Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Critics

Professional critics. What are they for? What do they do? Seriously, I’m asking, because I’m getting a little bit fed up with them. As far as I can see, most criticism nowadays isn’t about the actual creative content that the writer is supposedly assessing. No. It seems it’s more to do with making the journalist look good with his smug and witty remarks, and being scathing or dismissive of whatever material it may be (TV show/film). They offer no insight or valid argument, and instead simply pass breezy judgement (or biting remarks about the leading celebrity) as they get on to the next preview. More worryingly, a lot of these so-called critics show no core understanding of the medium they’re reviewing, which leads to ill-informed remarks and maligned opinion.

What’s the difference between a TV/film reviewer and a TV/film critic anyway? I started out writing film reviews, and even appeared on Irish telly (must try to upload a clip - embarrassing! - ah, so young) dishing out the dirt. But I never thought of myself as a “critic”. I think those who justifiably call themselves “critic” are journalists who review their specialised subject across a wide-range of media: print, radio, TV. However, for this kind of workload, these journalists (Mark Lawson, Mark Kermode for example) get to call themselves “broadcasters”, an even further lofty title (I once heard James King, Radio 1 film reviewer/critic, being called a ‘broadcaster’, which I thought was a bit generous. He’s perfectly fine by the way, he has a more enthused point-of-view than most jaded critics but you or I could share the same thoughts).

And don’t get me wrong here. We, the audience, are just as bad, especially once we sign up to Blogger and start sharing our opinions or want to bash someone on an internet forum (witness the recent media storm over poor Max Gogarty and the reaction to his ill-advised travel blog). Anonymous bloggers are worse than the laziest of TV/film critics. They get to savagely attack someone’s work, safe that their identity will never be revealed or protecting themselves from harsh judgement should their character be known for whatever scripts they’re trying to ‘get out there’. But really, who cares about a blogger’s review, anonymous or otherwise?

Naturally, there are a few exceptions here but if you’re an aspiring writer and you offer a review on your blog that’s dry, bland or relaying just what the other 10,000 blog critcs are saying, then why even bother? There’s a certain irony to my frustration (having a screenwriting blog in an over-crowded market) but I’m not bashing other people’s work just for the sake of a quick sound byte or a handy Google reference. That’s what mainstream TV/film critics seem to be doing. Grabbing attention to themselves, and to their publication/network, building a reputation, helping them to look good.

The good critics share the same key qualities: they write with a clear voice, they have a strong point-of-view, they have a passion for their chosen medium, they are willing to champion quality content and when they have to get nasty, they’re able to qualify their opinion with sound and decent argument. Critics/broadcasters like Charlie Brooker, Mark Lawson, Mark Kermode and Andrew Collins. Basically, I dislike one-sided reviews where it’s all bile and criticism. If you can’t say anything nice, or find the smallest of merit in someone’s work (or understand why it was developed/produced) then something is seriously wrong. As a script reader, I grew tired of bashing other people’s scripts and taking a superior position, so I tried to balance my reports into the good and the bad, and be as constructive as possible, so that my heart didn’t freeze over.

Perhaps someone should start a blog/column that reviews the critics, and comments on their style and whether the review was useful or just more evidence of an ego out of control. I detect a certain envy in some reviews, as if the journalist would dearly love to be in the writer/director's position themselves or maybe they think that they could do better and so get on their high horse to moan about the system instead. Bah, boo. No more I tell you. I'm done. Critics, I don't care what you think. Don't lose sleep now.

34 comments:

Phill Barron said...

Is this tirade personally motivated or just a general observation?

If we're going to be critic bashing, can I start?

I'd like to nominate the guy with the really bad wig in the Daily Mail, his opinions are so ill informed and just plain wrong (assuming my opinions are perfectly reasonable and always right) that I watch the exact opposite of what he recommends.

The darkest day of my life will be when he watches something I've written and likes it. Then I'll know I've truly failed as a writer.

Danny Stack said...

Just a general observation that's been gnawing at me for a couple of months...!

