Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kicking them while they're down, rooting for news (but not artistic failure)...

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read."

There is a movie coming out this Friday that I have written quite a bit about over the last month. Some have taken my constant commentary on said movie, and the circumstances which surrounded the month prior to its release, as some kind of rooting interest in its artistic and financial failure. This is not the case. Although I will confess that I perhaps became, for a moment, the sort of media person that I often criticize. In that, I became aware that if X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened well this weekend, despite the leaked work print and despite the current flu scare, then there would be no story and there would be nothing to discuss. However, if the film underperformed over the weekend, it would be news.

"But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

It it opens at anything under $55 million, it will be seen as a true disappointment. It may be blamed on the availability of the rough cut, the bad word of mouth, the slowly forming bad buzz in the form of negative reviews, or, yes, the theoretical panic of swine flu (quick, what's the most memorable scene in Wolfgang Peterson's Outbreak?). But if it bombs it's news. If it does the 'normal' $70 million+ opening weekend, there will be nothing for us to talk about. So if I am guilty of subconsciously wanting the film to under perform, it is because such a thing would be news, and it will give me material to discuss on Monday night. So, yes, I'm guilty of being a film pundit who hoped for a situation in which there would be news. In those moments, I was no better than the political pundits who constantly try to turn every election into a horse race, because that would be more exciting to write about than a blow out. Regardless of how Wolverine opens this weekend, I will still write about it. But I will not take joy or sadness in whatever comes of it.

"But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends."

The main reason I'm writing this is to give some context to a review of the film, which is coming down the pike. It will be published very soon, depending on my work schedule. It is everything I feared.. And, frankly, at this point, it feels like any full-on negative review feels like kicking a sick puppy. The failure of this beleaguered project, after all that has transpired, brings nothing so much as pity for those involved. Contrary to popular belief, a film critic should take no joy in the failure of the art form which he or she covers. When a film fails, it is a cause for mourning, not celebration. Nothing would have made me happier than to be proven wrong. But, alas, I am not wrong. Not this time.

"Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source."

My review of Wolverine will be up soon. In the meantime, let me do my job as a film critic and point my readers along the path to some truly great somewhat-recent movies that have slipped through the cracks. Some are simply great movies that failed to find their audience, some are unfairly maligned gems that deserve a second look. All of them are better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. All of them are examples of what makes this worthwhile.

Meet The Robinsons, Akeelah and the Bee, Frailty, Black Book, Nothing But The Truth, Shanghai Knights, Sixteen Blocks, Dark Water (the remake), Open Range, In America, Spirited Away, Joyride, Wet Hot American Summer, Sunshine, and the just released State of Play.

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Kyle Leaman said...

Great post. Read your review of Wovlerine before I came upon this entry and it really does help give the review some context. Thanks for your honesty in this article. I've always hated when critics seem to react to a film as if the film literally 'owed' them something. I know many people hated Cat in the Hat (which I actually enjoyed the heck out of), but I couldn't stand the reviews that practically accused Myers of defecating upon the grave of Dr. Suess.


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