m not counting myself in that.) 

Before I continue, this is, ahem,  JUST FOR FUN!!!! 

I want that in big letters, ‘cause I don’t want anybody thinking this is an absolute. That said, I created an exam. An exam for critics. (Well, an outline of an exam) Let’s say for the sake of argument that a good critic, whether I agree or disagree with you, should be able to self-analyze and in a sense, criticize themselves, and be willing to have their standard as “Critic”, challenge by answering these question. They’re not all questions that have a definitive answer, many of them are essay questions, okay. Again, while I do believe a critic needs knowledge of the art they’re criticizing, I don’t believe a critic needs to agree with me, or with you, or with anybody.

This test is not an absolute; if you think a question is not worth asking or answering, tell why or why not, and if you think there’s a question that should be on here, but isn’t, feel free to add to it and explain why. This is essentially just a general list of things, I look for in a critic, it doesn’t mean, it’s the only questions that a critic should be able to answer or the things that you might look for in a critic. 

Again, this is  JUST FOR FUN!!!! 

Think of it like Mad Libs for critics, or something. Don’t take it too seriously. For those wondering, I will try to answer as many of these as I can. Some of them, I won’t be able to, ‘cause, like one of them just says “90 Questions Film History Quiz”! I’m not writing 90 questions on film history for this blogpost, and then answering them, okay?  (Besides one person shouldn't write the test alone anyway, you'd only have to be as knowledgeable as that one guy; what's the sense in that?) Some I don’t want to give answers away to others, if you or some critic you know might want to take the quiz. For instance, here’s another question: “Name ten female directors?”. I can do it, but I don’t want to give answers away.  This is an outline or diagram of what a Movie Critics Exam, might, hypothetically look line. (And I don't know exactly how well I'd do either; I might do bad on this quiz myself in your eyes for all I know.) 

So let’s look at this, my, thought experiment on what a “MOVIE CRITICS LICENSING EXAM” would look like, early, early, brainstorming draft edition, that’s not-at-all complete or exact or serious, or whatever! 

Q1: What is the technical craft of moviemaking that you find the most fascinating and why?

All critics and moviegoers have biases. They pay attention to details differently. Some people care about the acting, some the directing, some the writing, some the editing, hell, I know people who watch any movie and immediately comment firstly about the film’s musical score. There is nothing wrong with any inherent answer here, but there has to be some avenue that peered your way into film, and not just the seeing people on screen aspect. You should have some basic interest in at least one distinct craft in film. You should have an interest in nearly all, but one should also be primary. For me, while I care a lot about several aspect of filmmaking; I have a writing background and with this is an inherent bias, with all else being equal, I will probably prefer whichever movie that I feel is better written. (And even what qualifies as good writing can be subjective, but that’s my primary area of focus.)

Q2: What is the difference between what films you like and what films are good? BONUS POINTS: Do not list any examples of either.  

To me, this is the ballgame. This is how I was taught to analyze literature of all kinds, and in a world where, as Pauline Kael once said, one must appreciate great trash in order to appreciate great art, you also need to know this distinction. You can like anything you want. Same way you can hate anything you want, but neither is actual criticism. One must be able to defend why something is good, and recognize it and defend it quality-wise as good, and not simply because they like it. That’s just, being a fan. If you’re just here to tell me what you like and what you don’t like, to me, you’re not a critic.

If I’m being entirely honest, I think the best examples I’d use for this are probably more books than movies. For instance, I can’t stand William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”; I’ve tried reading it recently, I know it’s technically good, ‘cause of what he’s doing… (If you don’t know, he tells a story through three perspectives, and the first perspective is told by, for lack of a better word, an idiot, and it feels like it’s written by an idiot.) but, I can’t get through it. I realize it’s creative, I realize it’s important and inventive, especially at the time, but ask me to sit down and go through and explain the events, and I’m just gonna look at you dumbfounded. As much as I do preach this, in comparison, movies are generally not that complex. There’s a few examples I can think of though, mostly they’re the ones I’ve talked about before in some way. Hell, I’m not that big on “Vertigo” personally, but any idiot can tell it’s one of Hitchcock’s greatest films. To me, this is the view I take when I’m defending or criticizing a movie most often, I’m challenging whether or not something is good or bad, regardless of personal preference. 