Jon Peacey said...

Not that I'd know about such things but the Daily Mail hasn't had a TV reviewer critic type for years... I think the last one died when his gall bladder became so over-worked that it protested and strangled its owner.

The film critic, on the other hand, can be willfully bizarre... but in a world where everybody raves about the same films it can be refreshing to find someone who actually disagrees... for instance, he didn't much like There Will Be Blood while the Times, MoS, Indie, Guardian and S&S all raved.

And, yes, I admit I read quite a few different papers including borrowing the Mail... I have no shame!

Andrew Collins said...

What bothers me is the generally parlous state of TV criticism. (For the record, I have written about TV for the Observer, but not as a "TV critic", and my Word column, now defunct, about TV was monthly and not quite in the realm of "TV criticism", more a themed essay.) It seems to me that TV is considered such a low artform by newspapers that any old hack can be given the job of reviewing it. Whereas, to be, say the opera critic, or the art critic, you are expected to be supremely well qualified. But TV is just TV, isn't it? We all watch it, so we can all review it. Thus, the job of TV critic - with honourable exceptions - goes to whoever fancies writing a bit of funny stuff about what was on telly last night. Six months later, they will be the film critic, or the comedy critic, or the radio critic. It's not a calling, as it might be with art or opera (the "high" art forms).

By the way, thanks for adding me to a list that includes Charlie Brooker, Mark Kermode and Mark Lawson, Danny. You are literally too kind.

Danny Stack said...

Ah but Andrew, you weigh the good with the bad, with particular humour and grace, having enough humility and insight to say your piece (and you know what that whole creative/production process is like).

Jon Peacey said...

I find there is a second problem with criticism, in general, because as with so much now there only seem to be two schools at opposite ends of the spectrum: firstly, the 'anybody can do it' school (e.g. TV critics) and then the 'so high-minded that it's barely possible to understand' school (particularly found in fine arts). (There could also be claimed to exist a third school: the so-hip-it-hurts crowd who praise things more on fashion grounds than quality or lack thereof.)

Mind you subject ignorance is not confined to the 'low arts'; I read a couple of monthly classical music magazines and I find one is particularly prone to simple mistakes and an inability to put an artistic work into the wider cultural context. Some TV Arts programming does the same- there was a particularly blinkered documentary on only a month or so ago.

The amusing thing is watching someone trained as a scriptwriter, director, etc. arguing with someone who just watches TV and whose entire argument revolves around stating 'it was rubbish' or 'it was brilliant'. Mind, they're the viewer and at the most fundamental level whether they think something's good or bad matters greatly as it determines whether they'll keep watching!

Kevin Lehane said...

I hear you, and now look at my own blog with shame and disdain. Thanks, Danny.

Jon Peacey said...

I would like to add (creepingly and grovellingly) that I wouldn’t include Messrs. Lawson, Kermode, Brooker or Collins in my above categories as they manage that now rare feat of being knowledgeable, passionate and incisive…

Of course, some carry the reviewing TV as high art that bit too far… I’m thinking Newsnight Review… as parodied by Fry & Laurie with their ‘I think this works on 28 levels’, ‘Only 28, I counted 29’….

Danny Stack said...

Hi Kevin! Actually, I've been enjoying your 'poster-quote' reviews and have appreciated you going 'public' (weren't you Blarneyman before?)

Cheers Jon, too, for the comments.

Kevin Lehane said...

I was indeed, but I killed him in a fit of apathy. Shameful character.

Anyway, I wouldn't call my poster quote reviews anything other than a "guess what I saw and loved" kind of endorsement you'd give mates rather a critique, but thanks for liking them.

William Gallagher said...

I'm a critic.

Well, I have been: I was BBC Ceefax and BBC News Online's TV critic for several years, I work now on Radio Times though at the moment not doing much criticism per se, and I've a DVD review podcast. I've also written for TV, a touch, a bit of stage and am working on various radio projects with producers.

So I'd say I've straddled both sides.

Only, you've caught me at a bad time.

