Would you say Coca Cola is better than Pepsi? Sure, if you felt that way there’s no reason for you not to. They have similar tastes, look and consistency. There are grounds for comparison. Would you compare Pepsi to an orange soda? Sure, it’s a soda. But if you’re looking for something that tastes like orange flavored, why would you even go for the Pepsi? Sometimes you never know you wanted something different, so you roll with the flavor of the orange soda. It’s a pleasant surprise. Would you compare soda to an ice cream? No, because that’s fucking ridiculous and the two only go together with a root-beer float kind of deal. How about a soda to a pizza? Fuck no. What’s wrong with you? If you’re hungry, you get the pizza. If you’re thirsty, get the soda. They are clearly two different states of matter. You wouldn’t complain about a soda not being solid enough, nor would you complain about a pizza being liquid enough (also they’re not healthy but you get the point). So why do these arguments in the vein of these comparisons come up with movies?
Let’s talk about CinemaSins. What is the point of them? They certainly point things out that occur in a movie, but never actually the context of events. And if they do point out singular context of a scene, they don’t talk about how it impacts anything else surrounding that scene. Look at this image from their Kong: Skull Island video.
The video calls out Shea Whigham’s character for being anti-war (a thesis of the film) while he grins, looking at the bomb’s going off. Only that’s not Shea Whigham’s character. That’s another grunt. Shea Whigham continues to posit about the dangers of lives driven by war. It’s right there. It’s maybe the most consistent thread of the entire movie.
Or how this image of the giant spider monster thing (idk what it’s called, it’s just my ultimate nightmare).
CinemaSins calls out the scene for not being heard or seen by the men walking through the jungle. It’s not seen by them before the scene starts because that’s not how movies work, and it’s clearly how the monster hunts prey. It’s legs clearly blend in with the bamboo, so they’ve stomped onto its hunting grounds. It’s all there on the screen for us to see. Of course, you’d have to actually be watching the movie to understand what was happening.
And then there’s this bullshit.
HE’S JUST KILLED THEIR FRIEND AND IS TRYING TO TAKE ANOTHER ONE, OH MY GOD. This isn’t funny. This isn’t criticism. This is someone with too much time on their hands, in a condescending voice, trying to establish their superiority over a popular movie people like.
Watch movies however you want but when you have reductive criticisms that basically equate what’s happening onscreen as “unrealistic” or “this doesn’t exist,” you’re asking questions the movie isn’t worried about answering. We need to meet a movie on its own terms. When someone says a Fast & Furious movie isn’t realistic, that’s not a legitimate criticism against the series. Realism is the last thing they’re striving for. Talk about how the film flows, how the action propels character and vice versa. Or why my biggest issue with the series is how F8 of the Furious only feels like a betrayal of what I love about the franchise in its disregard of Han Seoul-Oh (#JusticeForHan), while still delivering a team-up I never knew I wanted between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham. That’s like complaining that Batman v. Superman isn’t funny enough. The problem for me isn’t that it’s oppressively dark and questioning the ethics of heroes, it’s that I don’t think the structure builds up thematic or narrative consistency. Sorry to use that punching bag but I want to illustrate something most people would relate to.
The only wrong way to watch/talk about a movie is when you’re talking about something the movie isn’t showing you. You can have personal gripes or discrepancies outside the context of the movie, or maybe a specific type of movie isn’t for you and that’s okay. No movie is universal. You’re not obligated to enjoy everything.
Take this scene from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2:
Harry Osborn has just found out Peter Parker, his best and only friend, is actually Spider-Man, the man he blames for the death of his father. He hears a familiar cackle through the halls of the Osborn penthouse, turns and sees the ghost of his father. Norman Osborn, alive within Harry, antagonizes his son into falling into the torment of the Osborn legacy. He breaks a mirror, revealing a secret Goblin lair the audience has had no inclination of before this moment. It’s unrealistic as shit but absolutely perfect for the moment.
- Harry talking to the ghost of his father has no logical consistency with our world. But in the world Sam Raimi has built in his trilogy? Of gliders, robot octopi, and web-swinging New Yorkers? Why not allow it? It’s already a heightened reality and speaks thematically to the character of Harry. Even in death, Harry can’t escape the shadow of his overbearing father. After losing MJ, his revolutionary fusion experiment to Dr. Octopus, and Peter as a best friend, all Harry has is his legacy. A legacy that lives within him.
- That’s a pretty bold move on Raimi’s part to not show the actual lair of the Goblin in the first film, revealing it to the audience in the second without any hint of it prior. It works because it’s more than just lip-service to the idea of Norman haunting Harry. Even when he physically rejects the ghost of father, Harry’s only option is to walk through the shattered mirror and accept the mantle left behind. It was inside him all along.
So we have two moments, tossing out any semblance of believability for the sake of narrative clarity. That is filmmaking. It’s not striving for realism. It’s striving to tell us a story with magic tricks. Some movies might aim for our reality, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. Confront art on its own merits. From there, confront what it means to you. Because at the end of the day, we’re all just people living in a fucked up world (insert reminder to punch all Nazis). If we’re spending our free time being cynical and reductive dicks, we’re doing it wrong.
There’s this unfortunate attempt at justification where CinemaSins is proclaimed as satire. Yes, satire is a form of comedy. CinemaSins is not. Where satire ribs and side-eyes to inform, CinemaSins uses reductive arguments aimed towards art as the butt of jokes. This person was standing one way in this shot, now they’re standing slightly in another shot? Classic. It’s an exercise in cynicism, meant to provide empty snark and smarter-than-you pretentious bullshit. And before anybody else just says it’s all for fun, Jeremy of CinemaSins even brings up the same points in his actual on-camera reviews of movies!
It’s just so odd to me how there’s a perception of film criticism revolving around snobby attitudes, and these videos still maintain a strong viewership in the millions per upload? The medium of film criticism already has a reputation of people looking down upon other’s views/opinions on what they love. There’s an unfortunate situation where cynicism wins out in popularity, even though it’s exactly what is flocked to? For people looking at legitimate criticism or avenues of discussion, there’s just no place for this. That’s not why people do this.
Furthermore, I don’t want to point fingers, I’m simply trying to sort out my thoughts and feelings on this. Because frankly, I think it’s a plethora of things to blame. From the knee-jerk reactions brought up upon negativity to the way emotions are often repressed because it’s not “cool” to care about things, the culture of film itself has been feeding it. And it’s not going anywhere as long as we keep feeding it.
Focus on writing that benefits discussions on art. If you know me or my writing, you know I don’t mind a snark. But I don’t stand for cynicism or nihilism; not needlessly, anyways. So here are a handful of blogs, twitters, and voices to follow who provide engaging and thoughtful talks on movies by people who love movies: