Saturday, May 30

Reviewing Reviewers: What Goes Up

It’s been interesting to watch the mix of reviews popping up for the indie film that we’ve helped release during the last few weeks. And, I might underscore interesting because I have better than a decade in as a professional entertainment reviewer and editor.

The very worst of them mixed up Olivia Thirlby and Molly Shannon, but the rest claiming this film was "seeking some raw truth" weren’t all that either. It made me think for a moment, after missing a few posts in favor of doing work on the premiere in Los Angeles, that it might be fun to review some of these reviewers, while correcting the most glaring inaccuracies along the way…

For example, New York-based film critic Ethan Alter, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, complains about a student caught by his mother while having anal sex with a crippled classmate. Except, we can’t be sure what fantasy he was having during the film. There is no sodomy to speak of. The best guess around the office is that he doesn’t know more positions than missionary, which means his claim that he spends “way too much time in movie theaters” might be right. Add to the misfortune that he only sees the movie being played out in one formulaic way or another, and we think it's probably best that he take a break from living through the lens of others. Reviewer Grade: F

Next time around, we suggest Alter look over the shoulder of Janelle Tipton with Back Stage. She said the same scene Alter loathes is the one she found a little bit of sweetness in, writing that the “development of these two characters and their relationship turns out to be something we wish had been the whole point of this otherwise frustrating film.” She may not have liked the film, but at least she paid attention for her readers. Reviewer Grade: B-

Brian Lowery, writing for Variety, on the other hand, skews more to Alter's angle as he never seems to recover from bemoaning that somehow this was a film that makes a statement against journalists, opening with “As if journalism hasn't suffered enough of late…” Have they suffered? Then there seems to be plenty of suffering to go around as Lowery pens a review that won’t help him ever make the leap from a small screen reviewer to a big screen stringer. Better luck next time. Reviewer Grade C

Ken Miller, writing for Las Vegas Weekly, criticized the film for “the 11th-hour suggestion that the teacher was murdered.” He calls that ludicrous, which can also be said about his claim. There is no suggestion of murder beyond a not-to-be-taken-literally drawing by teenagers that places the blame on the self-righteousness of a flawed small-minded teacher. If accuracy matters, then Miller is destined to stay with the local weeklies. Reviewer grade: D

A much better Las Vegas-based review comes from Carol Cling with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and then picked up by the California Chronicle. Cling is critical that the movie doesn’t provide filmgoers with any answers (despite other reviewers who claim it pretentiously does), but goes on to share that “there's also something endearing -- and, occasionally, achingly poignant -- about "What Goes Up" and its gallery of valiant misfits.” Her review runs straight down the middle. And even though it’s not glowing, it’s everything you expect a review to be. Reviewer Grade: A

Tom O’Neil, writing for a Los Angeles Times blog (not the paper, mind you) shows us everything a review ought not be. He strikes up predetermined chatter by claiming Hilary Duff could land a Razzie for this performance, which is untrue. And then, for fear of standing up for his opinion, he goes on to find the harshest quotes in three of the harder reviews to prove his position. While some didn’t care for Duff in the film, others like Lowery did. No matter. We couldn’t read his review in full because a Kentucky Grilled Chicken ad kept popping up in front of his skewed prose. As much as I hate pop-up ads with dancing people, I realize now that the ad that earned an F was a step up from what he wrote. Heck, O’Neil didn’t even get the DVD release date right. Reviewer Grade: F-

The contrast is made even more clear when you compare O’Neil’s review to another on the opposite coast. Manohla Dargis, writing for The New York Times, was critical, but rightly so. She points out that director Glatzer “seems to be trying to say something critical about America and heroism (the cartoonish musical suggests as much); at other times he appears to be embracing the very values he previously lampooned.” Is it any wonder Dargis is writing for The New York Times and some others are not? And I'm not just saying that over Dargis' lead line that starts ... “There’s some nice filmmaking tucked inside “What Goes Up” a muddle of moods and intentions.” Reviewer grade: B+

All in all, the reviews for What Goes Up have been mixed, which ought to be a sign how bad algorithm sites like Metacritic lack. While it attempts to consolidate reviews, its point system is more of a mess than Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips' pointlessness and writing style. Metacritic gave The Onion review 30 points despite a fair lead line that starts “Jonathan Glatzer’s directorial debut What Goes Up is a quirky-small-town dramedy that just barely avoids the “overly cutesy” and “self-indulgently melancholy” traps that snare so many indies.” Seems more like a 60 or better to me.

ONTD does much of the same. Not only was it the only other site to rip O’Neil (go figure), but it also trumped up all the negative reviews while bypassing any positive ones found on Gordon and the Whale, Salon, and UGO.