I could argue with some gusto for what I believe criticism should be and what I hope I am when I do it, but just lately I've been worn down by similar concerns to yours. The only one I'd add is when a critic lambasts a series that then turns out to be a hit and he or she starts toning down the criticism. (Mistresses got some nasty reviews, really unpleasant ones and that's part of why I'm mithered lately, the way they were so unnecessary and scraping, but I guarantee that because it was popular enough to earn a second series, when it comes back, reviews will say its been "improved".)

The one that's really mithered me this week is, well, I'd best not say the details but it was a mildly dismissive review of a show I've seen and thought especially fine. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did also have the merest hand in the production of the show too, so mere that nobody would notice but me, but enough that I sought out the review.

I don't mind disagreement, of course, it was the dismissive, throwaway nature that upset me. Let's not get carried away here, I wasn't grinding teeth but this show is a piece of work, all shows are bodies of work, and deserve better.

That's not to say that I don't think some shows deserve slating. And I don't agree with the praise sandwich idea, the need to find something good, anything good. That can come across as a token that's as damning as the criticism ("William's writing is atrocious but he types well" - Variety) and I've often read it not as a sop to the programme but as justification for why it was picked out by a critic who's supposed to be saying what's worth watching.

Yet I do very much agree with the need to truly examine instead of dismiss. When a review says a film was poor but, for instance, Val Kilmer saved it, how can you think anything but bollocks? Was Val a superb actor, was the character a wonderful role? Isn't a character defined at least in part by the characters around him or her?

I chewed over this very point reviewing Nancy Drew the other week. The quick line about that film is that Emma Roberts is good in the lead role but the film doesn't work. I spent ages on that, I mean both in airtime on the final review and in thinking about the film beforehand. I didn't get to a useful conclusion but I aired the issue that you can't separate out one element, that it isn't so easy.

And there was an ITV drama called Stan the Man, several years ago. I am still thinking about it. Pointlessly, even ridiculously, but late at night I still wonder about how I described it. And I'd only had 70 words, a good half of which had to go on the plot.

I suppose all I'm doing now is trying to convince you that at least some of us think about what we're doing. Yes, a review should be entertaining because all writing should be entertaining - well, perhaps engaging is the better word - but I don't expect anyone reading my reviews to give a toss that it's my review. William Gallagher doesn't matter, the fact that I've seen the TV show or whatever does. The fact that I've seen thousands of hours of TV drama before it helps. But I saw my job as telling you what I think in the hope that it would help inform your choice of viewing. When it seems that every good show on every channel is on at 9:00pm, surely it's useful to have someone who's already seen them all?

BBC Ceefax was a weird place to be a critic because you knew you had several million readers but it was also the bizarrely forgotten corner of the BBC. So maybe that low profile also let me get away with my type of criticism. It's like I said, I know what the ideal is and I hope I reach it.

But am I disagreeing with you? No. Am I agreeing? Well, no. Am I bleedin' confused? You bet. Are you right when you suggest I envy TV makers and want to be them?

Yes.

Well, I hope that's never a motivation in my reviews: I'd honestly be surprised if it were. They feel so different, prose criticism and script writing ; I enjoy exploring a piece and trying to reach into what I feel works and doesn't but I also very much enjoy scriptwriting except when I hate the bastard and wish I'd gone into medicine. Different muscles, I think, but they kind of inform each other and hopefully make them both better.

Any review is ultimately personal opinion, of course, no matter how well-informed it is. I think critics realise that there is this range of opinion out there; I certainly don't assume I'm the only person you listen to. So it's valid to write with strong opinion so long as you have strong opinions and you examine them.

I'm proud of what I try to write, I love working for Radio Times where TV is taken so seriously (while I was writing this a sub on the mag phoned me to talk about one single word in the On This Day piece I write), but like I said at the top, you've caught me at a bad time.

But remember I said that it was one particular review that had mithered me? I mentioned it, and how I felt, to someone on the show who shrugged, said that critic never has taste anyway, and was just pleased that the show had got coverage.

