Let People Enjoy Things? A “Conversation”

I’ve recently read a number of articles on a webcomic/meme now known as “Let People Enjoy Things.” It’s a topic that intrigues me, but also not one that generated an instant or straightforward opinion on my part. I have thus decided to write the piece below in the form of a dialogue with myself.

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Q: So what do you think of this comic?

A: It looks kinds of smug.

Q: That’s an ironic response isn’t it?

A: Yes it is. The guy generalizing about sports being objectively bad by calling them sportsball is being smug, but then again the other guy has so much confidence in his view that he literally shut his companion’s mouth. That’s smug too. And I suppose in shutting down a comic that many understandably call empowering I’m being smug myself.

Q: Your response is relevant given the recent discussion around this issue. It seems a number of writers including Esther Rosenfield and Constance Grady recognize that the comic itself may be making a valid point about people who say “sportsball,” but nonetheless feel people are now overusing the “Let People Enjoy Things” (LPET) meme.

A: Indeed. This speaks to my frustrations with how discourse is carried out over the internet. People don’t express their discomfort with sports in a detailed way, they just make “sportsball” jokes. Similarly, people don’t feel the need to respond earnestly to critics of the media they enjoy. Instead, they flood Twitter feeds and comment sections with references to LPET.

Q: Kate Wagner argues that there are a range of motives for making LPET comments. She says there are 1) people who react poorly to criticism because they identify with the media they like 2) people who want to shut down all “Debbie-Downers” and as such, according to Wagner are “a**holes” 3) cultural nihilists who don’t care about political problems with the media they consume and 4) people who don’t want “their experience ruined.” What do you think of this response?

A:  There’s a lot to unpack there. I suppose there’s my side issues with dismissing anyone as a “hopeless” “a-hole,” as well as with Wagner’s dismissal of the idea of film viewing being “an experience.” I think it’s an amazing testament to the collectivist potential of our culture that we can count on huge swathes of the internet not to spoil Marvel or Star Wars movies, thus preserving “an experience.”

I think a good one to start with is the point about people identifying with the media they consume. Some might say such identification is intellectually unsound and people should just “stop it.” It’s important to remember, however, that our conceptions of ourselves are in fact collections of thinks we enjoy, etc. Rather than telling people that a movie cannot be part of their “self,” I think it’s better to tell them to imagine that the movie itself has a concept of self. Our “selves” and movies’ “selves” can overlap significantly, but that does not make us and our favorite movies the same “being.” So to use a Marvel example, I don’t let the fact that a lot of people talk quite dismissively of Thor: The Dark World get to me, because the one reason I sort of like that movie, that its portrays the emergence of Loki as a uniquely polished character, is not usually the issue critics touch on. If I heard a bunch of critics making take-it-for-granted statements about The Dark World being mediocre I could say “but why are you under-valuing the self-actualization of Loki?” My guess is such a response would allow the validity of my experience and the validity of their criticism to coexist.

Q: But what if the thing the critics don’t like is something that is essential to your self-concept?

A: Our Self Concepts are multi-layered. For example, there are times when I feel like an outcast among indie film fans for having trouble following Hereditary. But in other contexts it makes me very happy to learn that someone likes Hereditary, because it gives me the impression that they watch film with the same frequency and interest-in-the-alternative that I do. Liking Hereditary both is and isn’t part of my “self.”

When a critic speaks in a way you disagree with, you don’t have to feel alienated. Instead, you can respond in good faith and be pleasantly surprised by how they engage with your engagement. I’ve certainly fixed that alienated-feeling by explaining my take on Sorry to Bother You’s plot-twist to its non-fans.

Of course, not all critics can be responded to. Those with huge platforms aren’t going to respond to every reader, and it can be crushing to feel that not only is your opinion alienated from their’s, but also that its overpowered. If it really bothers you, you can do what I do: write about your opinion, even into the void, and put out an argument you’re proud of.

Q: And the reason we’re having this conversation is that people aren’t writing responses of their own: they’re simply posting images from a comic.

A: And I’m hesitant to say why people do that. Some people may wish they could write reviews or thoughtful comments of their own, but feel they lack the time or the skill. Some may simply find pleasure in trolling. But I think a third explanation, an important one to consider in this age where some journalists write articles that are mere compilations of twitter-one-liners, is that there are probably people out there who sincerely view sharing the LPET image as a valid form of intellectual self-expression. In fact, all the mass-production of this image does is discourage writers from critiquing popular media and make discussion of popular media a polarizing, inane affair.

 

Q: You mention popular media. Both Esther Rosenfield and Kate Wagner note the weird phenomenon of LPET being primarily used to defend very profitable media franchises like Marvel and Game of Thrones. Is there any validity to the argument that we should “let people enjoy” even entities like these (figuratively speaking of course)?

A: It’s funny, the original comic is about football, and as the comic’s artist Adam Ellis (who’s been critical of how the image’s spirit has been misinterpreted) explained “it’s about people who trash popular stuff to seem interesting or cool.” It’s completely valid not to like popular things, the problem is when people’s dislike for popular things becomes such a certainty in their mind that they cannot explain where their dislike comes from. Again, it seems smug to say “sportsball” just as it seems smug to half-heartedly say “LPET.”

So yes, there are people who make blanket-statements like “Marvel movies are stupid,” and those people probably should be subject to some degree of LPET things commentary (empathetic, well-articulated commentary, not a sassy, standalone image).

On the other hand, Esther Rosenfield’s Letterboxd review of Avengers: Endgame does make some important points. She says Endgame is not a film but “just content.” Read in tandem with Kate Wagner’s observations that Marvel-like movies are “engineered in the way doritoes are made so you can’t eat just one,” she paints a vision of a society in which the monopolistic Disney corporation makes movies that constantly gets patrons coming back, pushing independent films out of theatres, while silencing critics through the LPET ethic along the way.

And on yet another hand, Rosenfield does “sportsball” a bit with her review. She admits its not one she wants to spend much time on, and gives the film 1/5 stars (when 2 or 2.5 would still be plenty scathing; I’ve written about the hyperbolic grading systems of critics before), and does not comment on the ways in which Endgame tried to be dramatically deeper than its predecessor. While I personally don’t think her review is worthy of a LPET reaction, I can empathize with some readers who might have had that feeling.

 

Q: You say Rosenfield had a bit of a “sportsball,” or off-the-bat-dismissive tone about Endgame. Do you think if her review felt less dismissive (but was still highly critical) the reaction would have been different?

Who knows. Maybe it was the 1/5 rating that was the culprit. Maybe it was that she made feminist critiques of the film, subjecting her to right-wing scorn. There’s also the problem that people see what they expect to see. Even in my case, when I first read her review I thought it was very sportsball-ish but when I gave it a second chance I liked what she said a lot more.

When trying to be pretentious people will sometimes joke “I don’t watch movies, I watch films.” That logic, it seems, is applied in reverse in the real world. If Rosenfield and Wagner’s analysis is correct, one of the biggest corporate makers of “movies” is pushing “films” out of cinemas. This should appall people who want to see the best creative visions the world has to offer, a sentiment I believe “movie” and “film” fans share.

While admittedly our sway is limited (that’s an essential part of Wagner and Rosenfield’s arguments), I think we as critics have to break free from that films-versus-movies logic. We have to show “movie” people, that “film” people are not their enemies. That means trying to question our own biases about “movies” and reviewing them with the same care with which we review “cinema.” We should strive to live in a world where we’ll find ordinary people who’ll say “One of my favorite’s actor’s performances of the year was by Robert Downey Jr.’s in Endgame and one of my favourite actress’s performance of the year was by Elisabeth Moss in Her Smell.

Q: It’s funny you talk about favourite actors. You’re still subscribing to a logic of talking about film that’s competitive. And maybe it’s this “competitive” approach to how we like things that produces un-nuanced reactions to media, LPET, etc. If we’re constantly ranking and rating things of course people are going to get defensive when the media they identify with gets put down.

I agree. I admit I’m torn between my desire to engage with award shows and even the very concept of film criticism. There’s a part of me that never wants to be negative. But I think if one approaches one’s criticism and one’s debates with a non-negative overall spirit, that’s the key. When I write negative reviews my goal is not to put things down. My goal is to insert myself into the creative process. To be an artist who engages with film in a way that I can. Generally when I write a negative review I try and make a broad point about what I don’t like about the writer’s approach or suggest something I would have done differently. I don’t make micro-level jeers of LPET. I’d like to think if all reviewers subscribed to this standard, LPET trolls would go away. But I also realize people see what they want to see, and good writing on a critic’s part is not the secret to stopping their trolls.

But one final thought here. I think part of this discussion comes down to a mistake in Adam Ellis’ original comic. He says he’s satirizing people who try to be cool by unintelligently putting down popular passions like sports. “Let People Enjoy Things,” is not a useful response to that. LPET might be a useful response to someone who provides an overly detailed, slightly negative review of, for example, a Harry Potter movie in front of a starry-eyed young fan. That critic isn’t guilty of maliciousness or obnoxiousness: they’re just guilty of focusing too much on analysis and not enough on what the Harry Potter experience means to the young fan they’re with. The same can’t be said of people who play up how much they hate sports. Those people are guilty of building their very identities on un-nuanced adversarialism with others. Their problem is not failing to let someone enjoy a thing. Their problem is actively enjoying that they aren’t letting someone enjoy something. The response that these people need therefore, is something less surface level: something that looks at why they feel the need to build their self-conception on such a negative foundation.

 

Q: But can we ever expect such introspection in comment sections?

A: No, and at a certain point people have to stand up for themselves against the LPET trolls, etc. But do I think criticism and comment sections alike have an adversarialism problem. Yes. It’s a problem that plagues much of our society. So yes, let’s LPET, but let’s do so in a way that’s mutualistic and constructive, not reactionary and aggressive.

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A Rubric for Marvel: My Thoughts Going into Avengers: Endgame

My review of Avengers: Infinity War was not glowing. That troubles me. One does not have to like every movie, but I fear my reasons for not liking last summer’s release are, if I can say this, invalid. One of those reasons is simple frustration. I see superheroes as an omni-present part of our culture: as figures that much of the population probably has some degree of positive associations with. Growing up, for instance, I loved the idea of drawing and reading comics, playing with Batman, Superman and Spiderman action figures, and watching the cartoon depictions of their associated villains.  Therefore, as one example of a person who exists on the continuum of superhero fandom without being an all-out fan, I had hoped that I could enjoy the all-star fest that was Infinity War without having religiously seen most of the previous Marvel films.

I was wrong. The film relied on the ability of fans to recall secondary details (such as the presence of the tesseract and infinity stones) set up in previous movies. Furthermore, had I seen the previous films I would have better appreciated the subtle personality difference between the various comedic-cocky-heroes (Thor, Iron Man, Star Lord, etc) as well as the less subtle difference between them and Captain America. I also would have been less distracted by the presence of less recognizable Avengers like Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Vision.

This “invalid” reason for disliking Infinity War is not entirely misplaced: it just would make for a better critique of the Marvel Cinematic Universe approach to filmmaking as a whole, rather than as a critique of an isolated film.

My other reason for disliking Infinity War, however, feels worthier of discussion: my general dislike for action movies. It feels foolish to go into superhero movies only to critique them for containing too much action; for being what they are. I will nonetheless continue to attend superhero movies for the reasons describe above. As such, I would like to sharpen my analysis and learn to critique them in a way that is not simply dismissive of their defining logic.

Over the past few weeks I have been catching up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I haven’t seen. Below are criteria I’ve established for differentiating what I like from what I don’t. While I don’t wish to close my mind I hope this will help give me a vocabulary for evaluating Infinity War’s sequel End Game.

 

Does Every Character Feel Like They’re There for a Reason?

Marvel’s The Avengers was not my favourite of their films. None of its funny moments really stuck with me, nor did its aesthetic. Nonetheless, it made for a fairly enjoyable viewing experience since it gave each member of its ensemble cast ample screen-time and substantially different personalities. This quality was less true of Avengers: Age of Ultron, however. In addition to throwing in Iron Man and Captain America’s sidekicks War Machine and Falcon, Age of Ultron also brings the Maximoff twins and Vision into the fold. While Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch has the potential to be an interesting character, her being thrown into a chaotic plot (alongside her less relevant brother) makes her someone we have to consciously realize we are invested in: that investment is not drawn out naturally.

 

How Good is the Humor and is it There for its Own Sake?

Humor is not just about its content, but also how it is delivered. I regularly hear Guardians of the Galaxy described as one of the M.C.U.’s funnier products. While indeed it stars an eclectic set of wisecracking characters, much of the film’s humor is delivered in the context of its parade of action scenes. The effect of this is that the jokes don’t feel like jokes,  but just another weapon in the fighters’ arsenals. I only embraced Guardians in its final moments when a security official played by John C. Reilly has a friendly-awkward exchange with Drax and Rocket. By contrast, I quite enjoyed Guardians Volume 2 . That film is also rife with character-eccentricity driven humor, but unlike with its predecessor (save for the John C. Reilly scene) that humor comes out through relationships: particularly those between Drax and Mantis, Rocket and Yondu, and Groot and everyone. Its humor is about heart, not mere sass-battles.

 

How Intimate is the Action?

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Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth as Loki and Thor in The Avengers (Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/M7Z2Tj1ChAj1TkpF6)

Perhaps this is simply the bias that stems from what I was raised with (and what I wasn’t), but my disinterest in action sequences isn’t all encompassing. I enjoy watching Star Wars fight sequences, for instance, particularly those with light-sabres. Another example that comes to mind is Pokémon battles. The reason I find these fights are more enjoyable than the typical Marvel sequence is two-fold. One is that these fights resemble games. As children at play, one can harmlessly recreate the idea of clashing sabres or giving orders to magical creatures. The same is not true of hyper-powerful people viciously throwing each other at concrete and setting off explosions. Therefore, fighters such as those in Star Wars connect more intimately with their audiences, than do fighters in Marvel. The intimacy of these fights, however, is also between the characters themselves. Star Wars light sabre battles are the products of great will and training and bring enmities to their climax. While perhaps there is no equivalent one-on-one battle in the M.C.U. to Anakin vs. Obi-Wan or Vader vs. Luke, Thor and Loki’s brief clash in Avengers easily struck me as more entertaining than the film’s many more-violent, big-budget encounters.

 

Is there a Disproportionate Amount of Action?

This is the criteria I admittedly feel shakiest about applying since “too much action” for me, is probably too low a threshold to reasonably hold superhero movies to. That said, there are undeniably some Marvel movies where the inevitable presence of action is used in place of storytelling. Age of Ultron for instance opens with a fight scene, and has many more along the way. In a film rife with characters (including major new ones), these fights offer a poor replacement for character development

 

 How Good is the Film as a Standalone Movie?

The fact that Marvel films exist in a shared universe isn’t all bad. Black Widow’s presence as a freelance sidekick is not unjustified in Iron Man 2 and is very effective in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Still, while watching Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron I couldn’t help but feel the inclusion of references to Thanos and infinity stones (setting up Infinity War) would have either confused me or been details I dismissed entirely had I not gone into them knowing the Infinity War story. This is particularly true of Guardians of the Galaxy where no one villain (a group that includes Ronan, Thanos, Nebula, the Collector and Yondu) gets consistent screen-time.

Admittedly, some movies deserve to be critiqued on these grounds more than others. Guardians of the Galaxy and Age of Ultron really should have been standalone movies, whereas the undeniable raison d’être of Infinity War and End Game is bringing worlds together. Still, if Endgame aspires to feel like a classic movie, and not just a resolution to a series, it should strive to have a memorable opening and conclusion and a logically satisfying bridge between those two. If that basic quality is compromised in favour of making speedy references to other elements of the M.C.U., I shall be disappointed.

 

  Does the Film have a Memorable Villain?

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Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, Source

I regularly find myself counting villains amongst my favourite characters in Marvel movies: Loki (particularly in the underrated Thord: Dark World), Killmonger, Yondu, etc. Because villains have done such wrongs, they are inevitably more complicated and thus more compelling than heroes. Of course, for such complexity to come out it has to be allowed to come out. Too often Marvel cloaks its villains in black and gives them a forgettable objective. Thanos so far is one of Marvel’s deeper villains, but its certainly possible that since his motives came out in Infinity War his function in End Game might end up being more generically-action oriented.

 

Does it Make an Interesting Philosophical Point

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Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johanson) discover not just a villain, but a systemic injustice in Captain America: The Winter Soldier 

                  This last quality is less of a requirement than a bonus. That said, as someone who has recently taken to writing about Marvel in terms of its political thought (as well as its tendency to retreat from the ideas it raises), I have no doubt that End Game will at least in some tangential way be worth analyzing in this regard: its villain after all is a violent Malthusian. So far my favourite Marvel movies have been Black Panther and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, both of which offer political ideas well beyond what is required for the construction of a superhero movie. Based on this precedent, I hope End Game will not disappoint.

Peace is War: The Dualistic Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

This short essay was inspired by my recent viewing of The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. As such it contains some spoilers of these films

 

   The_Incredible_Hulk_poster.jpg               Last year I watched the 2003 Hulk film. While I reasonably enjoyed it, the film’s mixed reception upon release led, in part, to its not being seen as part of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was thus expecting 2008’s The Incredible Hulk which stars Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt in place of Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, and Sam Elliott, to feel like a major break from the 2003 release. It wasn’t.

The film, for all intents and purposes, is a sequel. It introduces us to Bruce Banner (Norton) where he was left (in Brazil) and depicts him much as he was depicted in the original work: as a soft-spoken man, whose nature makes it near impossible to believe he can experience the burst of anger necessary to transform into the Hulk at all. Dr. Betty Ross (Tyler), meanwhile, is still portrayed as an ex-girlfriend with whom Banner has a relationship of mutual affection. Finally, Ross’s father (Hurt) also reappears in his role as no-nonsense, anti-Hulk US army General.

Yet despite these tonal similarities, does The Incredible Hulk continue The Hulk’s legacy? One could argue that it doesn’t, precisely in that it resolves the initial film’s dilemmas. But The Hulk was the story of a characters’ pain; a pain with loose ends that are perhaps not meant to be neatly knotted up.

But while I am agnostic as to whether The Incredible Hulk is a thematically consistent sequel to its predecessor, I have no doubt that it has kinship to other Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Abomination (Tim Roth), the primary villain of The Incredible Hulk, is a mercenary who is hired by the US army to stop The Hulk, but clearly loves his violent job too much. This character is thus not “evil” but “militaristic” a character trait also displayed by one of the villains of James Cameron’s Avatar.

