Thursday, July 25, 2013

Question for the Week of Jul 22-28: Movie Grades and Me

How seriously do you take movie grades, and what effect do specific scores have on you?
Well, for one thing, I've mentioned in various earlier reviews the ratings given to films by Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic or IMDb. Without providing specific examples, I have complained about some of these scores, while I have used others to support my feelings about a particular movie. I don't always do this, but if you put "RT," "Metacritic," or "IMDb" in the search box on the right, you'll see how often they've come up.

When it comes to those specific sites, you have to remember that they all aggregate the ratings given b critics and/or site users. This means that the numbers are weighted in a particular way, where some reviewers strongly dislike a picture that others do strongly like. IMDb's system, in particular, is infamous for working very differently from a simple weighted-average.

And, of course, you also must remember - as I've noted in a couple ways over the last three years - that different people react to movies differently. Some people want a challenging pic, while others just want mindless fun. Tastes change as you get older and do (or don't) get experience watching various kinds of films. Some folks hate certain genres, or have a very high (or low) bar to watch, e.g., a romantic comedy or a black-and-white or a silent motion picture.

The viewing experience is influenced by a great many things - from whether you just had a breakup to getting sick during the show to the fact that you saw something in the middle of a really great day. Tastes, preferences, and attitudes towards film are so varied! An old friend once told me that his father will never see the same movie twice, no matter how much he likes it, which is something I just can't imagine.

So when I'm looking forward to a film, I take a mixed approach. First, I look at the sheer number of good and bad grades. While it is possible for everyone to judge even the simplest movie "wrongly," I pay attention when a work receives 20 D's, 5 C's, and 5 B-'s.

Second - and most importantly - you pay attention to the source of the reviews. Some folks don't keep an open mind. A doctor might hate a film just because it gets scientific facts wildly wrong. Publications with religious denominations in their names might be biased by their beliefs. Some people have insanely-high or -low standards. And occasionally, you find out that a movie review is from a fake, studio-funded source.

So letting a review influence your behavior partly comes down to learning what the attitude and quirks are for a specific reviewer, and then adjusting for that info. You must find reviewers you can rely on. In my case, I hope that readers have learned to trust my taste - although I do admit that sometimes my own peculiarities have caused me to take one particular stance or another.

My technique is kinda complicated, right? I have to confess that sometime it feels like I don't do anything simply, for better or worse.

With that out of the way, let me talk about specific scores and what they might do to me. I've been looking forward to The World's End since it was announced. I cannot say enough good things about Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. They're brilliant and I love 'em to pieces.

The picture comes out in the States on August 23rd. If, on August 22nd, The A.V. Club gives it a "C," I will be greatly disappointed (after seeing which particular reviewer gave it that grade).

But, like some sort of lame blogging M. Night Shyamalan, I have a shocking twist for you: if that movie is made by directors or actors that I really like, a "C" won't dissuade me in the least! Yup, I like each of the three men I associate with tWE so much that I will risk my time, money, and potential disappointment and go to watch it anyway.

Yet a C grade (again, assuming I trust the specific reviewer) has a different impact when a picture is simply "on my radar," or if I have reservations about it. Between the fact that I really don't like Zack Snyder's work so far and the fact that I was seriously scared off by Superman Returns, the "C+" given by The AVC to Man of Steel made me know that I wanted to steer clear of it. By miles. And it didn't even matter that I had never read an entry by the reviewer, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.

The exact same thing, in fact, had happened the month before with Star Trek Into Darkness. The only differences were that STID got a "B" and that I'd read 3 or 4 posts by its reviewer, A.A. Dowd.

But a "B" grade isn't bad is it? No, it's not, nor are my standards so high that I won't see a "mere" B-grade film. So what gives?

Well, this is almost "the real meat and potatoes" of listening to film reviews: I don't just look at the score. I read the review and pay attention to the particular flaws and strengths noted by the reviewer. It is here, in the specific set of complaints and praise given to a picture, that you glean a sense of the reviewer's standards, inclinations, and judgment. It's why I never use grades here, only when I'm required to, as with my off-site reviews.

Above all, I encourage people to take a few extra seconds out of their day and read as much as they can of the author's opinions. It can be very tricky, because you should also be trying to avoid spoilers, but the extra work will make you more informed, and more thoughtful about, the film in question.

It's possible that I'll return to this topic yet again, but, for now, I'll see you all when my next post goes up... Take care!

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