I see her point.

William

Kevin Lehane said...

William, if you want real bitter criticism you should submit a script somewhere. It's a pleasing and reasoned as being repeatedly raped by a cattle prod.

William Gallagher said...

Oh, I've done that!

To be fair, I've had very useful criticism too. But I recently had a thing that said my play required a full auditorium and that this was, sadly, unrealistic. It was a partly audience-participation tale (it was performed superbly at the Birmingham Hippodrome) but I went through the script and saw that I actually required four people in the audience. And that I also provide three of them.

I figure if you haven't got one single person in your theatre, it's probably not worth doing the show.

And - sorry, I'm on a roll - the late and wonderful Verity Lambert last year praised a script of mine for several key points, every single one of which was singled out for scalding criticism by a producer on Doctors.

I admit I laughed, but I was terribly professional about it, obviously.

William

Jason Arnopp said...

It's maybe worth drawing a distinction between previewers and reviewers, too. The former can obviously sway viewers into watching or avoiding a show, while the latter are generally (with some obvious exceptions, such as reviewing the first episode of a series) coming to the party too late to ruin a show's chances. I enjoy a lot of dismissive reviewers' columns, as pure entertainment, and don't see too much wrong in that.

Yet there is so often a problem with the attitude of a critic. They can really be a grim bunch. Attend a few film preview screenings, you soon realise that the default mode of these people's facial expressions is either set to 'dissatisfied' or 'aloof'. This, despite their priveleged positions, and the fact that it should be such fun. There's very rarely any sense of excitement at such screening events. Dank, dour cynicism abounds. And that's where the aforementioned breezy dismissiveness comes from: so many journalists write to impress other journalists. Big mistake.

Having said that, I'm not entirely sure if critics should take a more 'balanced' approach to (p)reviews. Whereas stressing the positive in a script-read can constructively encourage the writer and perhaps prevent them from buying a noose, the critic has a responsibility to the person in the armchair, who wants a no-nonsense opinion on whether they should spend their hard-earned time and/or cash on a TV show or film.

Of course, whether that critic's opinion can be trusted, is a whole other kettle of ball games. Everything's subjective. Still, it doesn't take long to get the measure of a writer, and work out whether you ever need to read - and especially trust - a single word they babble, ever again...

Jon Peacey said...

JA’s just touched on something I was about to ask: given that previewer/reviewers get private free screenings or free promo CDs can there be a tendency to forget that the people they are reviewing for have to decide on one single film to watch or one album to buy due to a combination of fund or time constraints?

I use a selection of magazines to suit my interests. Newspaper reviews, the Radio Times, Gramophone and NME aid me with what I might read, watch or listen to right now and within an increasingly crowded market-place; whereas Sight & Sound often sits on the shelf to be read in 9-12 months time to read as part of a deeper discourse on the relevant films once I’ve seen them.

To me, indicative of a bad reviewing type are the near-useless reviews coming from recent NMEs which have, over the last year or so, become primarily of the style ‘sounds like The Killers meets Kate Bush in a Dadaist bar over vodka’. It's pretty meaningless and, frequently, the actuality is somewhat different from what you might infer but you only find that out after wasting time and money.

The television p/reviewer comes across as slightly different: previews of something aid your decision to watch; reviews of a single drama just tell you what you've missed; reviews of longer-run series are a bit of both- as the reviewer may be in the position to say ‘trust me the first episode may have been a bit flat but the second and third episodes really crackle’.

Anonymous said...

I was a TV previewer/reviewer many years ago on a well known red top and I don't feel bad about any of the scathing comments I made. I always wrote exactly what I felt about a show and that's the point isn't it? It's just one person's opinion. Why was my opinion valid? -I watched a lot of telly, that's all. It's a harsh world out there. Some TV shows are rubbish. Some are good. Some don't get the praise they deserve. It's life. Get over yourself Danny.

Am I envious of successful screenwriters? Absolutely. I'd love to write a good script and so far I haven't managed it. In the meantime, I will take all the criticism that's thrown at me and use it to my advantage. The critic I'm afraid, is very often right.

sam morrison said...