A surprisingly similar figure is employed in Iron Man 2, the Marvel Cinematic Universe film that followed The Incredible Hulk. That film has two villains: one is an all-brains, no-brawn puppeteer, but the other, Ivan Iron_Man_2_poster.jpgVanko (Mickey Rourke), echoes the path of Abomination in more ways than one. Both are expert soldiers and both become super-villains that resemble their superhero nemeses. The key difference between them is that Abomination’s moral tension comes from his relationship to his militarism, whereas Ivan Vanko’s moral ambiguity is displayed through the non-militaristic parts of his identity (his love for cockatoos, and his past victimization).

By presenting zealous militarism as the leading cause of Abomination’s emergence, it would seem The Incredible Hulk offers an anti-militaristic message. Yet it squanders this possibility, by using Abomination’s rise as an excuse to rehabilitate the rest of the army, who support the Hulk in his battle against Abomination. This is another manner in which The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 resemble each other.

Iron Man 2 exposes the arrogance, danger and misguidedness of the US government and its military. But it simultaneously undermines this message by presenting the alternative to this statist brand of militarism as Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), a billionaire weapons developer. Fear not, Iron Man 2 is not a celebration of private armies either: Stark is appropriately belittled through the portrayal of his larger-than-life arrogant persona. Nonetheless, the fact that the film displays the military and private sector as the two ideological options, rather than presenting a pacifist/leftist alternative, shows the limits of its ideological imagination. This idea is further reinforced through the film’s project of pairing up Iron Man with his near-identical sidekick War Machine (Don Cheadle): a pairing that teams up the moral best the military and the arrogant private sector have to offer.

In The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Slavoj Zizek highlights the character of Private Joker (a soldier whose helmet bears both the phrase “born to kill” and a peace sign) as an ideal soldier precisely because he maintains “ironic distance” from the horrors his army carries out. Zizek (as far as I can tell) is arguing that an army cannot function solely with the support of those who see it as flawless; for if the soldiers for such an army had the wool pulled from their eyes, their support would collapse. Soldiers like Private Joker, by contrast, are so valuable because they are able to carry out their duties despite seeing and empathizing with the arguments against their actions. They have become desensitized.

It would seem that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built upon Private Jokers. The Incredible Hulk warns us of the dangers of zealous militarism, but ultimately allows the military to play a role in solving that problem. Iron Man 2 raises concerns about the weapons industry and the government officials that work with/in rivalry with it, but never entertains the idea of promoting a demilitarized world. These aren’t the only Marvel films this contradiction shows up in. Captain Marvel criticizes imperialist war, while celebrating involvement with the air force. Black Panther offers positive portrayal of the Black/African struggle against racism and colonialism, but also manages to sneak a benevolent CIA agent into the picture.

One can posit various explanations for Marvel’s pattern of reconciling the military and critiques of militarism. Perhaps this approach is innate to the superhero genre: a genre that tells of figures that while rebellious in some ways are in-all law enforcement agents. Perhaps it is a product of the ideology and/or interests of studio heads. Perhaps The Marvel Cinematic Universe mixes-and-matches its politics (sometimes leaving information gaps, much like in the latest Mission Impossible movie) as a way of appealing to multiple audience bases. All of these explanations can and may be true. What’s most important to note, however, is that the “contradiction” in Marvel’s approach may not be a contradiction at all. Sometimes it takes a well-placed critique of an institution to portray it positively.

My goal with this piece is not to show a man behind the curtains. Ideology is everywhere: I do not mean to reduce the Marvel experience to one of militarism. From a merely artistic perspective, however, I can’t help but observe how this ideology limits the development of two potentially memorable character. Both Abomination and Ivan Vanko’s stories raise questions about militarism, but their arcs ultimately allow casual fans to see them as semi-forgettable representations of evil. Again, Marvel’s goal is not to make interesting social-commentaries through its villains: but it seems to understand that making effective films requires dabbling in such commentary along the way.

Of course, its also possible that on some occasions Marvel’s filmmakers don’t even feel the need to dabble. I came across the idea that Mickey Rourke had been a big proponent of making his character “complex,” for instance, by promoting the cockatoo detail. This worries me as to how empty the character would have been had Rourke not spoken up.

When I don’t enjoy Marvel films I tend to attribute that to either my disinterest in action, or my sense that there are too many of them, and as such, some of them feel too similar to one another. As I write this, I wonder if there’s something else at play. Perhaps what makes cinematic fighting enjoyable is its distance from reality: that it is something playful and not a mere representation of the cruel violence our world faces. Marvel repeatedly portrays its violence as analogous to or consistent with the objectives of real life military institutions. Perhaps this is why I start these films enticed by the colourful glow of figures like Iron Man and the Hulk, and turn off the films left with the forgettable image of explosions emitting from dull, gray sidewalks.

Best F(r)iends Volume 2 (2018)

Directed by: Justin MacGregor

Written by Greg Sestero

                  This review will be a little different than what I usually publish on this site. I recently attended the Montréal premier of writer-actor Greg Sestero’s Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 at Cinéma du Parc. While my intent with this piece is to review the movie, the fact that Sestero was present and did a lengthy Q&A; and the intertextual nature of the film itself, have rendered this review more of a fluid essay. As such, I should state my comments will probably only make sense to those familiar with Sestero’s past work in The Room and Best F(r)iends: Volume 1.

“Best F(r)iends completes a trilogy” of movies, Sestero explained during the Q&A. While he was technically referring to a collection of four movies (Best F(r)iends being a two part-er), his point holds up pretty well.

Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is a fable about heroism and friendship that no one understood. James Franco’s The Disaster Artist told the story of how The Room was made, allowing audiences to watch Wiseau’s film with newfound understanding. Finally, Greg Sestero’s Best F(r)iends took advantage of this newfound understanding, and gave Tommy Wiseau a chance to be seen in the (albeit, offbeat) heroic light he so craved. So while they aren’t set in one shared universe these works do form a trilogy: the Tommy-and-Greg-Trilogy.

As far as trilogies go, however, Tommy-and-Greg is still highly unusual. Most series follow a linear progression. In terms of style, the Tommy-and-Greg-Trilogy is not a progression, but an incomplete arch. It started off “poorly”, became conventionally appealing, and then ended up somewhere in the middle.