Speaking of, Alex Dorn nails my thoughts about this film perfectly as he concludes — “If … you like your comedies pitch black, as I do, you will enjoy this dark little jewel.”

Add it all up and What Goes Up gets a healthy mix of good, bad, and in the middle. That’s not bad for a film that was destined for a DVD release only a few months ago. But even more important than what the reviewers said or didn’t say is the obvious — the only reviews that count are from patrons. So far, most people that we’ve talked to either liked it or loved it.

Suffice to say that my take is simple. If you want a different film than the usual done-to-death releases, What Goes Up is it. If you prefer pretty, perfect, or packaged films, then you probably won’t enjoy it. It’s not that kind of film, which is why I did like the theatrical release and wish more people could see it because the DVD release will be different by a few critical minutes.

In closing, I have one final thought for critics who continually attack studio films for being formula and then attack the indies for not being formula: you're not a critic at all. Somewhere along the way, you've given in to becoming a cynic taken in by your own cleverness. And maybe, just maybe, more folks ought to review your reviews more often.


Anonymous said...

Suffrage doesn't mean what you think it means. Please look it up.

Manohla Dargis, whose named you misspelled, is female.

Most of your sentences are IMPOSSIBLE to parse: "And, I might underscore, interesting because I have better than a decade in as a professional entertainment reviewer and editor." Say what?

I don't see how you can complain about reviewers' inaccuracies when you're barely literate enough to know what "suffrage" means and don't know anything about one of most recognizable film critics in the U.S. right now. Do you even read?

Rich on 5/30/09, 10:04 PM said...

ONTD seems to have appreciated the mention. See for yourself. I've been reading ONTD for a some time.

Love it.

To answer a couple comments there, I'd hardly call Tipton's review positive. Fair, based on her reasons, but hardly positive. Glad you some enjoyed the shout out.


Anonymous said...

I'm from ONTD. Thanks for the shout out! We love being mentioned. I want to see this movie.

Rich on 5/30/09, 10:23 PM said...

Hey Anon,

Appreciate the feedback on a quick weekend post.

I'm especially grateful for the correction on Manohla Dargis' name. Not intended. I do know she is one of most recognizable film critics in the U.S. right now. I also respected her review, as noted.

I also know what suffrage means. It was meant and corrected to be "suffering." Do keep in mind this is a tongue-in-cheek post, and not a random rant.

I think the film did pretty good with the reviews it received, considering it was an indy opening with only 16 screens. There are a lot of films out there that wish they could get better than a pass.

I might add these post was my own, with no oversight by anyone connected with the film.


Rich on 5/30/09, 10:35 PM said...

Anon from ONTD,

Glad to hear it.

I think ONTD has almost cornered the market on entertainment quips. I'm glad I could work in the group on this post since I couldn't elsewhere.

The first time I pointed one of the producers to ONTD comments, it took him a few minutes to adjust his thinking. Ha ha.


HiLDoMe on 5/31/09, 2:51 AM said...

thanks por posting it... it's always interesting to read and hear different reviews. It is quite obvious that WGU, like any other film, would get good, bad and middle reviews...

Critics are opinions, I think. No critic is 100% objective.. it's quite impossible. that's why i don't usually trust them. I think one should see for themselves if they like it or not... Just because i see some bad critics it doesn't mean i won't go and if I see only good critics it doesn't mean i'll go for sure...

Movies are a really subjective hobbie I think.... some people might like some don't other love it and others hate it... In movies there are lots of subjective ingridients that makes it hard to make an objective critic.

Thanks so much por posting them but I'll just have to wait to see it for myself!! What I can assure is that I can't wait to see it because, to my eyes, it looks like a really different and original movie :D

- N

Rich on 5/31/09, 7:20 AM said...

Thanks Hil,

Absolutely right. There are a lot of varied opinions about just about anything. And those varied opinions have different degrees of validity.

I'm glad I could provide a roundup (good, middle, and bad). It also seems to have entertaining for some to turnaround and review a review of reviews. Very funny stuff.


Unknown on 6/1/09, 1:56 PM said...

I think this is a great post. As you labelled it, it is a bit of a "risky" post, however I think the statement addressed is very true and I really appreciate and commend this post.
Good job Rich!

Rich on 6/1/09, 10:00 PM said...

Hey Khizer,

Very much appreciated!

This blog is no stranger to risky and it never will be. Routine is boring and one way reviews are tiring. It's more fun to state a case and have a conversation, assuming it doesn't dip into diatribe.

All my best,


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