The Purpose of Criticism

Last week, I saw a discussion of Facebook about “critics” on the Internet Movie Database.  It was about the recent movie about Bruce Lee, Birth of the Dragon.  So, I checked out those “reviews.”  They tore the film to shreds.  Here’s the thing, though:  Most of those “reviews” were mostly just single sentences.  A single sentence does not make a review.  It’s stating an opinion, but it may have no value to the reader.  Strangely enough, it got me thinking about the idea of criticism and what and who it is actually for.  I’m not necessarily talking about just film criticism, but art and writing as well.  The idea of criticism has been around since time immemorial.  The difference between criticism today and criticism centuries ago is the technology available.  With the Internet and social media like FaceBook, YouTube, Instagram and Reddit, there are many methods of putting critiques out on the ‘net.  Over the past few years, I’ve been noticing an increase of attacks on critics by artists, film-makers, and authors alike.  Attacking critics, again, is something that’s existed LONG before movies ever existed.  If someone like say, the Emperor of China, noticed a negative opinion, they would have sentenced the person who wrote that opinion to death.  Stuff like that still happens today in the 21st Century.  I’m not going to be talking about the actual violence against critics, but rather the vocal opposition to what people write about certain works.  In this case, movies.

Film criticism is a form of journalism, even in the loosest sense of the word.  It’s about informing the audience about movies and whether or not they should see said movies.  In my opinion, we are guides, nothing more.  We try to give people information that they may need if they decide to see a movie.  Whether or not they actually see the film is their choice, not ours.  The thing is, a number of film-makers like Alex Proyas, have come out against critics because they said some of the movies they made are crap.  Sorry, Mr. Proyas, Gods of Egypt was indeed a big pile of steaming horseshit, but that’s neither here nor there.  That is my opinion, and quite frankly, the opinion of many others.  Going after people for voicing their opinions about films can be a very, VERY dangerous proposition, unless you’re going after those dingbats on IMDB who can’t form a cohesive opinion of their own.  In that case, knock yourself out.  Just don’t go after folks who are trying to offer constructive criticism.  Are there critics who clearly have an agenda that is liberally or conservatively biased?  Do certain critics have an axe to grind or have it in for a particular film-maker?  Definitely.  Uwe Boll is notorious for going after his critics, going so far as to challenge them to a boxing match.  It was a publicity stunt, but still.  The critics that clearly have agendas tend to stick out, so they are generally easier to ignore.  At least, in my opinion.

It’s not just directors that go after their critics.  Actors do it, too.  Jesse Eisenberg tried to attack film critics using a short story called “An Honest Film Review.”  If he was trying to attack film critics, he didn’t do a very good job.  As I said above, going after a film critic because they didn’t particularly care for your movie is not a great idea, especially if that critic has a wide audience.  I’m lucky to be small enough not to be noticed by these guys.  If you put anything out there like a movie, song, painting or hell, even film review, it’s going to get criticized.  That’s the reality of the world we live in.  Everybody’s a critic.  How you respond to them could affect how people respond to you.  I try to keep my reviews as fair as humanly possible.  Sometimes, I can’t.  We’re only human and we have voices.  If you don’t like what we have to say, feel free to ignore us.  You’re not going to hurt our feelings.  If you have an issue with someone’s review, try to approach them in a constructive manner.  Have a discussion.  You may find some kind of insight that you might not have thought of before.  Don’t get me wrong.  Getting criticized can be painful.  I’ve had people criticize my reviews from time to time.  But as I said before:  How you choose to respond to that can make all the difference in the world.

On the flip-side, I’ve seen movie bloggers go after film-makers for various reasons.  I’ve seen critics attack folks like Quentin Tarantino for the level of violence in his movies, and that’s all they focus on.  That is not constructive criticism.  That’s pushing an agenda.  That’s taking a “won’t you think of the children” approach which is a completely false narrative to start with.  Tarantino’s response to those kinds of questions is probably the right one.  He doesn’t give a damn what you think.  He never really has, which is why he’s able to make the movies that he makes.  He’s gone after critics, to be sure, but the critics he went after had an agenda and didn’t understand the movies that he made.  So, there are two sides to this issue.  On the one side you’ve got egotistical film-makers that get butt-hurt because somebody didn’t like their precious film and you’ve got critics with an over-developed sense of social justice.