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In my review of Best F(r)iends: Volume 1, I wrote that it had a consciously torn vision: it partly sought to be a conventionally-good indie film, and partly sought to be a The Room homage. Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 is a different animal. Yes, like its predecessor, it references The Room (if you watch it, see if you can guess which familiar line made the audience cheer at my screening), is beautifully shot, and is populated with oddball characters and memorable set-arrangements. Unlike with Volume 1, however, its good and “bad” elements blend to create a more cohesive tone: Volume 2 is essentially a very entertaining “B” movie.

Part 2 starts off depicting Jon (Greg Sestero) and his girlfriend Traci (Kristen StephensonPino) on the run from the law with a safe in the back of their truck. Tracy eventual suggests that they take refuge with her Uncle Rick (Rick Edwards), a crude, football loving “Clint Eastwood” type. Rick is a bit of a caricature, but when his character is viewed in the context of the Tommy-and-Greg-Trilogy he acquires depth. His football obsession, and All-American-Man persona implicitly mirrors Tommy Wiseau’s more absurd football obsession from The Room. The films’ shared football imagery shows that Johnny/Tommy’s escape is Rick’s source of torment. Despite Johnny’s tragic tale, he was still at peace with his football-tossing-masculinity in a way that Rick would never be.

Greg Sestero described the difference between his two films by saying that he wrote Volume 1 wanting to create a role for Tommy (the character Harvey), and Volume 2 wanting to create a role for Rick Edwards. An audience member asked Sestero if he thought this would be a pattern in his screenwriting: writing stories drawn from and celebrating the eccentricities of his friends. Sestero seemed to like the description.

In Rick Edwards’ case, that observation may not be a flattering one at first glance, given his characters’ unpleasant machismo streak. Upon closer examination, however, it makes sense why Sestero wrote the character as he did and why Edwards ultimately embraced it. Edwards was the star of Santa Barbara, a show Greg Sestero’s mom used to watch. He had since left acting behind and moved off the grid. It was thus a fitting tribute to cast him as a charismatic tough guy with glory-days nostalgia in a comeback (but-not-really) kind of movie.

The inclusion of hunky cowboy Rick in Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 is also important given that Tommy supposedly saw Johnny (his character from The Room) as an “all-American hero.” The Room, however, pits Johnny against a challenger for this position: his attractive best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). The immersion of Rick in Best F(r)riends: Volume 2 resolves this tension by exposing the title of all-American-Man as one that neither Johnny/Tommy/Harvey nor Mark/Greg/Jon should want. Sestero’s script allows the pair to abandon their fight for masculine-dominance in favour of mutually attentive friendship.

It should be noted, however, that Greg/Jon is allowed a cleaner break from all-American-Mark, than Tommy/Harvey is from all-American-Johnny. It has been noted, for example by Youtuber Big Joel, that The Room has a bit of a traditionalist-ideological streak, as it extols Johnny for being a breadwinning-protector concerned with the emergence of drugs in his social circle. Whereas Greg was probably not entirely happy with his character in The Room, Tommy no doubt was very happy to play the “exalted” Johnny. Sestero seems to have honored this in how he wrote the character of Harvey. In much of the movie, Harvey dons a costume imbued with vague-Christian imagery. His character is thus the chivalrous figure that Wiseau would have wanted, even though Sestero makes sure this chivalry is presented in a light and entertaining fashion.

In a conversation recalled in The Disaster Artist (Greg Sestero’s memoir, not the movie) Tommy described his frustrations with his strict drama teacher as follows: “She don’t like me, but so what, I say how I feel. Feelings. That’s all we have as human beings.” In that statement Tommy offered up his philosophical contribution to the Tommy-and-Greg-Trilogy. Tommy believed he had insights to share with the world, and he would not let any critic stop him from sharing them.

Greg, meanwhile, is subtler about his insights. His films don’t boast a line as poignant as “if a lot of people love each other the world will be a better place to live.” Greg nonetheless makes his own philosophical contribution to the Tommy-and-Greg-Trilogy: he honors friendship. Through his filmmaking he honored Rick and honored Tommy. Honoring Tommy, in turn meant giving Tommy a platform to share his insights and be the provider figure he envisioned himself as in The Room.

More so than Volume 1, Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 is a film I’d consider taking non-The Room fans to see, due to its B-movie qualities. Needless to say however, its meaning is greatly enriched by its place in the trilogy; I’m yet to mention, for example, that Volume 2 offers characters who continue the legacies of (The Room characters) Lisa and Chris-R (R.J Cantu). It’s hard to know what Greg Sestero will get the chance to create next: it’s hard to imagine him and Tommy Wiseau doing work unrelated to The Room. That said, he’s certainly someone who thinks about film more broadly, as his interest in recent highbrow-horror works, such as Hereditary and It Follows suggests.

Until Greg does come out with new work, however, it should be acknowledged that he and Tommy have left behind a beautiful legacy. Tommy’s never-quit attitude, and Greg’s approach of deriving art from the lives of his friends send the message that all people have the cognitive resources to be creative. Perhaps Tommy will never make another film like The Room (when I asked about this, Greg conceded that Tommy may never recreate the sincerity with which he created that oeuvre), but the beautiful thing is that makers of future works like The Room and Best F(r)iends, may very well have been sitting in that audience, listening to Greg share his banter and his art.

Music Biopics are Clichéd…and they Rock!

I recently watched Youtuber Patrick (H) Willems’ detailed analysis of the music biopic. I was previously acquainted with Willems due to his work making parody superhero trailers (my favourite being his “Noah Bauchman” adaptation of Spiderman), so I was not surprised by the quality of his argument. Nonetheless, I’m writing on this occasion to note what I found dissatisfying in Willems’ approach.

A too-short summary of Willems’ thesis is that music biopics have become clichéd, and that absurdly, those clichés have persisted even after being the subject of a mainstream comedy film (Judd Apatow’s Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story). Amongst the films Willems lists as falling into this category are Walk the Line, Ray, Get On Up and Bohemian Rhapsody. These films are of course reasonable ones to analyze: they are well known and three were best picture nominees. I however, would start my analysis elsewhere.