To be fair, anonymous, it's more than a shrugging matter to most readers on here - that's why we're reading Danny's blog. I agree it's not something to get worked up about (unless you happen to be on the receiving end) but the point Danny was originally making was that the idea of 'critique' is being dropped by some in favour of self-promotion at another's expense.

Eliminating scathing reviews wasn't what Danny was proposing - all the reviewers he rated are capable of those.

Anonymous said...

I hear what you are saying Sam, but I don't really agree with Danny's point. I know a number of tabloid reviewers and all of them are passionate about TV. Yes, a few funny lines will please the ed, but a review that comes from the heart will make much more of an impact with the readers.
If a reviewer gets nasty, it usually because something about that show has really hacked them off. You don't have to read or agree with any of the reviews out there. The fact is, a successful reviewer is one who writes stuff that resonates with the readers. They will agree with him or at least see the point in what he is saying. Bloggers who pour out pointless vitriol will find they don't get many hits. Newspaper reviewers who do the same, get sacked.
I can see that it's tough for writers. They don't make the column inches because nobody cares about them - just the totty who is playing the lead role they slaved to create. But then, if you are setting out to write for fame, fortune or praise, you are clearly barking up the wrong tree.

Danny Stack said...

Thanks for contributing Anon, cheers! As Sam says, I do enjoy a scathing review if it's decently presented, not just dismissively delivered. And there's certainly a place for a critic just telling it the way it is, but I'm just growing weary of journos being sniffy for no other apparent reason than being 'above' the material they're reviewing (I read a review of Masterchef yesterday, a show I love with a wickedly effective format, and you could almost hear the journo sighing as he reviewed it. He admitted 'he just didn't get it' but the aloof tone was all too obvious).

I really like Jonathan Ross's reviews on Film2008 as he's got enough geek in him to find enjoyment in 'low brow' stuff, but acknowledges it's not for everyone, while other critics would never even try.

PK said...

Hey Danny,
Really interesting topic. Especially for a poor unfortunate like myself who has to juggle a reviewing and writing career. Clive James had the original and best TV review column in the Observer. Lots of columns since then have been pale, peurile imitations, in which inferior critics have substituted trying to sound clever for real wit and intellect. The honourable exceptions are people like Andrew and Charlie Brooker. Charlie Brooker is particularly adept at marrying bile with real smarts. Any man who write a complete essay about the essence of Ricky in Eastenders is the real deal.
There's a small portion here on what the master has to say about the subject:
http://www.clivejames.com/articles/clive/harsh-reviewing

Danny Stack said...

Thanks for the link, PK. Here's a direct link if anyone's interested. (Funnily enough, I was thinking about Brooker's comments about Ricky this morning, as they were mean - but hilarious - and Brooker has even cautioned himself on such criticism getting overboard).

Rach said...

Just followed your link to poor Max. I assume all that victriol on there was flaming.

It was what I dreaded would happen when I started my blog. Hence not diving in with full name cos wanted to know if you were all friends or fiends first.

It was shocking how many used pseudonyms there rather than putting their real names. If they're going to land a punch then they should have the guts to stand there so someone can land a punch back.

As to critics, I find one that hates what I love and then go to what they hate. Hasn't failed me yet.

Piers said...

Best reviews I've read in the last few years were all in Variety

Actual depth and reasoning.

Oli said...

"Basically, I dislike one-sided reviews where it’s all bile and criticism."

You don't think there are some films/TV with absolutely no merit?

Danny Stack said...

Low merit certainly or badly conceived or whatever but I'm struggling to think of something with "absolutely no merit". Even the worse of shows/films have something going for them - they got made, didn't they? And that's good for the writer, no matter how bad it may have turned out, go good for them! We may be in a similar situation ourselves one day, and people will be pouncing on our ill-conceived ideas or poorly scripted dramas when we know the real blood, guts and compromise we had to suck to get us there.

