It was kind of a boring weekend, so I thought I'd have a chat with two of my good pals and then foist it off as an actual article. Our topic of discussion was An American Carol, its reception from film critics and moviegoers, and the aggressive ways in which people often communicate through the internet (our review is currently up to well over 100 comments). Joining us today are my esteemed colleagues Eric D. Snider and William B. Goss. Let's listen in, shall we?
Scott: You both saw and reviewed An American Carol. What can you tell us about readers' reactions to your articles? (Eric's review here. Will's here.)
Will: Reader reaction was, for the most part, violently contrarian, with many equating the lack of laughter on my part to some sort of deep-seated anti-American sentiments, and not due to David Zucker's anti-humor stance.
Eric: Mostly the same for me. A lot of comments were posted within a very short span of time, and they said basically the same thing as each other, making me wonder if there was an organized effort somewhere urging people to make their voices heard.
Scott: Would you say you walked into the film with any prejudice or bias?
Eric: I was predisposed to liking David Zucker. I even liked (for the most part) the last two "Scary Movie" films, which he directed, which I think put me in the minority. I was wary of how good a comedy would be when it was made with such a specific goal in mind -- usually you gotta let the humor come first, then the ideology, not the other way around -- but I was curious to see what would happen.
Will: While I LOVE Airplane!, really like the first Naked Gun, and genuinely enjoy Scary Movie 3, I didn't laugh during the trailer and couldn't recall if I was ever pleasantly surprised by any film that went unscreened for press.
Eric: Good point... Not screening is almost always a bad sign. I'm sure that dampened my expectations somewhat.
Scott: But you both firmly believe, as professional film critics, that you were fully prepared to love or hate the movie based on its cinematic merits.
Will: Yep. If I thought it ended up being hilarious or even mildly amusing, I wasn't about to deny it. What's the use?
Eric: For sure. You always *want* a movie to be good, even if you don't have much reason to hope it will be.
Scott: So in your opinion, what place do personal political leanings have in a professional film review?
Eric: If it's a movie ABOUT politics, then obviously the writer's own political views are going to come into play. I mean, you always try to be as "unbiased" as you can. I don't care for Adam Sandler, but I always try to view his movies as objectively as possible, on a case-by-case basis. But movie reviews, by definition, are not objective. They're subjective. They involve the writer's opinions. You try to separate yourself from your preconceived notions as much as possible, but you're still only human.
Will: I think that personal political leanings can be divorced from any film, though it's certainly harder to manage when reviewing an overtly political film, since ignoring their politics is not the same thing as involving your own.
Scott: So give me your perspective on "partisan" movies reviews. That you can't praise a Michael Moore film without being a lefty stooge, and you can't knock An American Carol without being a short-sighted righty-basher.
Will: Doesn't that pretty much say it? For some people out there, it's a black-and-white (or rather, red-and-blue) matter, and that's a shame for those who are willing to enjoy movies that aren't good or avoid movies that aren't bad because they cannot divorce themselves from their beliefs, or at least be flexible in them.
Eric: I think it's a silly oversimplification. I guess I'm left-of-center, politically, but I can still trash a "liberal" movie if I don't think it's well done. I agreed with a lot of what Michael Moore said in Sicko, for example, but I still thought it was a poorly made film, and gave it a mediocre review... My opinions of the various Iraq movies have been mixed, even though a lot of the movies have been saying the same things. If the review is well-written, the reader should be able to tell whether he (the reader) would like the movie, regardless of whether the critic did.
Scott: Will's review was rather negative, but Eric's was appreciably more positive, so what can you say about the specific reactions you've received from readers?
Will: To date, I've received over eighty comments, most of which came from those who claim to have enjoyed the film... However, maybe one said that they just Liked it, that it was just Good and not OMG-LOL-GREAT. My hating it has apparently opened the floodgates to the other extreme alone. Apparently, my knocks against the film were not due to any failing on the filmmakers' part to make a funny comedy, but due to - again - a personal hatred of my fellow Americans and this nation as a whole. Who knew.
Eric: I definitely didn't find the movie very funny, but I did find it fascinating as an experiment, a cultural artifact, or whatever, and I said as much in my review. And since Rotten Tomatoes makes you say either recommended or not, I gave it a B-minus, which is at the bottom of the "recommended" realm. I didn't want to not recommend it at all, because like I said, I found it interesting, although maybe not for the reasons Zucker intended. Anyway, my technically positive review wasn't enough for the film's fans, who have berated me for "hating" it, and determined that I'm simply too much of an American-hatin' librul to appreciate fine comedy. None of the people who have posted comments so far have merely "liked" it. They all LOVED it. And so did everyone else in the theater with them! Much applause has been reported.
Will: But Eric, is that really enough reason to not not-recommend it? Because it was an accidental curio, and not an incidental one? You said yourself that there's hardly a laugh in it, in this comedy. Does that not take precedent?
Eric: It's a fine line, I know. My system uses letter grades, which I normally like, because I like categorizing things. But in this case, I'd rather people ignore the grade and read the review, which states my case much more elegantly than "B-minus" does.
Will: I think it states your case fine, but I'm just not sure it justifies the given grade. Call it splitting hairs on my part.
Eric: That is splitting hairs on your part.
Scott: So is there anything more irritating than people, be they leftie or righty, who just fall out of the woodwork to blindly PRAISE or BASH a movie, just because it happens to side with or AGAINST their own political party? Is either side served by this pattern?
Eric: No. There is nothing more irritating than that.
Scott: Well said. Clarify please.
Eric: It's like when The Dark Knight came out, and there were a dozen negative reviews, and many nerds FREAKED OUT. They hadn't even SEEN the movie yet, and they were outraged that someone could possibly give it a negative review.