The last music biopic I wrote a critical review of was England is Mine, a biopic of pre-fame Morrissey. What that film’s shortcomings made plain is that not everyone you want to make a movie about is easy to make a movie about. Morrissey may be more interesting than your average musician, but that doesn’t mean his life (especially his teenage years) contained the right kind of dramas to translate well to the screen. England is Mine is not flawed in the same ways as Willems’s examples: it doesn’t contain the same clichéd scenes and plot devices. But England is Mine is illustrative of what happens when a movie doesn’t contain those devices: nothing. Were the lives of Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, James Brown and Freddy Mercury interesting enough that good movies could be made about them without cliché? One would think, but, especially given the criticism of the Hollywoodization of Mercury’s story in Bohemian Rhapsody (eg the timing of his Live Aid performance): the answer might very well be no.

So Willems observes the existence of cliché, but doesn’t offer a theory as to where it stems from. That’s fair enough: just because musicians may have “boring” life stories doesn’t mean the same clichés need to be used to fix them up every-time. As Willems notes, for instance, Todd Haynes and Oren Moverman co-wrote a Bob Dylan biopic (I’m Not There) that worked because there was more creative vision in the story than simply “make an entertaining movie about Bob Dylan.”

Where I believe Willems missteps somewhat is in his attempt to explain what exactly makes music biopics interesting. Willems names Love and Mercy as an example of a music biopic he likes: something we agree on. I enjoyed Love and Mercy in part because it depicted the musical complexities of the Pet Sounds album: again, something Willems and I agree on. Willems, however, puts forward the suggestion that other music biopics should have taken the Love and Mercy route of showing the complex creative process that went into writing classic songs. I think this is wrong for three reasons. One is that if Willems is truly concerned with cliché, any catch-all solution he can offer can only go so far. Love and Mercy’s composition scenes may not be clichéd yet, but they can certainly become that way.

The second reason for my disagreement is that Willems misses the nuance of why the composition scenes are so effective in Love and Mercy. One of that film’s points is that, despite being associated with lyrically repetitive surf rock, Brian Wilson was actually a brilliant composer. While a similar story might be worth telling about other artists, it is certainly not fitting for most. Were a similar scene written in a Mozart biopic, for example, it wouldn’t be as effective because Mozart’s musical brilliance is synonymous with his name: not a lesser known piece of music history. On the inverse, there are plenty of rock musicians whose craft was probably as simple as it seemed on the surface. Willems, for example, criticizes the scene in Bohemian Rhapsody in which “We Will Rock You,” is conceived: ignoring that it’s very possible that a lot of pop songs (that one in particular) could very well have been crafted in such a moment.

One of the reasons fifties rock was so revolutionary was that it was captivating despite its three chord simplicity. This approach was recaptured with a bang by the punk movement. “We Will Rock You,” is by no means my favorite Queen song: but the depiction of its origins in Bohemian Rhapsody is very much rock-and-roll man!

The third reason for my disagreement with Willems is also related to the “We Will Rock You Scene.” Implicit in Willems’ criticism of music biopics is the expectation that they should be profound and/or serious pieces of storytelling. Granted, there’s a reason to hold them to that standard: they tend to be written as dramas and, again, get best picture nominations. But, whether the humour of clichéd biopics is accidental or not and regardless of whether it is historically and artistically accurate , I don’t see a problem. My favourite part of Johnny Cash’s biopic remains the moment when June Carter scolds him saying “Johnny Cash, you can’t walk no line…”: and with those not-so-subtle words, a song is born. The fun “ah-ha” audiences experience when watching these scenes outweighs their corniness and potential innacuracy.

Willems bemoans music biopics for becoming clichéd. The idea of “cliché” has been on my mind lately. Specifically having just watched and enjoyed Captain Marvel the phrase “clichéd superhero movie” has been tumbling through my head. I think I’ve reached the conclusion that Marvel movies on their own are enjoyable, but nonetheless clichéd enough, that exercises in creating all-star agglomerations of their characters (ie Avengers: Infinity War) feel pointless.

I think the same analysis probably holds true for music biopics (or any sub-genre where cliché surges). If you’ve never seen a music biopic before, it’s quite possible, despite their flaws, you’ll quite enjoy a movie like Walk the Line or Bohemian Rhapsody. If you’re a film critic who feels obliged to see every one of them, perhaps your enjoyment will wane and you’ll feel the sting of cliché.

Music biopics can be particularly enjoyable if you are invested in the musician they are about. People will spend substantial amounts of money just for the spiritual-experience of hearing (often from a distance) musicians sing songs in a stadium that one could easily listen to for cheap at home. For the most part these stadium concerts aren’t marvellous artistic affairs. Can it not be said that music biopics don’t need to be artistically great because, especially when they depict deceased or retired artists, they essentially offer a version of the concert experience?

I continue to struggle with the question of what the role of the critic should be in society. I want to see and push for superhero movies, music biopics, etc that offer truly memorable and innovative stories. That said, while cliché may never be a good thing, sometimes it just doesn’t matter that much. Just ask the musicians who sing the same song at concert after concert to an outpouring of fan approval: a formula performed with charisma is often more than enough to rock bodies and souls.

The 91st Academy Award Nominations: a Response

When I first started to see myself as a film person, the release of the Oscar nominations would devastate me. I’d think I’d been diligently seeing films, and yet the ones I loved, ones that seemed to be darlings of the indie cinemas I attended, didn’t get nominated. Last year with great films like Mother!, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and my personal favorite The Florida Project going largely unrecognized, I finally began to clue in: Oscar movies aren’t the best that’s out there. Rather the academy specializes in a niche of film that feels more pretentious than superhero movies, but isn’t necessarily of any higher quality.

This year ironically, a superhero movie was nominated, and in fairness, it was one I liked quite a bit. That said, my favorite films of the year were, again, virtually shut out of the Oscars: no nominations went to Thoroughbreds, one went to First Reformed and none went to Sorry to Bother You.

I think by now I’ve learned not to care. Not only do I realize that the academy are not the be-all-end-all guardians of film respectability, but I’ve almost reminded myself that giving out awards is itself  a questionable practice. On the one hand, public awards are a means of celebrating a field and bringing fans “together.” But on the other hand, whenever there are winners there are far more non-winners and especially when there are children nominated for awards, I can’t help but feel bad for the actors who have to tensely sit through all the ceremony only to find they have not won.

