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Respectfully, Yours: Four Critics Review the Reviewers

While we generally adhere to the one movie, one review principle, from time to time, we give equal time to two critics when opinions diverge greatly (see Mission: Impossible 2 and Thirteen Days for examples).

But lately, some of the regular writers for the site have taken exception to some of the highlights (and lowlights) from the archive. So, in the interest of fair play, we present four divergent opinions on recent fare, in the first of what will hopefully become a regular feature here on filmcritic.com. So without further ado, the first installment of ‘Respectfully, Yours.’


Titanic (original review 4 stars, by Christopher Null)

If you were spared the 3 1/2 hours of your life that was Titanic, consider yourself lucky. You already know what’s going to happen, so why bother torturing yourself by sitting through this mess? For the CGI? The whole point of computer animation is to mind-boggle you with making something surrealistic appear natural. You shouldn’t be able to point out where it starts and stops as you can with James Cameron’s budget-inflated epic. And is it truly that romantic to die for love when you are young enough that you’ll probably find someone new next week? I know Titanic broke box office records but that doesn’t make required viewing.

At least my esteemed colleague and editor, admits to some of the fatal flaws of the film. The characters are boring, no matter how beautiful they are, and in fact they could have been played by anyone and it wouldn’t have mattered. He also mentions skipping the first 90 minutes while still managing to enjoy the action. However, is any movie worth watching if the first half is so easily dismissed? –Rachel Gordon

[All this and I still get hate mail because my review wasn’t positive enough!CN]


Naked Lunch (original review 1 star, by James Brundage)

My colleague James Brundage found David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch excruciating and incomprehensible. The viewing of any film, particularly one as challenging and experimental as this one, is purely subjective. I can’t fault anyone for not ‘getting’ Naked Lunch, other than to argue that perhaps figuring out what the movie means can in some respects be secondary to drinking it in as a purely sensory event. Naked Lunch, like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, is open to multiple interpretations, but it can also be simply appreciated as a bird’s eye view into alien territory.

Brundage attacks the ‘weird’ imagery, grousing that ‘the transvestite drug dealer, the roach-centipede intelligence war, the cannibalistic typewriters’ are bizarre sights apropos of nothing. Putting aside that the visual allegories more accurately capture the sights and sounds of junkie hell than Darren Aronofsky’s overglorified fashion show, Requiem for a Dream, Cronenberg’s vision of Interzone functions as a cinematic travelogue like Blade Runner or Casablanca. It’s an imaginative presentation of environment.

The crux of Jame’s review deals with criticizing a specific pseudo-intellectual audience too afraid to admit they cannot understand exactly what Cronenberg (or William S. Burroughs, whose book he freely adapted) was going for. In effect, Brundage is condemning a knee-jerk reaction to art house cinema: ‘If I don’t understand it, it must be good.’ (Brundy’s words, not mine.)

There’s a flip side to that coin. As a critic, I often prefer open texts — what Peter Greenaway labels, ‘infinitely viewable cinema.’ Seen in this context, one can never really hope to ‘understand’ a film. Instead, one ‘experiences’ it. There’s a difference. Most movies tell you exactly what to think, which may make Brundage more comfortable. I respectfully disagree. –Jeremiah Kipp


Pitch Black (original review 5 stars, by Max Messier)

Pitch Black is not a perfect movie. Actually, it’s not even a good movie. It’s your typical run-for-your-life-the-monsters-are-coming science fiction adventure that requires one to park his brain at the front door of the theater before entering. Obvious, Max Messier took the movie’s prerequisite to its literal sense.

‘Pitch Black is one of the best films I have seen in a very long time, and it carves its roots from the essence of a Western, providing amazing clarity with a direct narrative prose,’ explains Max Messier in his flattering review of the film. What he does not mention, however, is that the movie combines about a dozen horror movie clichés to achieve that final ‘direct narrative prose.’ It recycles everything but the themes of its origins. What is the movie trying to say? I guess something about the survival of the fittest. How many fricking times have we seen that concept played on the silver screen? Pitch Black brings nothing new, fresh, or engaging to the genre.

I suppose I can forgive Max for failing to notice the lack of a point in Pitch Black, but what about the movie’s unconvincing circumstances? Isn’t it kind of coincidental that the planet the space crew lands on contains oxygen? That a character is able to see in the dark as a solar eclipse befalls? That an eclipse just happens to transpire at the worst imaginable time?

Let’s face it. There is nothing about Pitch Black that deserves five stars. How about two stars? That’s more like it. –Blake French


Better Living Through Circuitry (original review 4 1/2 stars, by Max Messier)

Not to pick overly on Max, but hey, you give crappy movies (The Animal???) good ratings and what do you expect?

Max heralds Better Living Through Circuitry as a near-perfect moviegoing experience about rave culture, one with which he is clearly enamored, as evidenced by his perfect track record of giving exceptional reviews to films that relate even tenuously to the rave scene.

Now while I’m familiar with — and can respect — the fundamentals of techno rave music, I am hard-pressed to watch a movie about the likes of DJ Spooky, Carl Cox, Electric Skychurch, Frankie Bones, Meat Beat Manifesto, Juno Reactor, BT, Scanner, Atomic Babies, Roni Size, Superstar DJ Keoki, Lords of Acid, System 7, and/or Death in Vegas. How do the experiences of these many, many, many ‘artists’ come to bear on my life or on the rest of society? Aside from a tenuous point about ravers and sudden death due to Ecstasy overdoses, there’s no social commentary in the film aside from saying ‘dancing is fun.’

As Max suggests to close out his critique, ‘start living your life.’ I’d suggest letting go of the pacifiers and the lollipops, Max, and you do the same. Respectfully, of course. –Christopher Null

Read Part 2 of ‘Respectfully, Yours’

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