Scott: But those are mostly younger fans who can be forgiven for some enthusiasm. I'm talking about full grown-ups here who ostensibly care about politics.
Eric: Well, obviously the young people have not cornered the market on stupid narrow-mindedness.
Eric: Look, here's what I think: You go to the movie. If you like it, you like it. It doesn't really matter WHY you liked it. And if you read a review by someone who didn't like it, so what?... Does it matter if the "reason" he didn't like it was that he's too liberal?
Scott: ...yes? I mean no. Wait till Obama tells me what to say.
Eric: No, because his not liking it REALLY doesn't matter at all. It doesn't diminish your ability to like it. What's really annoying is when people try to tell you why you did or didn't like something. As if they have insight into your psyche or something.
Will: I think the same principle of blind faith applies to both fanboy culture and proper politics. The weight of this behavior is naturally greater when it comes to those who can determine the direction of a government, but as Snider said, what is really stopping anyone from enjoying or disliking a film on their own terms? Where's that fear coming from, fear which only tends to breed disrespect and overall hostility? That, I'll never know, but then again, I'm not one of those stupid, stupid poopy-heads.
Scott: So what would a right-winger's ACCEPTABLE pan of American Carol look like?
Eric: If the review doesn't cite any specific reasons for not liking the movie -- other than "the movie is conservative, and I'm liberal" -- then yeah, that critic has done a crappy job.But assuming the critic SAID why he didn't like it -- the jokes are tired, the premise is flawed, the production values are sloppy, whatever -- then THOSE are the reasons he didn't like it. Usually, the best explanation for why a critic didn't like a movie is ... the explanation he actually gave. Not whatever things you've surmised about his inner psyche.
Scott: Inner psyche is redundant. No such thing as an outer psyche. dummy
Eric: Also redundant: Your face. You know, I noticed when I saw the movie that some of the biggest laughs in the audience had nothing to do with politics. Like when Michael Malone eats the pizza with rats crawling in it. That got a HUGE laugh. And they weren't laughing because Michael Moore is a fat, dumb liberal. They were laughing because it was a slob eating rat pizza.
Will: Ebert said in a recent and very astute blog post that for critics, as another man put it, "It is not enough to like a film. One must like it for the right reasons." So it's really a matter of how one defines right reasons. Most professional critics are in that capacity because others have come to trust their judgment and criteria. Our commenters, however, for the most part seem to think that right reasons means "reasons I'm right".
Scott: Any favorite comments from your readers?
Eric: "It is the quick-witted "Airplane" type of humor although not appropriate for children or America-hating liberals (they don't recognize humor). But the rest of you middle-class Americans, who would die defending this country and the freedoms we cherish (like the one about free speech), will laugh your (Michael Moore fat) butt off."
Will: ""Inept and unfunny" it must be great to get such a dismal response and critique from the lefties. A must see."
Scott:: Totally off-topic: Will, I'll buy you two Clive Barker books if you can find me the GOOD BAD WEIRD score.
Will: Isn't it fun? People kept comparing it to Raiders; flick reminds me of Pirates 1 more than anything.
Scott: Well it's Raiders at one key moment ... aside from that, not really.
Will: Well, the energy of Raiders, they meant.
Scott: Yeah, true...
Eric: ANYWAY, the only liberals commenting on my review have been responding to the conservatives' comments, not to the movie itself. I gather not many liberals have actually seen the movie.
Will: Here's one: "...It is okay William, we understand that the truth hidden in humor is a hard pill for you to swallow. Maybe one day some of us will take your movie critiques seriously after you learn to leave your bias at the door. Or, maybe you are just a bad movie critic and need to get a real job," and part of another: "...Just one question, what makes you able to judge a movie any better than I can judge your review?"
Eric: Nothing, jackass. So go write your own review! Nobody's stopping you!
Will: Oh, Scott and I loved this one: "I laughed, I held my breath, I felt proud. The movie is Zucker, it has the subtle humor Zucker films are known for..."
Scott: King of subtlety in humor. Ahem. Can we think of a well-reviewed comedy that knocks the lefties? I have one.
Eric: Team America: World Police hit both sides.
Scott: That's the one. (crickets) So that leads to an interesting question: When it comes to political satire, why does most of it seem to come from the left?
Eric: That's easy: Most of Hollywood really is liberal. I don't think anyone disputes that. Probably a lot of the Hollywood executives are more conservative, but not the ones who actually make the films -- the directors, writers, etc. Or, rather, the execs are maybe politically conservative, but socially liberal.
Will: "I want Hollywood to know that we don't want their anti-American rhetoric. I want them to feel ashamed on how they treat this country. We live in the real world. We face real threats. This movie is great. Please support it."
Scott: Even if it stinks.
Eric: We're generalizing here. I don't actually know any Hollywood executives personally.
Will: Would Blood Diamond have done as well if it were about how GREAT it is that Africans are dying for our jewels?
Eric: I don't think that movie did very well anyway, did it?
Scott: We trailed off again...
Will: Look, if God didn't make the gays so funny, then Hollywood would be more conservative.
Eric & Scott: Haha.
Scott: What is your opinion on the combination of farce and politics?
Will: So long as the farce is funny, I don't care how reckless the politics may be.
Eric: You can be as vile, hateful, politically incorrect, and backwards as you want, as long as it's funny.
Eric: I mean that, too.
Scott: OK fellas, final words to your readers and commenters...
Eric: My closing remarks to readers and commenters: Chill out. Someone having an opinion that's different from yours isn't the end of the world.
Will: And mine: No, it totally is.
Eric: I'm hungry. Are we done here? My publicist said this interview would only take a few minutes.
Will: You still hate America.
Eric: You mean America Ferrara, right?