Furthermore, no matter how one feels about giving out awards, many of the Oscar categories feel like they are beyond the realm of reasonable judgement. Does it make sense to say X was a better actor than Y, when X and Y were not compared in playing the same role? In no other context would such an apples and oranges comparison be made.

I have decided as a modest participant in film culture to make an Oscars list. I ask however, reader, that you not see this as a list of awards so much as my way of participating in this celebration of film culture. The films and actors I am naming are not objectively superior to others, only memorable parts of my film-viewing experience of 2018. And I look forward to reading a diversity of such lists in days to come.

 

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Anton Yelchin- Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds combines the intensity of a murder thriller with the vulnerability of its (anti)-heroes to create a uniquely tense viewing experience. Yelchin completes this power dynamic matrix through his portrayal of a down-on-his-luck ex-convict. Another good choice here would be Michael B. Jordan whose three-dimensional and politicized portrayal of a Marvel Supervillain played a big role in Black Panther’s rise to critical acclaim. 

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Regina King- If Beale Street Could Talk

This may be the category where I and the Academy reach the same conclusion. If Beale Street Could Talk is a mainstream-ish Oscar movie. I say ish, because it for whatever reason, seems to have fallen just short of capturing the same attention as Moonlight. A positive reason why the film is on the Oscars’ fringes is that unlike other topical works, it focuses less on messaging and drama then it does on relationships and emotions. King’s character bears the brunt of this, acting through the scenes where the most resolve is required, allowing her performance to shine.

Alternatively, those who believe awards are about conscious talent may question this choice, but I dare anyone who has seen Capernaum to not at least entertain the idea that Boluwatife Bankole, who plays perhaps the most dynamic infant you’ll ever seen on screen, is not worthy of a best supporting actress nomination.

BEST ACTOR

Ethan Hawke-First Reformed

Hawke was an excellent choice for portraying a stereotype defying-priest: a leftist-inclined thinker whose abilities to lead a congregation is maligned by his own existential anxiety. Is his character engaged in a personal drama or a story about the human and ecological race? Does he believe he can be saved, does he think he’s doomed or does he think he has to be the one who saves in the absence of divine help? While I’ll certainly be rooting for Paul Schrader to win a best-original screenplay for this one, this film is a character study, and as such its a shame the academy missed a chance to honor Hawke’s defining contribution.

 

BEST ACTRESS

Olivia Cooke-Thoroughbreds

Cooke plays a character who supposedly has no emotions, a proposition that audiences are made to question, but never doubt. Cooke charismatically embodies this trying ambiguity, which stays powerful up to and including in the film’s defining-finale.

While it’s tempting to point out charismatic portrayals in pieces like this, straight-men (or straight-women or straight-girls) can be just as important in film construction. This is why Rachelle Vinberg‘s role in Skate Kitchen is so memorable. In absurd universes sometimes audiences need a “reasonable” figure to grasp onto. Sometimes these figures can feel a bit like throw-ins, whose reasonability makes them boring or fourth-wall breaking. Vinberg’s character, however, is a quiet, vulnerable figure, meaning her reasonability only adds to her depth and struggle.

Finally, of the actual nominees I think awarding Lady Gaga for her role in A Star is Born would be the most appropriate way of honoring that film: as I believe its biggest strength is taking the charming but simple and dated story of Esther Blodgett, and modernizing it through Gaga’s character, Ally.

 

OTHER ACTING AWARDS

I’ve always been a bit troubled by the fact that the best actor/actress awards seem to be reserved only for the top billed members of each gender, relegating other major characters to the “supporting” category. While there are arguably exceptions, such as Viola Davis’ nomination for her role in Doubt and Mahershala Ali’s win for Moonlight, generally the supporting-categories are not used to honor what I think they should: talented actors who aren’t in leading roles: perhaps even those playing “minor characters.” While he doesn’t get to do as much as Regina King, for example, Brian Tyree Henry, certainly leaves a lasting emotional impression for his one scene in If Beale Street Could Talk. And weird as this is to write, I’ll say what I did before: Michael Beach’s brief, sinister-while-affectionate appearance in Aquaman was perhaps my favorite part of that movie.

I also think it’s a shame that voice actors never get nominated for acting awards, perhaps justifying a best voice-actor category. I get it, they aren’t (usually) burdened with the challenge of physical acting, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing nothing. With that said, I found Katheryn Hahn’s unique portrayal of a familiar character was a defining feature of Spiderman Into the Spider-Verse, making her my choice for this theoretical category.

 

BEST ANIMATED PICTURE

Spiderman Into the Spider-Verse

Ok, I went with the safe one here, in a field where there are never that many options. My view on this category is that essentially it’s the only one that’s inclusive of children, making it important to me that it always goes to a family friendly film. While I think the engaging and playful Into the Spider-Verse is the best choice especially when this criteria is taken into consideration, I’m primarily writing this to express my comfort with the academy going for Isle of Dogs instead, a film which is not only a great visual representation of Wes Anderson’s style, but is also, despite its stylistic pretensions, a reasonably family friendly film.

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER

Christopher Aoun Capernaum

Capernaum is the story of a child’s search for security in an unjust and under-resourced world. In balancing shots that show the immensity and bleakness of parts of Beirut with those that focus on the young protagonists direct view Aoun and director Nadine Labaki struck a balance necessary for this kind of world building.

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Chloe Zhao The Rider

Zhang immersed herself in a world and told its story, coming out with a visually stunning work . Perhaps Zhao’s subtlest, but biggest challenge was in writing characters based on the actors playing them and then having to train the actors to differentiate between themselves and their fictionalized personas.

Aneesh Chaganty should also be recognized for his solid debut: Searching. I certainly wasn’t convinced by the gimmick of seeing a film presented all on computer screens, but Chaganty made it work, striking the right balance between visuals and storytelling.

Of the nominees I’d be happy to see Spike Lee finally win for BlackKklansman, given the cartoonishness and wit he layered into what, under another director/co-writer , could have turned out to be a more conventional biopic.

 

BEST PICTURE

Sorry to Bother You

Colorful, action-packed and strange, for me Sorry to Bother You’s biggest achievement is that it manages to offer new political approach without feeling like its artistic elements are a mere vessel for its politics. Writer-director Boots Riley’s critique is, furthermore, not one of a specific problem or social ill, but of the general fabric of American capitalist society. This approach allowed him to approach satire through world-building. Perhaps Sorry to Bother You was too radical for the Academy to Consider. Perhaps they don’t like horses (don’t look up what that means if you don’t want a spoiler). Either way, they missed out.

