Friday, July 31, 2009


One of the problems with modern criticism, be it in film, music, books, games, or any other media you might imagine, is that there seems to be an intense fear of being wrong. Everything is either loved or hated, with the opinion changing based on what someone else might think. Regina Spektor, for example, is a highly acclaimed musician, but I find her extremely annoying. But, you'll never hear a music critic be especially mean to her, because everyone else likes her, clearly there's something there, don't want to be the odd duck. Same with the band No Age, which recorded the worst album I have ever heard (Nouns), but got very good press from people who didn't want to be that person who didn't like No Age. This also brings us to Japon, which won awards and was generally well regarded. It's also unspeakably boring, but in such a way that gets critical acclaim.

The story is about an artsy intellectual from Mexico City going to a small little town in the middle of a pretty canyon. He claims to be going there to die. He stays with a kindly old woman, who teaches him how to live, and he falls in love with.

So, why does it get good press? Well, apart from being dull, it's filmed in an unconventional manner. Essentially, the camera is mostly disinterested in what is going on, often wandering to look at very pretty landscape, or some other object, or generally anything but the humans in the film. It is a lot like me, when I have to attend an especially dull event, paying attention for the most part, but then wandering off and taking pictures of the scenery and whatnot.

However, as a result of this camerawork, you begin to be curious what the writer/director - Carlos Reygadas - is going for. For most people, you might think that he's simply making a relatively boring redemption story with a surprising amount of animal cruelty, but if you're a critic you have a problem. See, a critic has to put his or her opinion of the film out in the press for other people to see. Other people who will inevitably judge it. If you have a suspicion that there's something deep within the endless shots of rocks, or the old lady serving tea, but you can't figure out what it could possibly be, you're going to get worried. There might be something here! If I say that it's just a sometimes pretty redemption story that is actually quite dull, all the other critics are going to laugh at me!

So, you'll get great reviews, talking about the christian allegory (which is broadly hinted at through multiple shots of Jesus) and the supposedly amazing final shot which is actually just very long and not even technically interesting, and how the title which is actually completely nonsensical (it takes place in Mexico, and is about Mexicans, Japan is not involved in any way) has something to do with the rising sun or some crap. You'll convince yourself it's good, because you don't want to be the person who doesn't think it's any good.

Hell, I almost did it to myself, and I have no real need to agree with the establishment. I was curious about the title, how the camera really doesn't relate to what is going in the film, and all that jazz. It was interesting, and I wanted to see where he was going, promising myself that it was somewhere amazing. Instead, I was lead to a story I have seen millions of times - magical person or animal teaches someone else to really live, and then ceases to do so itself - except with more animal cruelty and a really unfortunate sex scene.

Stuff like this is essentially why modern criticism is dead. Too many people feel as though they have to agree that it is impossible to tell whether something is actually worth paying attention to. Films (and other things) will get great initial reviews, and then extreme backlash, as people don't trust themselves and are trying to show that they're smart by generally getting along with everyone else. It has become too predictable what people will like or dislike, which means that it is impossible tell what is worth paying attention to. Criticism has become pointless, because everyone is striving to agree.

Well, here at Movies at Random, I don't care what other people think. That's why I will shovel praise on the first Star Trek movie. That's why I will proclaim this to be boring in a way that can make people pretend it isn't. Yes, there are a great deal of popular and well regarded movies I like. Yes, there are many poorly regarded films I don't. But I'm not going to say I like or dislike something because it's what someone else might say. We need more people willing to disagree.

1 comment:

  1. Right on!

    It's even worse in the music industry. I generally have never been able to read music journalism because it's so hypocritical and jaundiced by this perpetual idea that whatever's old must be hip, and whatever's hip must be excellent, unless it's old, but if it's new, it must be amazing, and whatever's amazing must be old, etc. Magazines like Rolling Stone don't give 2 craps about music, they are merely concerned with being the coolest magazine in school.

    The reason I never say that I "review" albums is because I don't feel that audacious going up against albums, because they are what they are, no matter what I say. My opinions are just opinions, and I'm merely practicing expressing them in order to write better. Even so, I wouldn't care either because I'm not being paid to do any of this stuff ha ha.

    I don't mind being that guy who doesn't like so-and-so, all I care about is that I have a legitimate reason to like or dislike something.

    Yeah this movie sounds boring, also it makes me want to buy a camera now!