Again, I ask:  What is the purpose of criticism?  It’s to give people a certain perspective on a particular subject.  That’s generally all we film reviewers have to offer:  A perspective.  I can only speak for myself, but I try to be fair on each and every film that I review.  However, sometimes a movie sucks so bad, I just can’t help myself and I tear it to shreds.  Criticism doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  It is a tool that one can use to improve upon something.  In this case, if you made a movie that isn’t so good, you can take the criticism of the audience and certain critics and you can build a better film from there.  Just don’t try to silence us.  We only get louder….and we are here to stay.

The Guardians

Released: February 2017(Russia)

Director: Sarik Andreasyan

Run Time: 88 Minutes

Not Rated

Distributor: Shout! Factory(USA)

Genre: Action/Science Fiction

Cast:
Anton Pampushnyy: Arsus
Sanjar Madi: Khan
Sebastien Sisak: Ler
Alina: Lanina: Kseniya
Stanislav Shirin: August Kuratov

For decades, the superhero film has essentially been lorded over by Hollywood and western film makers.  It makes sense in a way, since the first superhero comics were written in the United States.  DC/Warner Bros. and Marvel essentially have a stranglehold on the superhero film, starting with Superman: The Movie and continuing on with movies like Batman and X-Men.  But every so often, we see stuff from other countries like India, Japan and China.  The problem is that those movies are not very good and aren’t taken very seriously by the people who made them.  But the one country that we really don’t see superhero movies come from is Russia.  Russia is known for many things like vodka and gorgeous woman as well as a language that is difficult to learn.  Enter The Guardians, the first real Russian superhero movie.

The film opens with an explanation that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union had been secretly experimenting on people to create superheroes to defend the Union against any possible aggressor.  When the Cold War ended, the project called “Patriot” was deemed classified and shut down.  However, during the experiments, one scientist who was scorned by the Soviets, took his own projects to the extreme, which ultimately ended up exploding in his face, literally.  The chemicals that were released in that explosion changed him physically, making him super-strong.  Decades later, the scientist, Kuratov, has resurfaced and began taking control of tanks and robots using a machine that he created.  To fight this evil, the government has been tasked with locating 4 people that were successfully experimented on: Arsus, who can transform into a werebear(you read that right); Khan, who can teleport and is an expert martial artist with two curved swords; Ler, who can telekinetically manipulate rocks and soil, and Kseniya, who can become invisible and can control her own body temperature.  Story-wise, this plays out pretty much like almost any other superhero movie that we’ve seen in the past 40+ years.  To be fair to the folks that made this movie, it’s extremely difficult to stand out in a genre that’s VERY over-saturated.  And yet, the makers of The Guardians managed to do just that.

Aside from being Russian, what actually makes this particular superhero film stand out from the rest is in its design.  While somewhat familiar in design, I’ve never seen characters designed like this before.  The real standout here is the guy that can turn into a bear wielding a minigun.  If I’m lying, I’m dying.  It’s bizarre, and yet it’s really cool at the same time.  Thing is, this character, Arsus, can transform at will at any time.  Ler can manipulate rocks and create stone armor around himself to protect himself and beat the living daylights out of the opposition.  Kseniya’s character is basically the Russian equivalent of The Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four, except she can manipulate her own body temperature.  She’s also a martial artist, so she can kick all sorts of butt.  Khan is very interesting.  He’s not only super-strong, but he’s also super fast.  He also wields these two really curved swords that he can actually combine to make a single double-bladed weapon.  The villain, though, is not that impressive.  He’s basically just super-strong and he has a backpack that he can use to manipulate electronic devices including tanks and robots.  He’s about as bland as a villain as you can get.  His ultimate goal?  World domination, what else?  The villain is strictly by-the-numbers and not even memorable.  The acting is a bit of a mixed bag.  From what I understand, some people had issues with the acting while watching the film with the English dubbing.  That is almost always a bad idea.  If you’re going to watch a foreign film, watch it in its original language with subtitles.  It’s a better performance every single time.  That being said, even in its original language, the acting in The Guardians can be pretty awful.  Thankfully, the four main leads do a decent enough job, but everybody else is just…meh.