I’ll add this caveat though, just because I, as a critic, and come at art with this perspective, doesn’t mean that other critics should be required too. I think other critics should be able to, however. Big difference. If I can tell, that one can make that argument, then I can accept listening to other defenses that one critic might have.  

Q3: What are your biases, good and bad, and what steps have you taken or plan to take in order to adequately criticize a movie that includes or embraces those biases you have.

This is like preparation for the previous question. Are you willing and able to separate, and what are the things you distinguish in movies. Do you prefer certain genres, movements, styles, actors, etc. Is there films you seeks out above other things. For me, I can tell you that, I am not particularly adept or a natural fan of the horror genre. That’s a bit strange, ‘cause I actually am pitching a horror movie script around right now, but it’s something that I take into consideration; just because something isn’t my genre doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t watch that genre or try to accept the genre on it’s own terms. Now, I do have several other biases I can list, I hate certain filmmakers, I hate certain actors, etc. etc.  some are understandable, some are just stupid; the reason I’m mentioning horror is that I think it’s the one that I will always struggle the most with over time,  but as a critic one should always be cognoscente and aware of how they see the world, and realize that you’re not just writing for yourself. Again, just because I may not like something doesn’t mean that it’s not good. We are giving advice afterall, and just I might not like something, doesn’t mean that a reader who enjoy that movie, shouldn’t get the sense to watch it, just because I write a negative review of it.

Q4: List three times you have been incorrect about a movie.

Critics are not always right, even the best ones look back and have a different reaction and observation from later.

I’ll say the most recent one is that I revisited “Badlands” recently. I always considered it a minor Terence Malick, but now I recognize it as one of his very best films.

The big one that I was wrong on however was a documentary called “House of Numbers” that I watched while judging movies for a film festival. I really was brought in by the movie and instead should’ve done more homework on it. For those who don’t know, it’s an “AIDS is a Conspiracy” movie, and yes that’s something that exists, people who don’t believe in AIDS, and frankly it was convincing for me. As filmmaking propaganda, I would argue it was really well done and convincing; at the time, while it didn’t make me outright join this far-off sector of the conspiracy nutjobs, it got me thinking about a lot of it. I now know a lot better and frankly, I would absolutely tell people to avoid it now.

The third one, um, you know, I really shouldn’t admit this, but I hated “Oldboy” the first time I saw it, the original one. There are still aspects to it that I’m not crazy about, but the more I thought about that film, and while there are really troubling aspects about it personally for me, as a power piece of cinema, I have a tough time denying it, and now properly consider it among the best films in this current New Wave of Korean cinema we’ve have for the last twenty years or so.

Q5: What makes your voice or opinion distinct or different from others? What makes your opinion distinct or different from other critics?

This is the tough one. Why do you matter as a film critic? What can you bring to the table that I can’t get somewhere else and better? 

Okay, I’ll start with me. Despite my primary focus in writing now, I didn’t come at film from a creative background. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Film Studies from UNLV, but I came primarily from an intellectual background. I was a studious student and learner who seeked out knowledge of all kinds from several sources. Despite all this, I also grew up in a video store and believe that entertainment of all kinds is the most important and necessary aspect of humanity. They say the birth of modern humans, started on the coast of Southern Africa when humans started shaping personalized designs into their spearheads and arrowheads; you can literally mark the moment when homo sapiens stopped basing all their actions and movements towards survival with a need to keep themselves entertained and the need to create for the sake of creating. I also grew in Las Vegas, a tourist town known for trying to keep our guests as entertained as possible, so to me entertainment is a powerful and essential part of our lives and I find it particularly frustrating when we come home or take a break from the normal everyday struggles of work and family, to want to sit down and find something to keep you entertained, only to find truly abhorrent excuses for entertainment to come across your eyes. I have a weird combination of a MENSA-level IQ, complete with an audio-visual learning ability and an obsessive need and desire to learn and seek out more and more knowledge of the world and of film, with a particular slant towards caring deeply about what we are allowing ourselves to be entertained by during those off-moments from work. I think a lot of times, when I seek out critics, even those I admire, you don’t always see this combination of perspectives and I believe it is valuable to put something like that out there into the world of film criticism, which is why I feel that it should be added, and so, I did that. 

Other may not agree, and my perspective and background is definitely gonna be different from everyone else’s but you gotta for certain why you would do this, and not just because you think you can. Trust me, nobody would actually be a film critic unless they really love cinema and wanted to do this; it ain’t worth it unless there’s both passion for cinema and something unique and distinctive about you that makes you want to write about it like this.

