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Aug 7, 2008

Ratings...

Ok so I have finally started posting my reviews to WIX PIX II: THE WRATH OF SEAN (http://www.wixpixreviews.blogspot.com/), my film/DVD/Blu-Ray reviews only blog (that I promised to start back in May -- you can thank my move back to Los Angeles for the insane delay), and I have to say I am kind of torn as to whether or not I should assign a ratings system because I am not the biggest fan.

I also use the FLIXSTER application that is linked through Facebook, and they use a star system (out of 5) which allows users to compare movie tastes with others. Now while I sometimes like the instant gratification of star ratings, or out of ten, or the Siskel & Ebert Thumbs up/down way of doing things, I think it also can be detrimental for film reviews. First off, if it is something I really am not that excited about seeing (that is if I wasn't me who tries to see EVERYTHING whether it looks good or not) I might take a quick look at say Mr. Ebert's review, see the low rating and not bother to read on. I find Ebert's reviews to be entertaining and enlightening, so I usually read them regardless. But I greatly appreciate what seems to be quickly becoming a lost art form -- and that is the full form review that does not include an out of "x" amount of stars ratings system. The NEW YORK TIMES still sticks to that, as I believe does VARIETY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER and THE LOS ANGELES TIMES. The reviews in these papers tend to feel more articulated, more to the point, and more balanced as to what works and doesn't work in the film being reviewed. I still consider the NEW YORK TIMES as the paper of record, and reading their reviews every Wednesday & Friday is virtually a religious experience.

Try reading one of Pauline Kael's review books sometime. Kael was quite possibly the most influential film critic during the 60s/70s/80s and 90s (she died in 2001). She was primarily known for her work in THE NEW YORKER, and also worked as a development exec/producer with Warren Beatty in Hollywood for a short period. Later, she published a series of books (all listed below) of what could be the most thought provoking collection of film criticism in the history of the form. Pauline wouldn't dare have a star rating system....I don't think she could have assigned a rating if she wanted to because he reviews really went deep into the movie itself (one of her books is entitled DEEPER INTO MOVIES) and dissected it so much so that it was often difficult to tell whether she truly liked the film or not. You either love or hate Kael's reviews, and for me, I always enjoyed that great journey of reading Ms. Kael's enjoyment of either loving or hating the movie for no matter how she felt, you always got the sense that she lived for the great journey of discovery that accompanies viewing a movie -- good or bad.

I have found that as time goes on, a reaction I had to a film initially does change as things become dated and the flaws shine through a lot more and also with age comes a different mindset. Going back and writing up why you're revisiting material and -- as the politicians call it -- are flip/flopping, it is a lot easier to explain that going back and suddenly making a 1 star movie a 3 star movie. I don't know why, but I've been in conversations where I have announced that my feelings towards a movie have changed thanks to time, viewing, whatever, and people have been steadfast in the belief that you can't suddenly like/dislike something that you've already proclaimed to dislike/like. Any film historian or cinema buff knows differently though and as I'm sure do regular film goers who may not be so aware that their mind has changed.

Then there is the issue of indecision or personal taste. Ok so you thought a movie was flawed but you still kind of liked it. Do you give it 3 stars or 2 or less? That's a tough choice...by giving it a high star rating you're telling people to go see it even though the review itself may state that you thought it was a so-so movie, but somehow you bought what it was trying to sell or at least you were giving credit for something other than what is on screen. I've seen films which I have neither loved nor hated, and when I hit Flixster I'm conflicted as to whether it's a 3 star movie or a 2 1/2 and a star rating can very easily conflict with what you've written in your review. I used to write reviews for my school newspaper, and one of the editors (if you're reading this, you KNOW who you are) got so upset at a couple of my star ratings that they raised a 1 star movie to be a 3 star movie, even though the review trashed the title! So obviously this is an isolated event but it really highlights an issue where sometimes I've seen a 3 star rating on a review that wasn't so positive...like the reviewer knee jerked the 3 stars yet while writing the review, wavered on his like of the movie.

So as I now play massive catch up posting all the reviews that I fell behind on I think I'm going to bypass the star rating and just review films the films without a "quick fix, I liked it/I hated it" label.

That being said, IRON MAN is now up, and the rest of May (SPEED RACER, NARNIA 2 and INDY 4) should be up in the next day or so. I'm hoping to be caught up by next week so that going into fall and the holiday season movie/DVD releases, I'll be current.

As promised, a list of books by Pauline Kael -- must reads for anyone who loves the movies.

I Lost It at the Movies (1965)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1968) ISBN 0-31648-163-7
Going Steady (1969) ISBN 0-55305-880-0
Deeper Into Movies (1973) ISBN 0-7145-0941-8
Reeling (1976)
When The Lights Go Down (1980) ISBN 0-03042-511-5
5001 Nights at the Movies (1982, revised in 1984 and 1991) ISBN 0-8050-1367-9
Taking It All In (1984) ISBN 0-03069-362-4
State of the Art (1987) ISBN 0-71452-869-2
Hooked (1989)
Movie Love (1991)
For Keeps (1994)
Raising Kane, and other essays (1996)