A Critique of Critics: When a Rotten Movie is Fresh

When completing my recent review for Glass I glanced at its Rotten Tomatoes page. I’d enjoyed the movie, but acknowledged it had some pacing flaws. I also knew it hadn’t received great reviews. So I went to Rotten Tomatoes expecting a Critics’ Approval score somewhere in the 60% range. What number did I actually see?: 37%.

37% –that’s not merely a disappointing grade: that’s well into F territory. Now in fairness, Rotten Tomatoes percentages are simply based on counts of positive and negative reviews: a film that gets all Cs might thus get an F score (and a film that get’s all B-minuses an A+). Still, given its creativity and positive qualities it surprised me that Glass could fall so low on the Tomato Meter.

It is not Glass, however, that drove my recent frustration with critics. That honor falls to a movie called Serenity (Serenity gets a 21% Rotten Tomatoes score from critics). When I saw Serenity I did not particularly want to review it. Fishing is a major motif in the film, and I wish filmmakers didn’t regularly bombard us with casual images of this violent activity.

Still, I found it an overall well executed piece of filmmaking. Serenity is the story of  fishing-boat captain Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) whose stubborn obsession with catching a single Tuna (who he names “Justice”) undermines his business prospects and adds further scruff to his already prickly persona. My feelings about the fish motif aside, this is a good literary starting point: one that invokes Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea. The film then follows Dill’s attempts to understand why he can’t relate to the townsfolk, as well as his relationship with his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathway). Midway through, the film’s tone is changed as it is overtaken by a supernatural aura.

Between its charismatic personas, provocatively short and mysterious character interactions and rainbow-pallet visuals, Serenity left me fully engaged. As a film reviewer I try to be insightful, but my ultimate task in recommending films is to tell you if I enjoyed what I saw. The overall sense of enjoyment I derived from seeing Serenity was unmistakable.

Do I have such an unusual mindset that I experience film fundamentally differently from the vast majority of critics? Possibly, but I have a hard time believing that’s true. Therefore I can’t but speculate that many professional critics have lost their way: that some have become so obsessed with their personal systems for categorizing and evaluating films that they lose sight of whether on an instinctual level they enjoyed what they saw.

In his critique in The New Yorker, Richard Brody bemoans the plethora of clichés in Serenity. Brody is not wrong to notice this trait, but to me this kind of criticism seems to be derived from a pre-conceived philosophy of criticism (ie denouncing clichéd writing) rather than from direct engagement with the film at hand. Yes, the characters surrounding Dill, particularly Karen’s violently misogynistic husband Frank (Jason Clarke) are flat, but when one realizes the film’s twist, this flatness makes perfect sense. If anything, what’s questionable is the inclusion of one non-flat character in addition to Dill: his first-mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou).*

Brody is of course not the only writer to have written a damning review of Serenity, and in his defence, he at least maintains a measure of eloquence. Roger Ebert reviewer Christy Lemire writes “Serenity” is terrible and insane, and will surely end up being one of the worst films of 2019.” The more interesting problem with Lemire’s critique comes out in one of her better written lines, however. Lemire accuses writer/director Steven Knight of orchestrating a plot twist in which “he partially pulls the rug out from underneath us about halfway through, then yanks the whole thing out by the end, then waves the rug around in the air as if to joyfully shout: “Ha! This is the rug you were standing on! See? It’s not underneath you anymore!” Lemire is right in this observation, but like Brody she seems so preoccupied with the existence of what in theory sounds like a flaw, that it makes me wonder whether she was really attuned to the film she was watching. Yes the movie’s twist is revealed early on, and there is the odd-line in the script that feels repetitive as a result, but this revelation doesn’t harm the film’s overall feel. The twist’s early revelation doesn’t immediately save Baker Dill from his deep disorientation and doubt, allowing the film to remain engaging for its whole run time.

With or without its twist, Serenity is a film that holds onto a suspenseful, mysterious aura. It’s also a thematically interesting piece, though Richard Brody, with his focus on the overt toxic-masculinity of Frank doesn’t seem to appreciate that. The film is not really about Frank’s over the top flaws. Rather it’s about Baker, who in his Hemingway-esque pursuit of Justice, displays a subtler form of toxic masculinity: one that he is forced to examine as he grasps to preserve a relationship with his far-away son. The masculinity of the son is in turn a relevant, if somewhat mysterious theme.

My problem with critics is not limited to their context-free obsession with their pet issues. I’m also put off by their general comfort with negativity. Observer reviewer Rex Reed gave the film 0/4. Again, it baffles me how often critics feel comfortable giving such low scores. In many school systems 49% is a failing grade, and grades well above 49 still indicate deep concern on a teacher’s part about a student’s progress.

In Reed’s case, it can at least be said that he commits to his cartoonishly low grade, writing:  “The result is a sub-mental waste of time and Diane Lane. The early months of every year are always devoted to the trash Hollywood couldn’t dump in the plethora of Oscar contenders the year before. One expects junk in January. It’s a rule. But it is rare to pull any junk movie from the gutter as spectacularly stupid as Serenity.” Let me say it again. I enjoyed Serenity. I enjoyed it despite wishing one of its key themes (fishing) wasn’t there. And I enjoyed it despite its starting at 11:00 at night: making it highly probable that I would fall asleep in the theatre. Can I believe you liked this film less than me, Rex Reed? Of course. Can I believe that what for me was an 8-or-9 out of 10 experience was for you a zero? Not really, unless I factor in that the very culture of film criticism may incentivize condescension and hyperbolic negativity.

Passionate as this article is, I put it forward modestly. I don’t claim to have the film expertise of many professional critics. Nonetheless, when one’s perception of reality clashes so fundamentally with that of a whole industry, it may be worth questioning whether the industry has systematic problems. I can’t read minds and can’t tell you what individual critics are thinking. If you are a critic, however, I implore that you maintain (what I will assume is your current) commitment to reviewing films sincerely and reserving excessive criticism for when such harshness is actually morally justified.

 

*If you want to see my (inevitably spoiler-implying) theory as to why Duke is not a flat character see bellow:

DUKE IS THE EQUIVALENT OF THIS CHARACTER