Q6: Write the most scathing and truthful NEGATIVE review you can for one of these seven movies:  

“Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
“A Clockwork Orange”
“Barry Lyndon”
“The Shining”
“Full Metal Jacket”
“Eyes Wide Shut”

Yes, you have to be able to trash at least one Kubrick movie, and no, it has to be his later work. No going after “Killer’s Kiss” or some other easy targets. If you can’t find one in this list to truthfully trash, even if you personally don’t agree with it, then you’re not a critic. (For me: I’d go after “The Shining”, and I could do it for “Full Metal Jacket” if I wanted to as well and possibly if pressed for “A Clockwork Orange”.) This will weed out obsessive cinephiles, film school fanatics and people who just say they “Love Movies” from the actual critics. Not that critics don’t love movies, but critics are critical and there are times where you will have to go after the best filmmakers out there, including the ones you absolutely love. To me, Kubrick is the most sanctimonious one who it seems like nobody is allowed to get away with panning, especially any of these movies, so, that’s what you gotta be able to do. You may even consider this the, “Write a good review and a bad review for a film” exercise as well, if you honestly love all these movies, but you still have to be able to critically go after a film.

Q7: Name ten female directors. 

This one shouldn’t be hard.

Q8: Who are your favorite film critics to read? Give 5 names, and your favorite examples of their work and why?

And I do mean, “Read”. While there are wonderful critics on Youtube, you have to be inspired as much, if not moreso by people who write about movies and are paid for it. You don’t have to dig into everything that Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert or whomever ever wrote or said, but you have to have a background in studying written criticism.

Q9: Identify five famous film movements, match them with a film, filmmaker and distinctive characteristic of se films.

That one’s fairly self-explanatory and goes into the next section pretty well.

Q10-100: Film history Quiz.

You don’t know have to know everything, but you have to have a certain base knowledge in film and film history. I’d add that depending on the home country of that critic, that this should be slanted to where 60 of the 90 questions should be about the critic’s home country, where they’re from or where they’re primarily working as a film critic, and 30 questions about film history from elsewhere. For instance, I don’t think an Indian critic needs to know x amount of Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movies, but I definitely expect them to know more about Indian Cinema than I do.

Q101:   Explain the Auteur theory and is it a good approach to analyzing film? Why or Why Not?

This probably could be in the Film History Quiz part, but I still think it needs to be distinguished here. You don’t have to believe in it or even use it as a system of determining authorship or as some form of guide to critically analyzing film, but you should know what it is and why it’s important.

Q102-122: Film Making Quiz:

Again, you don’t have to know everything; I forget the difference between a gaffer and a best boy too, but let’s say 20 questions on film making, and you need to get about 12 right. Stuff like, what’s the 1st AD's job? Or what are the benefits of a wide-angle lens? Or, what's the difference between a tracking shot and a dolly shot? What are apple crates?  Etc., etc., this can be random, and again, you don’t need to know everything, but you should have enough of an idea of the process. What’s “Cutting to Continuity” mean, things like that.

Q123: Appreciating great trash challenge: Name five films that are great trash and why you appreciate them?

Pauline Kael said you have to love great trash in order to appreciate great art. I know every class I ever had in film school, one of the questions would always be about what my favorite films were. I guess there is some ability to sort through this question and see it as a look into the soul of a person, and for that, I assume it’s good, but personally I don’t like that question. I have a lot of favorite movies, and in fact, narrowing it down to one or even a few favorites is just troubling to me. Like, does having “Casablanca” as a favorite movie, which is the only movie I admit to being a quote-unquote "favorite",  define who I am or truly says about me? Or you, whatever your favorite film is, does that accurately describe you, or say everything about you? (Shrugs) 

So, instead, I want this question. What are your great trash movies; I think this says more about you as a critic. I won’t explain, but I’ll give mine. Um, “Smokey and the Bandit” is probably at the top of my list. “Psycho Beach Party” that’s a favorite. “Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy”, I enjoy that more than I should. “Striptease” I still contend would be funny if Demi Moore wasn’t so badly miscast in it, so I guess I’ll say that one. And, I have an affection for “Chasers” when I really shouldn’t.

That’s all I got so far. I don’t know if this is complete, incomplete, a dumb idea, or if I had two many questions or not enough, or didn’t ask the right ones for such a list, but that’s what I’m leaving it up for you guys to consider.

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