The action in the film is surprisingly pretty decent.  The camera-work is mostly wide enough so that we can see what’s going on.  Some of the hand-to-hand choreography is decent enough, but lacks the punch of some other action films.  You’ve got big explosions, a guy that manipulate rocks, mass destruction and a guy that can turn into a fucking bear wielding a fucking minigun!  How awesome is that?  The film moves at a pretty decent clip and running at just 88 minutes, the film doesn’t overstay its welcome.  The CGI on the other hand, ranges from decent to “what the fuck was that?!”  Again, I want to be fair.  The film industry in Russia is nowhere near as robust as ours, so they don’t have access to the equipment that we do, nor do they have the money to really craft something truly epic in scale, at least not for superheroes at this point.  That being said, it’s still visually interesting and quite enjoyable to watch.  The final battle on the tower is really cool and the destruction sequence is something to behold.

When it comes to superhero movies, I always enjoy watching something new.  Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t really give a damn about originality.  As a result, I have to look elsewhere for originality, even Russia.  Thankfully, The Guardians is original enough for me to enjoy, even though it tends to follow similar tropes that you see in other superhero films.  The Guardians has gotten a lot of bad press not just in Russia about around the world.  I’m not entirely sure why.  I found it to be a breath of fresh air in terms of visuals.  It’s a pretty spectacular film.  Does it always work?  No.  There are issues with the dialogue and the fact that the whole thing is taken way too seriously.  That being said, if you’re looking for something a little different and new, give The Guardians a shot.  It may be what you’re looking for.

My Final Recommendation:  Did I mention that there’s a man that turns into a bear that wields a fucking minigun? 8/10.

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

Released: July 1987

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Rated PG

Run Time: 90 Minutes

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Genre: Action/Adventure

Cast:
Christopher Reeve: Clark Kent/Superman
Gene Hackman: Lex Luther
Jackie Cooper: Perry White
Margot Kidder: Lois Lane
Mark McClure: Jimmy Olsen
Mark Pillow: Nuclear Man
Sam Wanamaker: David Warfield
Mariel Hemingway: Lacy Warfield

We come to it at last:  The great failure of our time.  Superman III, for all its faults, was still a relatively entertaining film.  It had some pretty strong performances and some pretty good visual effects.  Superman has been a symbol for truth and justice for decades.  He’s the big blue boy scout.  Over the years, the character has been adapted from comics into graphic novels, novels, video games and ultimately, movies.  In fact, the movie started the whole comic book film craze was Superman: The Movie.  That was a movie that surprised everybody and convinced the world that a man could fly.  Superman II gave the Man of Steel three super-villains to contend with and was epic and spectacular.  Superman IV could have been something truly special, but the moment the Salkinds left the franchise to the Cannon Film Group, everything went to Hell.

The story, which was co-written by Christopher Reeve himself, involves Superman responding to a child’s desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons.  During all this, Lex Luthor breaks out of prison with the help of his nephew, Jon Cryer, I mean, Lenny.  He devises a plan to destroy Superman using a strand of his hair in a museum.  He creates a new super-villain powered by the sun, Nuclear Man.  Where, oh where do I begin with this?  The concept is interesting, considering that the movie takes place and was made during the Cold War.  Christopher Reeve’s desire to address the issue of nuclear weapons is a noble and admirable goal.  Unfortunately, he was sabotaged by Golan and Globus’ incompetence and complete lack of understanding of the character.  The Cannon Film Group was having some very severe financial issues, which forced them to make drastic cuts to Superman IV.  Oh, yeah, and there’s this bullshit subplot involving the hostile takeover of The Daily Planet.  You can tell right from the get-go that there are some serious problems with the movie.  The story is just the tip of the bullshit iceberg.