It's too easy to be critical and dismissive. Anyone can watch an ep of EastEnders or Corrie, and say 'wot shite', but that's a writer's work there, and who knows what he may have fought to get the episode locked off but what ends up on screen is what people judge him on. Let's be less hasty with caustic and knee-jerk criticism, especially when we're really envious or angry at the system, that's all I'm saying.

Jon Peacey said...

Just two short notes: just as there are very few shows/films with absolutely no good points there are actually very few shows/films that have no bad points. I hear 'genius' bandied about far too often and I know many people (viewers & critics) who ascribe 'brilliance' and 'genius' to work which is admittedly very good but by no means the pinnacle of civilization.

Secondly, as a would-be writer I sympathize entirely with being moderate and temperate in my citicism of working creatives but as a viewer and media consumer I feel increasingly taken for granted. I realize there was no real 'Golden Age' where everything was wonderful but it now seems that, despite increased multi-channel (not to mention internet) competition, I am consistently being served a tide of homogeneity aimed at a single perceived average viewer, who, of course, doesn't actually exist. I get angry because I love TV not because I hate it.

(I hope I don't come across as too scathing: I don't ever intend to but sometimes my mouth/ fingers run away from my brain!)

Jason Arnopp said...

There's definitely a whole load of jealousy rampaging around the souls of many critics - especially film critics, I'd say.

Theoretically, a film critic should be able to write one of the finest screenplays ever known, what with their unerring knack of spotting "flaws", "disappointing final reels" and - the critics' favourite cliche - "plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them". In fact, I'm convinced that most critics use that last term purely to seem clued-up, safe in the knowledge that they'll never have to list these alleged plot holes in detail...

One of the reasons why I enjoy watching (or writing!) films much more than reviewing them, is that I can't adopt the critics' grimly analytical mindset. Films are entertainment, and that's the basis on which I judge them. Never really been able to adopt that ultra-serious, chin-stroking approach. One thing's for sure, you enjoy a film much more without a notebook on your lap.

Lucy said...

WTF?

You're all wrong just because I say you are and it's probably because you're mostly fellas (soz Rach and maybe Anons), plus I don't appreciate that it's all down to interpretation anyway and that what's great to one person is total shite to another regardless of loads of variables from actual content right through to response.

Damn, I could be a critic.

Seriously, I agree with Danny: I avoid reviews of anything like the plague nowadays since I cannot see how one person's thought (whom you've never met btw) on something could possibly be what you think BEFORE you even see something. Sure, there can be entertainment in vitriol, but what's the point in reading dismissal? Maybe someone in the world likes that, but not me.

Rach said...

Ah but don't you love to spot the one that clearly never made it to see the film and is bluffing. Badly.

Jason Arnopp said...

There was a great story from ages ago, in which a music journalist (NME perhaps) reviewed a gig either on the basis of the first song alone, or without bothering to go at all.

The singer broke his leg during the gig, which was cut short. Not mentioned at all in the review.

Robin Kelly said...

We may be in a similar situation ourselves one day, and people will be pouncing on our ill-conceived ideas or poorly scripted dramas when we know the real blood, guts and compromise we had to suck to get us there.

I can't imagine not wanting to read my own reviews and trying to learn from them so I can improve. Getting feedback just seems so important.

While there might be some reviews from bitter jealous wannabes or genre snobs - which can be dismissed - there might be useful insights from elsewhere. Who couldn’t learn from the Screen International/Variety reviewers? Or even from ordinary film fans who spend their time and money and so are entitled to an opinion.

It’s probably true that once you have something made you don't really need to improve and that's an achievement in itself that should be celebrated. Confidence can be a fragile thing for many writers and even though they have been produced they may still need encouragement and support to carry on because of “the real blood, guts and compromise” required.

However, as someone who used to see every British film released without bothering to read the reviews so as to support the film industry, I would really rather reviewers just told me the truth so I can avoid the time-wasters.

Patriotic writer loyalty is one thing but it ebbs away every hastily-written first-draft you see on the screen.