From what I understand, and according to Mark Rosenthal on the commentary on the DVD, the initial cut of the film was supposed to be 134 minutes.  There’s clearly a lot of stuff that was cut out.  There’s a lot of story elements which don’t fit together and are suspiciously absent.  As a result, the editing is fucked all to hell.  Because of budgetary cuts, the special effects team for the film was pretty much annihilated leaving us with repeated visual effects shots like this:

I kid you not, this flying sequence was repeated twice in one scene at the beginning of the movie when Superman was saving the Russians.  You see this over and over again throughout the entire film, with only the background changing.  You can see the wires that are supporting the actors and the matte effects are absolutely atrocious.  You can see that in the screenshot above.  Not all of the visual effects are awful.  There’s a sequence involving a volcano that was pretty cool, but overall the visual effects of the film are disastrous.  That’s not the only thing that went wrong here.  The audio is all sorts of screwy.  The guy who plays Nuclear Man, Mark Pillow, had his voice dubbed over by Gene Hackman.  There is an absolutely gobsmackingly awful amount of bad dubbing throughout the entire film.  The kid that wanted Superman to rid the world of nukes, is poorly dubbed, as was the teacher.

Even for a superhero movie, there needs to be a basic understanding of physics and Superman IV shows absolutely NO willingness to abide by ANY laws of physics.  I get it, Superman flies, but most people don’t.  The complete disregard for physics in this movie, makes for an extremely laughable experience.  The most egregious offenses happen towards the end of the film.  One, when Nuclear Man kidnaps Lacy and flies her into space, she’s clearly breathing, even though there is no air in space, and she’s not freezing to death.  Also when the lava flows down the streets and you have people standing on the sidewalk, they should have been incinerated by standing so close to the lava without protection.  Going to back to space, if Superman actually moved the moon, there would be massive environmental catastrophes happening around the world.

The acting is terrible all around.  Christoper Reeve, bless his soul, gave it his all, but it simply wasn’t enough.  Everybody involved with the production of Superman IV, including the Man of Steel himself, came out against the picture.  The absolute disrespect for Superman is apparent in nearly every frame of the film.  There is a scene in which the Great Wall of China is blown up by Nuclear Man, but Superman puts it back using his Super Vision.  Last time I checked, Superman did not have that ability.  The entire film is a fucking train-wreck.  I’m sorry, there really is nothing that’s redeemable about this film.  Mark Pillow’s film career began and ended with Superman IV.  This was, sadly, the final time that Christopher Reeve would wear the red cape.  The character would be revisited in film form until 2013 when Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel.  People often refer to Batman and Robin as the worst comic book movie ever.  Well….I hate to disagree with that, but Superman IV is an absolute abomination.  I can enjoy watching it, because I can point and laugh at the awfulness that’s before my eyes.  If you were to step up to me and say that Superman IV was a good movie, I literally would slap you in the face.

My Final Recommendation: Fuck this movie.  Fuck this movie.  Fuck this movie. 1/10

Superman III

Released: June 1983

Director: Richard Lester

Run Time: 125 Minutes

Rated PG

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Genre: Action/Comedy

Cast:
Christopher Reeve: Clark Kent/Superman
Richard Pryor: Gus Gorman
Jackie Cooper: Perry White
Annette O’Toole: Lana Lang
Mark McClure: Jimmy Olsen
Robert Vaughan: Ross Webster
Annie Ross: Vera
Pamela Stephenson: Lorelei
Margot Kidder: Lois Lane
Gavan O’Herlihy: Brad

I’ve a question for all of you:  Do you remember seeing a movie when you were younger that you remember not liking at all and you refuse to see it again for 10,15, maybe 20 years?  There have been a number of films like that for me.  One of those movies is Superman III.  Before I get into my review for the movie, let first state for the record how much of a fan that I am of Superman.  Not just movies, but the comics and animated shows as well.  The original Superman film with Christopher Reeve is highly regarded as one of the best, if not THE best, superhero movies of all time.  It’s absolutely one of my absolute favorites, and I don’t get tired of watching it.  The second film was almost as good.  It was 3 and 4 that I had some serious issues with.  Oh, I’ll be getting to Superman IV, make no mistake about it, but I want to revisit Superman III first.  Having seen the film for the first time in over 20 years, I have to admit that I really enjoyed it.  It was not a terrible movie.  Was it as good as the first two?  No.  The bar was set way too high.  But Superman III has charms of its own.

The film opens with Gus Gorman in an unemployment line trying to get his unemployment after several disastrous attempts at keeping jobs.  Being denied, he finds a job dealing with computers at a large company run by a billionaire named Ross Webster.  After discovering that he’s not getting all the money that he thinks he deserves(not too far from the truth for many of us), he decides to hack into the network and change some things around so he can make himself richer.  This gets the attention of Mr. Webster who decides to employ Gus to hack into a weather satellite to attack a country in South America.  Superman eventually intervenes, so Webster commissions Gus to create a supercomputer to destroy Superman.  The story does get silly from time to time, but it also allows for some rather strong character development for characters like Superman, Lana and Gus.  It’s really interesting to see certain here.  Seeing Superman being affected by synthetic Kryptonite, has a really interesting affect on Superman.  He goes from being forgetful to flat out mean, and it’s really cool to see Superman’s dark side take center stage, because we all know he has one.  That’s probably the most memorable aspect of the film.

The acting in Superman III is rather strong, considering the goofy tone of the film.  Most people seem to have a problem with Richard Pryor in the film.  To be honest, I thought he did a great job with what he was given.  His character wasn’t evil.  Misguided, maybe but not evil.  Annette O’Toole plays Lana Lang, Clark’s potential love interest in the film and she’s really something else.  Robert Vaughan is clearly having the time of his life playing a villain.  Unlike Lex Luthor, Vaughan’s Webster doesn’t surround himself with total nincompoops….well, just one anyway.  He’s a fun one to watch.  Jackie Cooper is reliable as always as Perry White.  However, the show, like the last two, belongs to Christopher Reeve.  The man has definitely refined his performance as the Man of Steel after two movies.  I really like the fact that his portrayal of Clark Kent, this time around, takes the klutz part of the character out of the equation.  Kent is a lot more confident this time around.  But as Superman, Christopher Reeve has no rival.  He’s just as amazing as Superman as he was in the original film.  But the character does take a much darker turn in this one due to exposure to synthetic Kryponite, giving him a Jekyll and Hyde style of personality.  It actually works.  Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane only appears in the film for a few minutes as nothing more than a cameo.  You know what?  That’s actually a good thing.

The action in the film is pretty much what you would expect from a Superman film of this era.  A lot of the effects have been done practically, as CGI was literally in its infancy in 1983, so they kinda didn’t use that.  The used a lot of miniatures and large sets, which lends more credibility to the goings-on.  The whole scene in the junkyard was extraordinary with Clark Kent taking on the dark version of Superman.  It was an emotionally charged fight, I thought and it was engaging.  The final confrontation with the giant supercomputer at the end of the film is something to behold.  While Webster and company have been doing their best to destroy Superman, the machine itself literally comes to life and tries to kill them all.  It also features one of the scenes that kind of disturbed me as a kid.  The part where the machine turns Vera into a cyborg was genuinely freaky.  The final result?  Not so much, but the actual transformation still sends chills down my spine.  Like the previous films, Superman III is a lot of fun.

Where the film does falter is in its tone.  There are a lot of moments where the film feels too much like a slapstick comedy.  Don’t get wrong, Richard Pryor did what he could with what he had, but it’s a character that really shouldn’t have been there in the first place.  Yeah, Superman II did get campy at time, at least the theatrical release, but Superman III takes camp to a whole different level, and it didn’t always work.  In fact, it got in the way of the film more than once.  They could have also cut out Lois Lane entirely, and the film would’ve been the same.  Jackie Cooper isn’t given nearly as much to work with and is also sidelined.  Jimmy Olsen makes some pretty stupid moves that gets him nearly killed at one point.

Is Superman III as bad as everyone says it is?  Not remotely.  After seeing the film for the first time in 20 years, I was surprised at how much I liked it.  There’s a lot of interesting ideas and what they did with giving Superman a dark side was executed quite well.  While certain parts of the film didn’t quite work, the rest of it fell pretty much in line with the first two, in my opinion.

My Final Recommendation:  Don’t give somebody a synthetic form of Kryptonite.  They may become a jerk in the process…..if they weren’t already.  8/10.