Jon Peacey said...

In the event anything I wrote got made I'd avoid the reviews like the plague... I don't even read my own assessments of my work.

As you say, Robin, confidence can be a fragile thing.

"I would really rather reviewers just told me the truth so I can avoid the time-wasters." I had a bit of a health scare the other year and while I still waste time (who doesn't?) I did realise that life's a little too short to watch truly bad movies.

Kevin Lehane said...

"Be Kind, Rewind

By Roger Ebert

Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind" is whimsy with a capital W. No, it's WHIMSY in all caps. Make that all-caps italic boldface. Oh, never mind. I'm getting too whimsical. Maybe Gondry does, too. You'll have to decide for yourself. This is a movie that takes place in no possible world, which may be a shame, if not for the movie, then for possible worlds.

The place: Passaic, N.J. On a street corner stands a shop so shabby that only an art director could have designed it. This is "Be Kind Rewind," a store that rents a skimpy selection of VHS tapes. Not a DVD in sight. It's owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), who has convinced himself the store was the birthplace of Fats Waller (identified only as "some old-time jazz musician" on one Web site, which has plainly never heard of him). Behind in his rent, Mr. Fletcher faces eviction, and the store will be pulled down, no doubt to make way for Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts.

Mr. Fletcher's faithful, long-suffering clerk is Mike (Mos Def), who is entrusted with the store while the owner goes undercover, hoping to scope out the success of the big competitor down the street, West Coast Video. Maybe it's because they rent DVDs? To be in the video rental business and not have heard of DVDs does not speak well for Mr. Fletcher's knowledge of the market, but then we suspect that when we see his store. I was once in a dirt-floored "store and bar" in a poor rural district of Ireland that had a stock of one (1) bottle of Guinness. Same idea.

One of the store's most loyal visitors and nuisances is Jerry (Jack Black), who works nearby in a garage. Paranoid about a power plant next door, he breaks in to sabotage it and is zapped with so much electricity he looks like a lightning strike during one of Victor Frankenstein's experiments. This does not turn him into a cinder, only magnetizes him, after which he visits the store and inadvertently erases all the tapes.

Crisis. What to do before Mr. Fletcher comes back? The tapes can't be replaced, because Mike and Jerry don't have the money and besides, how easy is it to get VHS tapes, except on eBay? I take that back. Amazon lists six VHS tapes of "Ghostbusters," one of the erased movies in "Be Kind," for one (1) cent each. At that rate, you could build up a decent VHS library for a dollar. Anyway, the lads have a masterstroke: They will re-enact the movies and rent them to unsuspecting customers like Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow), who won't know the difference, anyway.

Co-starring as their female leads in these movies is the fetching Alma (Melonie Diaz), who has the sexiest smile since Rosario Dawson. The re-enactments are not very skillful, to put it mildly, but they have the advantage, as Mike argues, of not taking up all your time because they're as short as 20 minutes. They explain that they import their versions from Sweden, which is why they call them "sweded." You can see the works of Mike and Jerry on the Web, by the way, which might be about two-thirds as good as seeing the whole movie. One of the perhaps inevitable consequences of re-enacting movies is that the exercise brings out all the latent manic excess within Jack Black, who when he is trying that hard reminds me of a dog I know named McQ Junior, who gets so excited when you come over, you have to go to the dry cleaners after every visit.

Whether their scheme works, whether the store is saved, whether Hollywood considers their work homage or piracy, I will leave for you to discover. But you haven't read this far unless you hope to learn whether I would recommend the movie. Not especially. I felt positive and genial while watching it, but I didn't break out in paroxysms of laughter. It's the kind of amusing film you can wait to see on DVD. I wonder if it will come out on VHS?"

Love it. These are my kind of reviews.

Frances Lynn said...

I used to review movies years ago, and remember desperate film company publicists begging me to write a review from the press release when I hadn't seen the film. One film critic acquaintance revelled in slagging of his friends' films. He admitted he didn't have the talent to write screenplays and was jealous of the film makers.